A new study published in Lancet on Tuesday presents the first strong evidence that human embryonic stem cells are helping patients. Human embryonic stem cells, which can become any cell in the body, have long been thought of as a source for replacement tissue. In this study, stem cells were transformed into retinal pigment epithelium cells, and then injected into one eye of patients going blind. After injection, the patients were followed for an average of 22 months, and two of them for over three years. While the study was mostly designed to see if the treatment was safe, many of the patients were pleasantly surprised that their vision improved due to treatment. In fact, vision improved by what is considered to be a significant amount in eight of the eighteen treated eyes. The scientists caution though that this work is in its early stages, but are expanding the trial and following more patients.
Read more of New York Time’s coverage at NYTimes.com.
New research indicates that there just might be a neural basis for altruism. Using structural and functional MRI, researchers imaged the brains of extraordinary altruists (people who volunteered to donate a kidney to a stranger). The scans showed that compared to control subjects, the extraordinary altruists not only had larger amygdalas, but that their amydalas had greater activation when they viewed pictures of people displaying fear. Interestingly, these results are the polar opposite from the researchers’ earlier work with psychopaths. The psychopaths were found to have smaller amygdalas with less activation when viewing faces displaying fear compared to control.
Read more of NPR’s coverage at NRP.org.
Public health officials in Colorado are facing an unprecedented challenging: explaining to teens why they shouldn’t smoke marijuana after the state legalized it. Campaigns against teen drug use usually rely on the scientifically proven health risks, but the studies on the risks of marijuana, especially to the developing teen brain, are still in their preliminary stages. Colorado’s public health campaign hinges on that exact idea and tells teens “Don’t be a lab rat”, complete with human-sized lab rat cages.
Read more about Colorado’s public health campaign at NRP.org.
New research suggests that the neural network that controls attention may develop more slowly in children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While previous research suggested that the brains of children with ADHD develop more slowly, this new research was able to detect changes in connectivity within and between key brain regions.
Read more about the research at NRP.org.
Dennis Aabo Sorensen became the first amputee to feel sensory information in real-time from a prosthetic that had been wired the nerves in his upper arm. With the new prosthetic, Sorensen can grasp objects intuitively and can identify the shape and texture of objects by touch while blindfolded.
Read more and watch a video of Sorensen here.
The world of nutrition has a long way to go before it fully understands the complex relationship between the brain and the gut, but a recently published study seems to have made a significant step in an interesting direction. The study, published the journal Health Psychology, asks the question of whether our beliefs about a particular food change us physically – that is, if you think a food is good (or bad) for you, do we have a different physiological response to that food? To answer this question researchers had study participants drink either a rich, high-calorie milkshake called “Indulgence”, or a more healthy, low-calorie milkshake called “Sensishake”, then measured blood levels of ghrelin – a hormone that signals to the brain that we’re hungry. The trick? Both milkshakes were actually identical, with no difference in ingredients (or calories). Even so, the participants that drank the “Sensishake” had higher levels of ghrelin than those that drank the “Indulgence”, making them feel hungry sooner!
Read more (with a link to the published article) at NPR.
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug, and more teenagers and young adults are using the drug in states that have made it available for medical use. Yet, several studies suggest that marijuana use during the teenage years can dampen the development of brain regions critical for memory and problem solving. In one study, researchers analyzed the effect of marijuana use on IQ. The researchers found that people who began using marijuana in their teenage years and continued to use marijuana for several years lost about 8 IQ points from childhood to adulthood. Read more at NPR’s coverage: Marijuana’s effect on Teenage Brain
Ever wonder how your dog knows what you’re feeling? Researchers in Budapest recently discovered a neural circuit in dogs’ brains that respond to the emotions in voices — both dog voices and human voices. The circuit seems to work similarly to a voice-detection circuit found in the human brain. This research was no small feat, as the dog subjects were required to lie completely still for 10 minutes at a time in an fRMI scanner. Thankfully, the dogs were motivated by treats and praise. Read more at NPR’s coverage: How Dogs Read Our Moods:Emotion Detector Found in Fido’s Brain
The folks at Backyard Brains have developed a device called RoboRoach that lets you control the movement of a cockroach with your iPhone! With the RoboRoach you can control a single insect, but what if you had control of an entire swarm? One researcher is trying to develop such technology to aid in search-and-rescue missions. Read more at NPR’s coverage: What’s Creepy, Crawly And a Champion of Neuroscience?
Scientists still debate the exact function of sleep, with some arguing that it aids our memory, while others argue that it helps to conserve energy, and still other argue that it is needed to discharge our emotions. A new study published in Science presents data suggesting that during sleep harmful toxins are cleared from our brains, which might prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s. Read more at NPR’s coverage: Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep
The light show at the Mickey Hart Band concert is part science, part art. Mickey Hart, best known as the percussionist for the Grateful Dead, wears an EEG cap while he plays which powers the light show for concert. Read more at NPR’s coverage: This is Musician Mickey Hart’s Brain on Music
After being hospitalized for 2 months, Kali Hardig, 12, gets to go home after recovering from amebic meningoencephalitis which health officials believe she contracted at a Little Rock, Ark., waterpark in July. She is only the third known survivor of the deadly infection in the last 50 years. Read more at Daily News: Arkansas girl survives brain-eating amoeba
Using fMRI, scientists have located a part of the brain – just above each of the ears – that responds to quantities. It allows us to look at objects and quickly tell how many there are. This ability maxs out at five objects for most people, but anything less than that and we can quickly tell how many objects there are without even counting thanks to this region of the brain. Read more at NPR’s coverage: Scientists Put a ‘Sixth Sense’ for Numbers on Brain Map
In an effort to help surgeons identify and remove brain tumors, scientists have developed a paint that is attracted to specific channels on cancerous cells. The hope is that with this paint, doctors can more accurately remove just the tumor and not any healthy brain tissue. By sparing the surrounding healthy brain tissue, patients will have fewer symptoms after surgery. Read more at NPR’s coverage: Why Painting Tumors Could Make Brain Surgeons Better
This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine has been awarded to three scientists who helped us understand how our cells communicate. The research, conducted over the last 30 years, has broad reaching implications including links to neurodegenerative diseases, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and some autoimmune disorders. Read more at NPR’s coverage: Nobel Winners Decoded How Neurons Talk to Each Other
In an effort to figure out how language helps babies learn, researchers studied infant learning in response to lemur screeches. Amazingly, 3 month old human infants learned in response to lemur shrieks. Although, this effect was gone by 6 months, at which point only human speech helped the babies learn. Read more at NPR’s coverage: Enough with Baby Talk; Infants Learn from Lemur Screeches, too
As part of ongoing research to determine the causes of migraines, researchers using MRI discovered that the brains of those of us who suffer from migraines have white matter abnormalities that appear similar to mini-strokes. There is also a slightly increased risk for stroke for those who experience migraines with aura (flashing lights before a migraine), making it very important to practice stroke prevention. Read more at NPR’s coverage: Migraine Brain Changes
The NFL has agreed to pay $765 million dollars to resolve a lawsuit brought by over 4,500 ex-players and their families, accusing the league of concealing the dangers of repeated head trauma. The money will go to players or families of players who sustained cognitive injury as well as to funding scientific research. The league has denied any wrongdoing and insists that safety has always been a top priority, but research has indicated a link between repeated head trauma and development of brain disorders, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Read more at NYTimes coverage: NFL Settles Lawsuit
The Japanese company Scentee has created an attachment for the iPhone that can spray out scents ranging from flowers to cooked meats. In their commercial, the company makes it seem like smelling food can actually hold off cravings, yet scientists beg to differ. You’ll be able to test it yourself in late November 2013 when Scentee makes its debut in the United States. Read more at NPR’s coverage: A Japanese iPhone Gadget Teases The Tummy With Food Smells
Researcher Andrea Stocco sits ready to receive brain signals from his collaborator. Source: R.P.N. Rao and A. Stocco.
NPR – Don’t Call It A Mind-Meld: Human Brains Connect Via Internet. Using electroencephalography (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), researchers were able to have one person’s thoughts control another person’s actions. In this case, the subjects (who were also the researchers) were only playing a video game and pressing a button to fire, but still – very cool!