Category Archives: Neuroscience

my two cents

I don’t really have enough material in my head to warrant an individual post, so here’s my two cents on a few different stories in the news:

–Re: Terri Schiavo case–I’ve not really followed this story too closely, and as such I don’t have an firm opinion one way or the other on it. What actually interests me the most about the Schiavo case is not the politics of it–rather I’m more curious about the neurological side of things. What functions does she currently retain? Has an imaging study been performed; if so, what does it show? I’m’ more curious about the biological/medical side of things.

–Clinton vs. Kerry: So apparently Ann Lewis (of the Clinton camp) took a swipe at Kerry. Where did she take this swipe? In the Forward (a left-leaning national Jewish paper). Interesting place for such a zinger. Here’s the article. Lewis taught a course at Brandeis as a visiting professor my sophmore year.

Bono and Wolfowitz…..stranger things have happened

–Anti-war protests are scheduled to take place tomorrow, the biggest one being in NYC. I predict a rather pathetic showing and of course the usual circus will be in attendance.

Oh crap!

I was talking to one of my professors yesterday who told me about this:

Brookhaven lab would be devastated if the House approves proposal by the Department of Energy

Shit! I am/was really interested in doing a lab rotation at BNL and perhaps learning/studying neuroscience and imaging.

Then comes along this news…oh shit….I may really be screwed right now.

Come on Congress! Cut some other stuff instead!
May I suggest the NEA?

Coming later today

THe latest issue of the Justice is out, and there’s some good material to blog on/about in the Forum section of the paper.

You know what the Justice really needs–an Ombudsman (or make that Ombudsperson) to correct the errors in the paper’s coverage. Preferable said person would do a better job than oh say Dan Okrent.

My car was given a clean bill of health this morning by the really nice folks at Saturn. Hooray!
And I’m waiting for the slides I made to dry so I can look at ’em under the microscope. I forget if they’re florescent or now (perhaps I’ll be able to get a digital pic of one of ’em, and I’ll share it).

Otherwise, it’s about T-3 hours till my exam, so you can guess what I’m going to be focusing on this afternoon (and why blogging will resume apace this evening).

Back to the retina I go…

Examining the protein Tau

One of the things that interests/fascinates me the most about Neuroscience is its interdisciplinary nature. That is to say Neuroscience is not just a biological science–it involves chemistry, biochemistry, physics, computational sciences (math, computer science) etc.

With that in mind, I came across news that some Brandeis researchers, Dagmar Ringe and Greg Petsko have just won a $300,000 grant from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience to study the protein “Tau”.

Tau, a normal protein has been found to exist in excessive quantities in the brains of individuals who suffer from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimers Disease.

Read the Brandeis Press Release to find out more

Brainscans for sale?

There’s an interesting article over at Slate titled:
Brain Scans for Sale
The subheadline of the piece reads:

As brain imaging spreads to nonmedical uses, will commerce overtake ethics?

This article (which I recommend reading) raises the ethical quandries which have been moved to the forefront, as “neuroentrepreneurs” are trying to develop brain-imaging protocols for non-medical uses.

Now the technology, while fascinating and medically useful is still too rudimentary to work as a high-tech “lie-detector” (for example).

However, there is the greater question of is it ethical to perform brain imaging for strictly commercial purposes?

Junk Neuroscience in the NY Times

I guess it’s fitting on the day when the NY Times has an apparently brainless reporter write a piece on IraqTheModel, that they’d also happen to present a piece of junk neuroscience.

The piece I refer to is on the op-ed page, titled: This Is Your Brain on Politics by Joshua Freedman, a researcher out at UCLA.

This study is one which I believe I’ve commented on in the past, where the researchers used fMRI to evaluate levels of activity in certain parts of the brain and then compare the results (quanitatively) to see if there is a (statistically significant) difference. [that’s the gist of it in a nutshell]

However, this really doesn’t tell us that much. Though the explanation Freedman provides, regarding the areas of the brain and the pathways involved (the Limbic system) are indeed interesting and relevant, the piece as a whole is bunk.

I’m sure there’s always qualities one likes in a candidate or his opponent—I don’t think that the perfect “ideal candidate” actually exists. Rather you choose the one who you seem to have more of a preference for.

As for this bridging the “Red-blue” divide…our brains may be similar, but there’s a long way to go…just look at the WaPo article from this weekend. Need I say more?

Neuroscience on TV

Anyone else catch CSI: NY last night?

If so, remember the case involving the woman who died of drowning?

Well it turns out what really killed her was Tetrodotoxin (TTX) a compound frequently used by neuroscience researchers.

What does TTX do? In short it blocks sodium-ion channels thus preventing the flow of sodium ions into neurons. This in turn inhibits action potentials, causing an absence of signaling and well, you can deduce the rest.

Here’s a site about TTX if you’re interested in learning more.

Junk Science: The “Religion Gene”

If you ever needed an examplle of major-league junk science, look no further than this study claiming that there’s a “religion gene” And genes created religion

Now there is a reasonable debate and research going on into the idea of whether or not genes influence certain types of behavior* and if so to what degree. There has been progress in this area, but within the science community the issue of genes and behavior is still one of much debate.

Why someone would waste their time conducting a study like this is beyond me, and I hope no respectable journal published this paper.

* By behavior I am implying rather than “complex” behaviors and thoughts, more basic ones such as circadian rhythmicity, basic learning, social interaction, etc.

Think, think, shoot, score!

A big article out of the Milwake Journal Senitel JS Online: Think, think, shoot, score!

The story reports on humans, who with intracranial (EEG) electrodes were able to control a cursor on a monitor and play a simple video game.

This is a big leap forward in neuroscience, and the article does a good job of explaining things in everyday terms. A similar discovery has previously been made in monkeys, but this may be one of the first reports of the advancement to humans.

Science and the Military

This post about strategies being developed to keep Air Force Pilots awake is cool on multiple levlels.

I personally am interested in the pharmacological approaches that the military is utilizing. While the news in this article may be a suprise to some, it’s no secret that the military has been using drugs such as dextroamphetamine and Modafinil.

The science behind these drugs is also very interesting as well…that is what we know about the science behind them.

Boring…

Unfortunately, this is the seminar I’ve gotta sit through this morning/afternoon:

“Histone Deacetylases in Oligodendrocyte Development and in Disease States”

At least it’s only one hour long…but still…

A stem cell breakthrough

So much has already been made about the story out of South Korea which claims that a woman who had been paralyzed for 20 years, via the use of umbilical cord stem cells, is apparently able to walk again!

If this is true, it’s amazing on multiple levels. Obviously it’s an amazing occurence, but on a secondary level, to those of us in the scientific community (especially within the neuroscience community) this could be a huge discovery. Not only does it involve neuronal regrowth and reconnection, it also involves restoration of function, paterned locamotive activity among other things.

However, being a science person, I’m still going to reserve my judgement on this claim of a breakthrough until the doctors publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal some time in the first half of 2005. I want to see the details and data before I come to a conclusion one way or another.

Obviously, this story is going to be picked up and used as part of the political hot potato issue of embryonic stem cell research–as this feat was apparently accomplished not with embryonic stem cells, but rather umbilical ones.

For a synopsis of the “talking points” see Just One Minute

Junk Neuroscience: Partisan Brains?

A lot of people have been pointing out this story which is on the AP wire: Dems, GOP: Who’s Got the Brains?

Basically, a bunch of researchers used an fMRI machine to scan the brains of members of different political affiliations, and then compare regions that were activated in response to seeing different images. Then after making statistical comparisons (of activity) in different parts of the brain, they identify the levels of activation in various regions. (If anyone wants more of an explanation of fMRI see this link; be advised it’s a page for the general public rather than scientists)

What did the researchers find?

The researchers’ conclusion: At a subconscious level, Republicans were apparently not as bothered by what Democrats found alarming.

That’s not really suprising, is it? I’m sure the converse is true.

Personally, I think that “studies” like this are rather pointless, and a waste of good technological resources, time and money. Especially since the results were rather predictable. Nor am I a big fan of this idea of “neuromarketing” (which they discuss at the end of the article). I’m a bit weary of that type of practice.

On the lighter side, just look at this Cox and Forkum cartoon

Edwards the “healer”

About Sen. Edwards claims yesterday that Kerry’s election would lead to the cure of paralysis, alzhemiers etc.
is completely false and very, very stupid.
(I don’t have the exact quote handy right now, but I’ll link to it when I’m back home)

First off Senator, what do you know about stem cell research? You’re not a scientist are you?
Second, embryonic stem cells likely won’t be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease (at least) because that disease has a rather complex etiology…
Third, were a treatment to some disorder to be found via stem cell research, and something averse happened to a patient, wouldn’t trial lawyers like yourself be lining up to file lmalpractice cases?

I’ll have more on the science side of the issue later on today in this post (stay tuned)

Update: Now time for some science: Start by reading a post by another biologist, OF Jay.

Or how about the words of an MD who is a quadraplegic, Charles Krauthammer

Third and finally (for now at least) read this letter that Rush Limbaugh (of all people) received from someone who works for a pharmacutical company,
(and I can vouch for some of this)

Dear, Rush: I’m a pharmacologist working for a major drug company currently working on spinal cord injury and I can tell you from my own perspective, stem cells are not the hot issue in nerve regeneration. When the spine is mechanically severed, like all tissue, the healing process form a scar in order to allow inflammation response cells such as macrophages to deal with the inflammation. These scar tissue express proteins that inhibit neuronal regeneration by a variety of biomedical means. Unfortunately the scar tissue does not break down. Hence, reconnection does not readily occur. The current area of research is in overcoming these inhibitory molecules and the physical barrier of the scar. Stem cells are not really the big deal in spinal cord. Rather, they are in brain injury, most particularly in Parkinson’s disease and stroke, not Alzheimer’s.

And then he says this. “To be honest the only reason Christopher Reeve championed this cause is because he was being manipulated by scientists, most of whom are left-wing and will do anything to hit on Bush.” M/blockquote>

Symposium

Spent the whole day at the neuroscience graduate symposium….
I didn’t understand all of the talks/presentations but I’ve learned that I’ve not yet acquired the ability to sit for a contiuous series of lectures.