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How learning a new language changes your brain - at any age

How learning a new language changes your brain - at any age | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
We all know that learning a second language is a great, healthy thing to do for your brain, but new research has discovered that it actually changes both the structure and function of your brain network, regardless of whether you’re four, or 84.

 

Researchers from Penn State University in the US have found that learning a language will change the structure of your brain and make the network that pulls it all together more efficient - and the improvements can be experienced at any age. 

 

Every time you learn something new, you’re strengthening your brain. Just like physical exercise strengthens your various muscles, tissues and organs, the more you exercise specific areas in the brain, the stronger and more connected those areas will become.

 

The Penn State team decided to observe the brain activity of native English-speakers as they went through the process of learning Chinese - specifically, Mandarin - vocabulary. They gathered 39 volunteers of varying ages and scanned their brains over a six-week period as half of them took part in language lessons and the other half acted as control subjects. The participants were put through twofunctional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, one before the experiment began and then another one after six weeks, and the team observed the physical changes that had occurred.

 

The team found that, compared to the group that didn’t participate in the language lessons, the group that did had undergone several structural and functional changes in their brains. First off, their brain networks had become better integrated, which means they're more flexible and allows for faster and more efficient learning. They also found that those who excelled in the language lessons had more integrated networks than the brains of those who struggled, even before the experiment had begun, suggesting that they habitually sought out new things to learn and exercise their brains with.

 

The way the researchers determined the level of connectivity and efficiency of their participants’ brain networks was by analysing the strength and direction of the connections between specific regions of the brain that become active in learning. The stronger these connections - or edges - are between one area to the next, the faster and more efficiently they can work together as a whole network.

 

The team also found that the language-learning participants ended up with increased density in their grey matter and that their white matter tissue had been strengthened. Grey matter is a type of neural tissue that encompasses various regions in the brain associated with muscle control, memory formation, emotions, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, and it’s white matter’s job to connect these grey matter regions together in the brain’s cerebrum, sort of like a train line for your brain.

 

Read more here:

http://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-how-learning-a-new-language-changes-your-brain-at-any-age

 

The associated research article can be read here:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945214001543

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

A well connected brain is essential to creativity but sometimes having too many connections can be dangerous http://sco.lt/5kno1J

 

This video also show a few tricks to boost your creativity http://sco.lt/7X1mG9

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Scientists have converted human skin cells into brain cells

Scientists have converted human skin cells into brain cells | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Scientists have figured out how to directly convert human skin cells into the specific type of brain cell that degrades in patients with Huntington’s disease.

 

A number of current medical treatments involve a process in which one type of human cell is converted to another, such as stem cells being converted to skin cells. During this process, there's a stage called the stem cell stage, where the original cells are at risk of converting into multiple types of cells, rather than the single, desired type. But now a team of scientists from Washington University in the US has figured out how to avoid the stem cell stage altogether, and have successfully converted skin cells directly into functioning brain cells.

 

The team produced a specific type of brain cell called a medium spiny neuron. These nerve cells are important for controlling movement of the body and are the main cell type affected in Huntington’s disease.

 

"Not only did these transplanted cells survive in the mouse brain, they showed functional properties similar to those of native cells," said developmental biologist and lead author of the study, Andrew S. Yoo, in a press release. "These cells are known to extend projections into certain brain regions. And we found the human transplanted cells also connected to these distant targets in the mouse brain. That's a landmark point about this paper."

 

The team grew the human skin cells in an environment that resembled that of brain cells. Next they exposed the cultured cells to two microRNAs - small non-coding molecules - that unravelled the DNA needed for brain cells. The next hurdle was to reprogram the cells into specific medium spiny neurons, and this was done by exposing them to transcription factors - molecules that control the activity of a gene.

 

This new approach presents the possibility of using a patient’s own cells in regenerative medicine, drastically reducing the risk of the cells being rejected by the immune system.

 

The findings, are published in the journal Neuron:

http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273%2814%2900914-3

 

Read more here:

http://www.sciencealert.com/news/20142810-26409.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Stem cell research is growing by leaps and bounds despite a highly publicized case of scientific fraud earlier this year http://sco.lt/79u0Bt

 

More scoops on stem cells can be read here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Stem+Cells

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Largest study on resuscitated patients hints at consciousness after death

Largest study on resuscitated patients hints at consciousness after death | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
The largest medical study ever performed on near-death experiences has led researchers to suggest that consciousness can last up to three minutes after a person’s heart and brain have shut down.

 

The idea that consciousness can continue on after your heart stops beating and your brain stops functioning is a pretty wild one, and naturally courts a lot of scepticism. But the more scientists study the supposed phenomenon, the more certain trends are reinforced, giving us a glimpse into what actually might occur when we die. 


A team of scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK has just finished a four-year study of 2,060 people who experienced cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals across the UK, the US, and Austria. Having conducted interviews with each of the 330 people who survived about their memories of the event, the researchers found that 40 percent of them felt ‘aware’ for the period of time that they were declared clinically dead. The medical staff at the hospitals successfully restarted their hearts so they could live to tell the tale. 

 

According to The National Post, one man participating in the study described the feeling that he was watching his treatment from the corner of the room, while a female participant was able to recount exactly the actions of the nursing staff that resurrected her over a three-minute period. She could even very accurately describe the sound of the machines that surrounded her ‘dead’ body.


“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating, but in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds after the heart has stopped,” Sam Parnia, the study leader and a former assistant professor of medicine at Southampton University, told The National Post. He’s now based at the State University of New York in the US. 

 

“Estimates have suggested that millions of people have had vivid experiences in relation to death, but the scientific evidence has been ambiguous at best,” Parnia told The National Post. “Many people have assumed that these were hallucinations or illusions, but they do seem to correspond to actual events. These experiences warrant further investigation.”

 

Of course, any research into what actually goes on after death will always be controversial, due to the enormous difficulties in gathering enough evidence to support much of anything that’s scientifically sound, but studies like this are at least an intriguing starting point. 

 

The study was published in the journal Resuscitation.

http://www.resuscitationjournal.com/article/S0300-9572(14)00765-5/abstract


Read more here:

http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20140810-26301.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Death and what comes after has fascinated mankind since the dawn of religion. Unfortunately the existence of an afterlife is very difficult to prove or disprove and the lack of disproving evidence is often taken as reinforcement of the eternal soul.

 

Another series of scientific studies have also showed that the month you were born in could influence your mood and personality. A very good read for those interested in astrology http://sco.lt/71ch4j

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Meet Miracle Mike, the Colorado Chicken who lived for 18 months without his head

Meet Miracle Mike, the Colorado Chicken who lived for 18 months without his head | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Mike meet everyone, everyone meet Mike. No, no, don’t wave. He can’t see, you’re just making this awkward.

 

Also known as Miracle Mike, Mike the Headless Chicken was a plump, five-year-old cockerel when he was unceremoniously beheaded on 10 September 1945. Farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita in Colorado did the deed because his wife Clara was having her mother over for dinner that night, and Olsen knew she’d always enjoyed a bit of roast chicken neck. With that in mind, Olsen tried to save most of Mike’s neck as he lopped his head off, but in doing so, he accidentally made his axe miss Mike’s jugular vein, plus one ear and most of his brain stem, and to his surprise, Mike didn’t die.

 

In fact, Mike stuck around for a good 18 months without his head. Immediately after it happened, Mike reeled around like any headless chicken would, but soon settled down. He even started pecking at the ground for food with his newly minted stump, and made preening motions. His crows had become throaty gurglings. Olsen, bewildered, left him to it. The next morning, when Olsen found Mike asleep in the barn, having attempted to tuck his head under his wing as he always had, the farmer took it upon himself to figure out how to feed this unwitting monstrosity. Mike had earned that much.

 

All Olsen had to do was deposit food and water into Mike’s exposed oesophagus via a little eyedropper. He even got small grains of corn sometimes as a treat.

 

Mike’s unlikely survival has everything to do with how his skeleton was shaped, Wayne J. Kuenzel, a poultry physiologist and neurobiologist at the University of Arkansas, told Rebecca Katzman at Modern Farmer. Because a chicken’s skull includes two huge holes for holding its eyes in place, its brain fits snuggly into the remaining space at a 45-degree angle. This means you could slice the top bit of the brain off while still leaving a good portion – with the cerebellum and the brain stem – behind. “Because the brain is at that angle,” Kuenzel told Katzman, “you still have the functional part that’s so critical for survival intact.”

 

Unfortunately, because he could not chew, Mike eventually choked to death but not before making his owner a lot of money.

 

Read more here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/2014/09/26/meet-miracle-mike-the-colorado-chicken-who-lived-for-18-months-without-his-head/

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Mike survived with mostly his cerebellum and the brain stem intact. However, a lady from China was found to be born without a cerebellum http://sco.lt/5yVB69

 

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Our brains can make decisions while we're sleeping

Our brains can make decisions while we're sleeping | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Your brain doesn’t shut down when you go to sleep, in fact, a recent study has shown that it remains quietly active, and can process information to help you make decisions, just like when you're awake.

 

A new study led by senior research scientist Sid Kouider and PhD student Thomas Andrillon at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris in France has investigated how active our brains are when we’re asleep, and the results could have implications for the Holy Grail of humanity's quest to become ever-smarter - learning in our sleep.

 

Previous studies have shown that rather than switching off from our environment when we sleep, our brains ‘keep one eye open’, so they can catch important information that's relevent to us. This means we’re more likely to wake up when we hear someone say our names, or when our alarms go off in the morning, than to the less-pressing sounds of an ally cat scratching around the bins outside, cars driving past, or the periodic chime of a cuckoo clock. 

 

Kouider and Andrillon wanted to take this finding a step further and found that complex stimuli from our environment can not only be processed by our brains when we sleep, but can actually be used to make decisions. It's just like what's going on in your brain when you're driving your car home every day - you have to process so much information all at once and very quickly in order to safely operate your vehicle, but you’re so used to it, you barely even notice it happening. The same concept appears to apply to our decision-making processes when we're asleep.

 

Of course, the parts in our brain associated with paying attention to and following instructions are shut down when we sleep, so we can’t start performing a new task, but what Kouider and Andrillon wanted to find out is if a task was implemented right before sleep, would the brain continue working on it even after the participant dozed off?

 

Read more here: http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20141909-26203.html

 

The associated research article In published in Current Biology can be read here: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(14)00994-4

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

An interesting piece of research. Other researchers have studied the potential of using dreams to come up with solutions to cognitive tasks as described here: http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/IJoDR/article/view/6167

 

Read more scoops on the human brain here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

 

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How Your Brain Works: Jumping to Conclusions

Ever wonder how your brain processes information? These brain tricks and illusions help to demonstrate the two main systems of Fast and Slow Thinking in your brain. 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Really cool video illustrating why we often jump to conclusions. 

 

More science trivia scooped here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Trivia

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Alzheimer’s to be treated with the blood of those under-30

Alzheimer’s to be treated with the blood of those under-30 | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Alzheimer’s patients in the US will be given transfusions of young people's blood as part of a promising new treatment that’s nowhere near as crazy as it sounds.

 

This October, people with mild to moderate levels of Alzheimer’s disease will receive a transfusion of blood plasma from donors aged under 30.  The trial, run by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in the US, follows their revolutionary study involving lab mice, where the blood plasma of young mice was injected into old mice, resulting in a marked improvement in their physical endurance and cognitive function. Completed earlier this year, their research, combined with independent studies by a handful of research teams around the world, pin-pointed a plasma-borne protein called growth differentiation factor 11 - or GDF11 - as a key factor in the young blood’s powers of rejuvenation.


"We saw these astounding effects,” lead researcher and professor of neurology at Stanford, Tony Wyss-Coray, told Helen Thomson at New Scientist. "The human blood had beneficial effects on every organ we've studied so far."

 

Getting approval for their October trial has been fairly straightforward, he said, because blood transfusion therapy has such a long history of safe use in medical procedures, but the team will still keep a very careful eye on how the patients are progressing once they’ve received the young blood. "We will assess cognitive function immediately before and for several days after the transfusion, as well as tracking each person for a few months to see if any of their family or carers report any positive effects," he told Thomson at New Scientist. "The effects might be transient, but even if it's just for a day it is a proof of concept that is worth pursuing.”

 

Read more here:

http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20142108-26046.html


Research article published in Nature Medicine can be read here:

http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v20/n6/full/nm.3569.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Weird but true, the findings sound almost like the premise for a science fiction film. 

 

Read more scoops on novel therapies here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Novel+Therapies

 

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Stem cell stroke therapy shows promise after first human trial

Stem cell stroke therapy shows promise after first human trial | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Treatment with CD34+ hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells has been shown before to improve functional recovery in non-human models of ischemic stroke via promotion of angiogenesis and neurogenesis. A pilot study undertaken by researchers from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London has now shown promise in rapid treatment of serious strokes. The study, the first of its kind published in the UK, treated patients using stem cells from bone marrow.

 

According to the Stroke Association, about 152,000 people suffer a stroke in the UK alone each year. However, the five patients treated in the recent Imperial College pilot study all showed improvements. According to doctors, four of those had suffered the most severe kind of stroke, which leaves only four percent of people alive or able to live independently six months after the event. All four of the patients were alive after six months.

 

A particular set of CD34+ stem cells was used, as they help with the production of blood cells and blood vessels’ lining cells. These same cells have been found to improve the effects of stroke in animals, and they assist in brain tissue and blood growth in the affected areas of the brain. The CD34+ cells were isolated from samples taken from patients’ bone marrow and then infused into the affected area via an artery that leads to the brain, using keyhole surgery.

 

The innovative stem cell treatment differs from others in one important way: patients are treated within seven days of their stroke, rather than six months hence. The stroke sufferers all recorded improvements in terms of clinical measures of disability, despite four of the five having suffered the most severe kind of stroke.

 

Autologous CD34+ selected stem/progenitor cell therapy delivered intra-arterially into the infarct territory can be achieved safely in patients with acute ischemic stroke. Future studies that address eligibility criteria, dosage, delivery site, and timing and that use surrogate imaging markers of outcome are desirable before larger scale clinical trials.

 

Read more here:

http://www.gizmag.com/stroke-treatment-stem-cell-bone-marrow/33258/

 

A paper detailing the research was published in journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine: 

http://stemcellstm.alphamedpress.org/content/early/2014/08/07/sctm.2013-0178.abstract



Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald, Jocelyn Stoller
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

A groundbreaking therapy in regenerative medicine. A stroke can cause permanent neurological damage or death and is in some ways it is more debilitating than a heart attack.

 

Any therapy which can repair some of the neurological damage is significant. The major challenge in preventing neurological damage is early detection, which can be difficult because there is often little discomfort and suffers may not know they are experiencing a stroke.

 

Recently, researchers have also mapped the functions of different regions of the brain. This forms part of the evidence against the "10% myth". Read more here: http://sco.lt/7aOUyn

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Neuroscientists say handwriting activates the brain

Neuroscientists say handwriting activates the brain | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Writing by hand activates areas in the brain that help you learn faster and better.

 

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain,” Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris.


A study conducted at Indiana University, in the US, reported that when children write by hand three areas of the brain are activated—the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex. These are the same areas that are set in motion when adults read and write. Kids who typed or just traced letters didn’t show any activation in these areas.


“This is one of the first demonstrations of the brain being changed because of the practice,” explained Karin James, who was involved in the study, told The New York Times.


Taking notes by hand can help you learn faster and better—you should try it next time you have an exam or need to deliver a presentation. Studies suggest this is due to the fact that one needs to process and reframe all the information before writing it down. “We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim,” Pam Mueller, teaching assistant at Princeton University


Read more here:

http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20141906-25707.html


The research article featuring the Indiana University study can be read here: http://indianapublicmedia.org/stateimpact/2011/09/29/why-schools-should-keep-teaching-handwriting-even-if-typing-is-more-useful/


Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Handwriting has many cognitive advantages, but typing fast can also help improve our cognitive and creative processes. 


Typing won't help you learn better or faster, but improving your typing skills can help you improve your written communication and facilitate exchange of ideas.


Read about the benefits of typing here: http://sco.lt/88ExJx

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Rats Feel Regret After Making Wrong Choices

Rats Feel Regret After Making Wrong Choices | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Researchers studied brain areas involved in decision making, evaluating outcomes.

 

Could've, should've, would've. Everyone has made the wrong choice at some point in life and suffered regret because of it. Now a new study shows we're not alone in our reaction to incorrect decisions. Rats too can feel regret.

 

Regret is thinking about what you should have done, says David Redish, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It differs from disappointment, which you feel when you don't get what you expected. And it affects how you make decisions in the future.

 

Redish and colleague Adam Steiner, also at the University of Minneapolis, found that rats expressed regret through both their behavior and their neural activity. Those signals, researchers report today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, were specific to situations the researchers set up to induce regret, which led to specific neural patterns in the brain and in behavior.

 

Redish would also like to be able to translate what he's seen in his rats to human behavior. "Humans avoid regret," says Redish. "Do rats?"

 

Read more here: 

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140608-regret-rats-neuroscience-behavior-animals-science/

 

Read related research papers here:

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n7/full/nn.3740.html

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n7/full/nn.3745.html

 

 

 

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Dolphins, crows, apes are well known smart animals. But there are lots of animals such as rats which are smarter than you think. Read more about it in this scoop: http://sco.lt/819AvJ

 

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Why stress affects some more than others?

Why stress affects some more than others? | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

In response to stress, some people cope easily while others succumb to depression or other mood disorders. While depression can develop from a wide variety of biological and genetic factors, stressful events are often a major trigger. But why does stress make some people develop mood disorders while others remain resilient?

 

Learning more about the changes in the brain following stress could help answer this question and lead to better methods and treatments. Recently, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York did just that, using a mouse model of human depression to ask questions about the effects of stress on depression and the brain.

 

What they found was that in “depressed” mice, neurons fire differently than they do in resilient mice. In addition, these neurons can turn a resilient mouse into a depressed mouse when activated.

 

To test their theory, the researchers electrically stimulated the medial prefrontal cortex neurons to see how much stimulation was required for the neurons to fire. When they ran electric currents through those neurons in depressed mice, they fired very readily in response, indicating that these neurons had strong connections with their neighboring neurons. In contrast, the stress-activated neurons in the resilient mice did not fire easily in response to the electric stimulation, indicating that these same neurons in the resilient mice had weaker connections with their neighbors.

 

We’re still a long way from knowing how and where to stimulate the brain to effectively treat depression, but this study takes us one step closer.

 

Read more here: http://www.popsci.com/blog-network/ladybits/new-study-uncovers-why-stress-leads-depression-some-not-others

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Psychiatry lacks definitive tests for many diseases and diagnosis if often subjective in nature.

 

Better understanding of the brain would allow for brain scans with more definite indicators http://sco.lt/8xB2Pp

 

Read more about the brain here:
http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond?q=brain

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Artists have unique brain structure

Artists have unique brain structure | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Artists have structurally different brains compared with non-artists, a study has found.


In their small study, researchers peered into the brains of 21 art students and compared them to 23 non-artists using a scanning method called voxel-based morphometry.


Participants' brain scans revealed that artists had increased neural matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery.


The research, published in NeuroImage, suggests that an artist's talent could be innate.


A changing brain


Those better at drawing had increased grey and white matter in the cerebellum and also in the supplementary motor area - both areas that are involved with fine motor control and performance of routine actions.


Grey matter is largely composed of nerve cells, while white matter is responsible for communication between the grey matter regions.


No 'right' side


Ellen Winner of Boston College, US, who was not involved with the study, commented that it was very interesting research.

She said it should help "put to rest the facile claims that artists use 'the right side of their brain' given that increased grey and white matter were found in the art group in both left and right structures of the brain".

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Electric “thinking cap” controls learning speed

Electric “thinking cap” controls learning speed | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Electric “thinking cap” controls learning speed. Vanderbilt psychologists show it is possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain, and that this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current.

 

Vanderbilt psychologists Robert Reinhart, a Ph.D. candidate, and Geoffrey Woodman, assistant professor of psychology, show that it is possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain, and that this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current.

 

Using an elastic headband that secured two electrodes conducted by saline-soaked sponges to the cheek and the crown of the head, the researchers applied 20 minutes of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to each subject. In tDCS, a very mild direct current travels from the anodal electrode, through the skin, muscle, bones and brain, and out through the corresponding cathodal electrode to complete the circuit. “It’s one of the safest ways to noninvasively stimulate the brain,” Reinhart said. The current is so gentle that subjects reported only a few seconds of tingling or itching at the beginning of each stimulation session.

 

After 20 minutes of stimulation, subjects were given a learning task that involved figuring out by trial and error which buttons on a game controller corresponded to specific colors displayed on a monitor. The researchers found that the effects of a 20-minute stimulation did transfer to other tasks and lasted about five hours.

 

The implications of the findings extend beyond the potential to improve learning. It may also have clinical benefits in the treatment of conditions like schizophrenia and ADHD, which are associated with performance-monitoring deficits.

 

Read more here: http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/03/thinking-cap/

 

The research article published in the Journal of Neuroscience can be viewed here: 

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/34/12/4214.full

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

More recently, researchers have mapped the function of different regions of the brain http://sco.lt/7aOUyn; and found an on/off switch for human consciousness http://sco.lt/7pCq0H

 

Read more scoops on the human brain here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

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Scientists use mind-control device to edit mouse genes with their thoughts

Scientists use mind-control device to edit mouse genes with their thoughts | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Scientists can now remotely turn genes on and off inside a mouse using nothing but the power of their minds. Based on this technology, they're now working on new 'in-built' medical treatments that allow a patient's brainwaves to identify pain or an impending epileptic seizure and automatically release medication into the body.

 

 Earlier this year, two scientists split by entire continents sent each other a message using brain signals alone. Then just last week, scientists figured out how to use thoughts to manipulate another person’s hand. Now, scientists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have invented a mind-control system that enables a person to use only their thoughts to change the genes inside a mouse.

 

The system includes a wireless electroencephalography (EEG) headset, which monitors the brainwaves of the wearer and transmits those to an implant in the mouse. The implant has been fitted with a tiny red LED light and a cluster of special cells that have been genetically engineered to respond to the light. The person in the headset then needs to change their mental state from either concentration or relaxation, or vice-versa, and this change will turn the implanted light on or off inside the mouse.

 

If the light is switched on, specific genes inside the light-sensitive cells will be activated, and this will initiate the production of proteins. The proteins will seep out of the implant and into the mouse. The genes can also be switched off and the production of proteins halted when the headset-wearer uses their brainwaves to deactivate the LED light. This means they can use their mind to control how much protein is being depositing into the mouse’s bloodstream.

 

Why would anyone want to do that? Genes and the proteins they produce are how a body continues to grow new, healthy cells, and when the regular stream of protein production is for some reason held up, disease will ensue. So while this system doesn’t sound too practical in its current form, it acts as a proof of concept that the team hopes to expand on to provide a new kind of ‘in-built’ drug delivery system for humans. 

 

"At first you may ask why should I think something and then control my genes? I could push a button and [also] induce the LED,” bioengineer and lead researcher Martin Fussenegger told Melissa Hogenboom at BBC News. "The reason is, we've designed it for potential application for locked-in patients who can no longer communicate with the outside world other than with their mental activities and brainwaves. This sounds like science fiction but it's an obvious interconnection of different technologies.”

 

The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/141111/ncomms6392/full/ncomms6392.html

 

Read more here: http://www.sciencealert.com/new-mind-control-device-allows-scientists-to-edit-mouse-genes-with-their-thoughts

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Scientists have also figured out how to decipher words directly from the brain.  http://sco.lt/8YLTaj

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Concentrate! How to tame a wandering mind

Concentrate! How to tame a wandering mind | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Procrastinate often? Caroline Williams does, so decided to find out if brain training could tackle her wandering mind. What she discovered could help everyone.

 

I’ve come to theBoston Attention and Learning Lab in the US to try and train my brain to focus better. Esterman and fellow cognitive neuroscientist Joe DeGutis have spent nearly seven years working on a training programme to help wandering minds stay “in the zone”.

 

So far, their methods seem to be particularly promising for enhancing focus in US army veterans with attention problems linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and brain injuries, as well as people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But what I want to know is, can the mind-wandering of the average procrastinating person be improved? And if so, can they do it to me? Please?

 

And this is exactly what DeGutis and Esterman have been working on. Their training programme targets the brain’s ‘dorsal attention network’, which links regions of the prefrontal cortex – the bit of the brain above the eyes that helps us make decisions – and the parietal cortex, the ‘switchboard’ for our senses, which is above and slightly behind the ears. The dorsal attention network is the part of the brain that springs into action when we are deliberately focusing on a task, and if it is to work for any length of time, activity in what’s known as the default mode network – responsible for mind-wandering, creativity and thinking about nothing in particular – has to be turned down.

 

Imaging studies have also shown that the right side of the brain’s dorsal attention network does the bulk of the work – people who do badly on the sorts of tests DeGutis and Esterman asked me to perform show more activation across both hemispheres, suggesting they are leaning more heavily on the less efficient left.

 

So as a less-than-expert focuser and an above average mind-wanderer, it could be that my right hemisphere isn’t working as hard as it should be. Or it could be that I struggle to turn down activity in my default mode network, which allows my mind to wander when it should be knuckling down. Now I have a chance to find out which.

 

Caroline Williams  also describe a new app which uses music to increase focus in the original article: 

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141015-concentrate-how-to-focus-better

 

Research by the Boston Attention and Learning Lab can be read here: http://www.bu.edu/ballab/publications.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

This is an interesting article which I stumble across after reading a similar one scooped by @Jocelyn Stoller http://sco.lt/5MisZV

 

A similar method to electrically stimulate the brain was also developed by Robert Reinhart, and Geoffrey Woodman, from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee http://sco.lt/5K3RqL

 

Research has shown that multitasking is bad for your brain http://sco.lt/7hUzWz

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The season you were born in can affect your mood

The season you were born in can affect your mood | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Researchers have found that your mood and personality may be influenced by something out of your control - your birthday.

 

A team of scientists from Semmelweis University in Hungary have found that when someone is born can play a role in their chance of developing a particular temperament or mood disorder. They recently presented their findings at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Germany. 

 

Previous research has shown that an individual’s dopamine and serotonin levels - neurotransmitters that influence mood - can be affected by their season of birth. "This led us to believe that birth season may have a longer-lasting effect," said Xenia Gonda, psychologist and lead researcher in a press release.

 

In the study, the researchers assessed the correlation between the birth season of participants and their personality traits in adulthood. The results showed that participants born in summer were more likely to have a cyclothymic temperament - rapid and frequent mood swings, than those born in winter. Those born in spring and summer were also more likely to possess a hyperthymic temperament - high levels of energy and positivity. 

 

The findings also revealed that participants born in autumn were less likely to be depressed than those born in winter, and those born in winter were less likely to have an irritable temperament than those born in the other seasons.  

 

Read more here: http://mail.sciencealert.com.au/news/20142110-26367.html

 

Associated research articles can be read here:

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032711000334

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886904001825

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15245791

 

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Woman found functioning without a cerebellum in her brain

Woman found functioning without a cerebellum in her brain | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Doctors have discovered that somehow, a woman living in China has reached the age of 24 while missing a large part of her brain. They say this is evidence of how incredibly adaptable our brains can be.

 

When a woman checked herself into the PLA General Hospital in China's Shandong Province, she reported symptoms of dizziness and nausea. She’d had a shaky walk for most of her life, and unlike most people, who learn to walk when they’re very young infants, she was only able to master this skill at seven years old. She was also only able to speak properly from the age of six.

 

According to Helen Thomson at New Scientist, once the doctors performed a CAT scan - which combines information from several X-rays to produce a comprehensive image of structures inside the brain - the source problem was immediately made clear. The woman’s entirecerebellum was missing, and in its place was nothing but cerebrospinal fluid, which is a special substance that protects the brain from damaging knocks and disease.

 

The cerebellum makes up 10 percent of the brain’s total volume, but contains 50 percent of its neurons. It sits beneath the brain’s two hemispheres, and is made up of a unique combination of small and compact tissue folds. It plays a crucial role in motor control and speech, and there’s evidence to suggest that it’s involved in cognitive functions such as attention and language, and perhaps even in mitigating feelings of fear and pleasure. 

 

While this woman is not the first person born without a cerebellum, she is just one of nine people known to have survived to adulthood without it. "A detailed description of how the disorder affects a living adult is almost non-existent, say doctors from the Chinese hospital, because most people with the condition die at a young age and the problem is only discovered on autopsy,” says Thomson at New Scientist.

 

Read more here: http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20141209-26167.html

 

The associated research article can be read here: 

http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=25149410

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

This lady was born without a cerebellum but Miracle Mike, a chicken, survived without a head and only its cerebellum and brain stem intact http://sco.lt/7GGdIv

 

More scoops on the human brain can be read here: http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

 

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The Memory Fades, The Emotion Remains

The Memory Fades, The Emotion Remains | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

People with Alzheimer’s disease can experience severe memory impairments.However, according to a new study, the emotions associated with events can persist long after the events themselves have been forgotten.

 

In their paper, the researchers, University of Iowa neurologists Edmarie Guzman-Velez and colleagues, showed volunteers a series of emotional video clips, chosen to be either very sad or very happy.

The eight sad clips, for example, included an excerpt from the movie Sophie’s Choice (1982) in which ‘a woman is forced to choose which of her children to keep at a Nazi concentration camp’. The happy videos, by contrast, featured such classics as ‘a collage of funny scenes with babies’ from America’s Funniest Home Videos.

 

Half of the participants had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while half were healthy controls, matched for age and gender. Memory tests showed that the Alzheimer’s patients could recall few details of the sad film clips, even just minutes after watching them. Four of the patients couldn’t recall any facts about the movies, and one didn’t remember watching any video clips at all.

 

Despite this:  The patients with Alzheimer’s reported feeling elevated levels of sadness that lasted for up to 30 minutes after the films, despite having little or no recollection of the content… Across all participants, the correlation between memory performance and sadness during the final rating was significant, but in a negative direction (r = 0.37, n = 34). This paradoxical effect actually suggests that the less the patients remembered about the films, the longer their sadness lasted.


Despite their severe memory impairment, all 4 patients who could not recollect any details about the films reported sustained feelings of sadness after the memory test, and 3 reported feeling sad even 30 minutes later.

 

Read more here:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2014/09/27/memory-fades-emotion-remains/

 

The associated research article can be read here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25237742

 


Via Jocelyn Stoller
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Be kind to the elderly, their mind may not be what it once was but their feelings are still as vivid as ever. 

 

This research validates what leadership gurus have been propagating, people remember how you made them feel even if they forget what you did http://sco.lt/4sagID

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Research explains why you can’t remember being a baby

Research explains why you can’t remember being a baby | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Scientists have found the first evidence of a physical mechanism that may stop us from remembering our early childhood.

 

Researchers have long puzzled over why we can form memories when we’re babies, but then go on to have no recollection of those years - a phenomenon known as infantile amnesia. Now recent research in rodents may have found the answer. It turns out all the new cells that are constantly being formed in young brains may actually be messing with our memories.

 

Mammals generate new brain cells all the time, but when we’re babies the rate of this process, known as neurogenesis, is at its highest. Because of all the new things we experience as infants, there’s a lot of early-life action in the hippocampus in particular - the region of the brain that is associated with memories and learning.

 

Usually this type of hippocampus activity is associated with improved memory, as Susannah Locke writes for Vox. But a study led by scientists from the University of Toronto in Canada has found that in babies, the extremely high rates of neurogenesis is actually having the opposite effect and increasing forgetfulness.

 

Their research, published in Science, suggests that the new neurons being formed could be pushing out established memory circuits.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6184/598

 

Read more about how the research was conducted:

http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20140107-25789.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Interesting research which explains why my earliest memories began at around 4 years of age. 

 

More fascinating scoops on the human brain here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

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Secrets of the Creative Brain

Secrets of the Creative Brain | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness. 

 

Dr. Nancy Andreasen  and her research team conducted a study in 1995 using positron-emission tomography, or PET, scanning. PET turned out to be unexpectedly useful in advancing the understanding of association cortices of the brain and their role in the creative process. Subjects were asked to lie quietly with their eyes closed, to relax, and to think about whatever came to mind, a state of mind called "random episodic silent thought", or REST. The association cortices of creative individual were found to be wildly active during REST.

 

Andreasen also notes that having too many ideas can be dangerous. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all of these connections actually exist. In another more recent study, Andreasen studied subjects from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop searching for a connection between mood disorders and creative writing. To participate in the study, each subject spends three days in Iowa City, since it is important to conduct the research using the same MRI scanner. After the MRI scans, subjects were scheduled for an in-depth interview. The study found a strong association between creativity and mood disorders.

 

Read more here:
http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/06/secrets-of-the-creative-brain/372299/

 

Dr. Nancy Andreasen's research articles can be read here:
http://www.pnas.org/content/93/18/9985.full.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181877/

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

This article was written not long before actor Robin Williams killed himself. This resonates with Andreasen's warning that individuals who are able to form associations too easily can be overwhelmed with the number of hypothetical scenarios constructed in their minds, some of which are not real.

 

More scoops on the human brain can be read here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

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Eric Chan Wei Chiang's comment, August 13, 2014 3:57 AM
@Jocelyn Stoller, @Jeff Morris and @Sepp Hasslberger, a scoop you may be interested in.
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Researchers May Have Discovered The Consciousness On/Off Switch

Researchers May Have Discovered The Consciousness On/Off Switch | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Researchers from the George Washington University have managed to switch consciousness on and off in an epileptic woman by stimulating a single region of the brain with electrical impulses. While this is a single case study, it provides an exciting insight into the neural mechanisms behind consciousness, a subject of great interest that is poorly understood despite decades of research.

 

Consciousness is a fascinating topic that has both intrigued and puzzled scientists and philosophers for centuries. Despite significant advances in our understanding of the brain, little is known about the neural networks that underpin consciousness. However, research has hinted that consciousness is likely the result of an integration of activity from numerous different areas of the brain, marrying all of our perceptions together into one experience. But what is the central hub to this process?

 

A few years back, Francis Crick, one of the scientists involved in deciphering the structure of DNA, and colleague Christof Koch proposed that a brain region known as the claustrum may be at the heart of consciousness, stringing together the constant input of information arriving from different brain networks. 

 

Now, in the latest study, researchers demonstrate that their hypothesis might be correct after all. The scientists stumbled upon this finding whilst stimulating different areas of the brain of an epileptic woman and measuring resultant activity in order to find the epicenter of her seizures. They discovered that electrical stimulation with an electrode placed between the left claustrum and anterior-dorsal insula caused the woman to lose consciousness. She completely stopped moving, became unresponsive and her breathing slowed.


Read more at http://www.iflscience.com/brain/researchers-may-have-discovered-consciousness-onoff-switch

 

The associated research article can be viewed here:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1525505014002017

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Scientists have also mapped the functions of different areas of the brain http://sco.lt/7aOUyn; and stimulated cognitive ability with a short electrical current http://sco.lt/5K3RqL

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Mapping the social and cognitive functions of the brain

Mapping the social and cognitive functions of the brain | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

By studying the injuries and aptitudes of Vietnam War veterans who suffered penetrating head wounds during the war, researchers have found that brain regions that contribute to optimal social functioning are also vital to general intelligence and emotional intelligence.

 

“We are trying to understand the nature of general intelligence and to what extent our intellectual abilities are grounded in social cognitive abilities,” said Aron Barbey, a University of Illinois professor of neuroscience, psychology, and speech and hearing science. Barbey, an affiliate of the Beckman Institute and he Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, led the new study with an international team of collaborators. 

 

The study involved 144 Vietnam veterans injured by shrapnel or bullets that penetrated the skull, damaging distinct brain tissues while leaving neighboring tissues intact. Using CT scans, the scientists painstakingly mapped the affected brain regions of each participant, then pooled the data to build a collective map of the brain. They then looked for damage in specific brain regions tied to deficits in the participants’ ability to navigate intellectual, emotional or social realms. Social problem solving in this analysis primarily involved conflict resolution with friends, family and peers at work.

 

As in their earlier studies of general intelligence and emotional intelligence, the researchers found that regions of the frontal cortex (at the front of the brain), the parietal cortex (further back near the top of the head) and the temporal lobes (on the sides of the head behind the ears) are all implicated in social problem solving. The regions that contributed to social functioning in the parietal and temporal lobes were located only in the brain’s left hemisphere, while both left and right frontal lobes were involved.

 

Read the full article here:

http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-social-origins-of-intelligence-in-the-brain

 

Findings were reported in the journal Brain and can be read here:

http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/07/27/brain.awu207


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

There is a popular myth that humans use no more than 10% of their brains throughout their entire life. This has been shown to be untrue as brain damage consistently results in loss of function. Nonetheless, this myth provided the premise for some great movies such as the 2014 film, Lucy 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_(2014_film)

 

Read more scoops on the brain here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

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Helen Teague's curator insight, August 3, 2014 9:32 AM

From Dr. Stefan Gruenwald:

By studying the injuries and aptitudes of Vietnam War veterans who suffered penetrating head wounds during the war, researchers have found that brain regions that contribute to optimal social functioning are also vital to general intelligence and emotional intelligence.

 

This finding, reported in the journal Brain, bolsters the view that general intelligence emerges from the emotional and social context of one’s life.

“We are trying to understand the nature of general intelligence and to what extent our intellectual abilities are grounded in social cognitive abilities,” said Aron Barbey, a University of Illinois professor of neuroscience, psychology, and speech and hearing science.

 

Barbey, an affiliate of the Beckman Institute and he Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, led the new study with an international team of collaborators.

 

The study involved 144 Vietnam veterans injured by shrapnel or bullets that penetrated the skull, damaging distinct brain tissues while leaving neighboring tissues intact. Using CT scans, the scientists painstakingly mapped the affected brain regions of each participant, then pooled the data to build a collective map of the brain.

 

The researchers used a battery of carefully designed tests to assess participants’ intellectual, emotional and social capabilities. They then looked for damage in specific brain regions tied to deficits in the participants’ ability to navigate intellectual, emotional or social realms. Social problem solving in this analysis primarily involved conflict resolution with friends, family and peers at work.

 

As in their earlier studies of general intelligence and emotional intelligence, the researchers found that regions of the frontal cortex (at the front of the brain), the parietal cortex (further back near the top of the head) and the temporal lobes (on the sides of the head behind the ears) are all implicated in social problem solving. The regions that contributed to social functioning in the parietal and temporal lobes were located only in the brain’s left hemisphere, while both left and right frontal lobes were involved.

Jocelyn Stoller's curator insight, August 13, 2014 4:55 AM

Strange that CT scans were used. High resolution Functional MRI would show both structure and activity. Other imaging methods such as optogenetics, MEG, TMS, BOLD, etc. could also help to pinpoint these areas without using radiation on an already-injured brain.

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Chronic stress hurts your memory

Chronic stress hurts your memory | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Studies show that memory and stress are more connected than we once thought. There's nothing like stress to make your memory go a little spotty. A 2010 study found that chronic stress reduces spatial memory: the memory that helps you recall locations and relate objects.

 

University of Iowa researchers recently found a connection between the stress hormone cortisol and short-term memory loss in older rats. Their findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience this week, showed that cortisol reduced synapses -- connections between neurons -- in the animals' pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that houses short-term memory.

 

But there's a difference between how your brain processes long-term job stress, for example, and the stress of getting into a car accident. Research suggests low levels of anxiety can affect your ability to recall memories; acute or high-anxiety situations, on the other hand, can actually reinforce the learning process.

 

Acute stress increases your brain's ability to encode and recall traumatic events, according to studies. These memories get stored in the part of the brain responsible for survival, and serve as a warning and defense mechanism against future trauma.

 

If the stress you're experiencing is ongoing, however, there can be devastating effects.

 

Read the accompanying slideshow: 6 ways to keep the brain young

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/17/health/memory-stress-link/

 

Read the academic publications here:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278584609003893

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/34/25/8387

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22688258

 

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Stress has a lot to do with how adversity is perceived. Stess helps us perform better to overcome adversity but over time optimism and impetus changes to depression. Indeed, scientists have also found a link between stress and depression  http://sco.lt/777VfF

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Longevity gene may boost brain power

Longevity gene may boost brain power | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Scientists showed that people who have a variant of a longevity gene, called KLOTHO, have improved brain skills such as thinking, learning and memory regardless of their age, sex, or whether they have a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Increasing KLOTHO gene levels in mice made them smarter, possibly by increasing the strength of connections between nerve cells in the brain.

 

The effect is so pronounced, The Economist reports, that it could increase IQ by an equivalent of six points. 

 

"This could be a major step toward helping millions around the world who are suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias," said Dena Dubal, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurology, the David A. Coulter Endowed Chair in Aging and Neurodegeneration at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the lead author of the study published in Cell Reports. "If we could boost the brain's ability to function, we may be able to counter dementias."

 

"Overall our results suggest that klotho may increase cognitive reserve or the brain's capacity to perform everyday intellectual tasks," said senior author Lennart Mucke, M.D., director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, San Francisco, CA, and the Joseph B. Martin Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience, and professor of neurology at UCSF

 

Read more here:

http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20141305-25509.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140509150822.htm

 

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Scientists Create an Oxygen Particle Allows You To Live Without Breathing

Scientists Create an Oxygen Particle Allows You To Live Without Breathing | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

In the summer of 2012 scientists were able to keep rabbits with blocked windpipes alive for up to 15 minuteswithout a single breath. This feat was accomplished after researchers injected oxygen-filled microparticles into the animals’ blood.


These microcapsules consist of a single-layer shell of lipids, each surrounding a small bubble of oxygen gas. Through this structure, the oxygen is encapsulated and suspended in a liquid mixture, so can’t form larger bubbles (large bubbles of released oxygen would be problematic as they could travel to the heart or brain and kill you). And these particles are tiny. The average size ranges between just 2 and 4 micrometers in diameter, which is amazingly small (the limit on the human eye is often cited as objects 50 micrometers in diameter, about the size of a dust speck. The average width of a human hair is 80 micrometers).


The particles are injected directly into the bloodstream. Here, the particles come into contact with the red blood cells that circulate throughout the body. Once the particles meet the cells, the oxygen transfers within seconds of contact. When the scientists mixed the oxygen particles with blood, their research found that 70% of the oxygen had transferred into the blood in under 4 seconds. “By the time the microparticles get to the lungs, the vast majority of the oxygen has been transferred to the red blood cells.” This distinguishes these microcapsules from the various forms of artificial blood currently in use, which can carry oxygen around the body, but must still receive it from the lungs.


Ultimately, this is of great assistance to anyone who has a blocked airway…or who is pretending to be a mermaid.

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