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Cancer screening with a simple "universal" blood test

Cancer screening with a simple "universal" blood test | The future of medicine and health |
A universal blood test screening for cancer is the goal of a lab at the University of Bradford, reducing unneeded and expensive biopsies.


Although many dread the prick of a blood test, most would find it a preferable testing method to invasive and expensive biopsies. That's why a blood test for cancer is the goal of many research efforts, including one at the University of Bradford in the UK, where researchers are claiming to have devised a simple universal blood test for the disease that relies on the fact that white blood cells in cancer patients are already damaged from battling cancerous cells.

"White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defense system," says Professor Diana Anderson, who led the research. "We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measurable could be seen if we put them under further stress with UVA light."

To put her theory to the test, the University of Bradford team used a comet assay, which involves exposing DNA to UV light and applying an electric field to induce it to travel through an agar medium. The more damaged the DNA, the more elongated its comet-like tail, as the structure is no longer as tightly compressed together.

"We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people," says Anderson. "So the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the DNA – the genome – in a cell."

Hieu Ngo's curator insight, August 6, 2014 11:16 PM

I found this interesting because it provides an easy alternative to find if someone has cancer as opposed to making them go through a series of procedures which can potentially be very expensive in the end. Overall, this article shows that there isn't necessarily one way to do something and that sometimes, there is a better and easier way to having healthy human beings.

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Sleeping on your side may clear waste from your brain most effectively | KurzweilAI

Sleeping in the lateral, or side position, as compared to sleeping on one’s back or stomach, may more effectively remove brain waste, and could reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases, according to researchers at Stony Brook University.

Stony Brook University researchers discovered this in experiments with rodents by using dynamic contrast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to image the brain’s glymphatic pathway, a complex system that clears wastes and other harmful chemical solutes from the brain. They also used kinetic modeling to quantify the CSF-ISF exchange rates in anesthetized rodents’ brains in lateral, prone, and supine positions.

Colleagues at the University of Rochester used fluorescence microscopy and radioactive tracers to validate the MRI data and to assess the influence of body posture on the clearance of amyloid from the brains.

Their finding is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Most popular position in humans and animals

“It is interesting that the lateral sleep position is already the most popular in human and most animals —even in the wild — and it appears that we have adapted the lateral sleep position to most efficiently clear our brain of the metabolic waste products that built up while we are awake,” says Maiken Nedergaard, PhD, a co-author at the University of Rochester.

“The study therefore adds further support to the concept that sleep subserves a distinct biological function of sleep and that is to ‘clean up’ the mess that accumulates while we are awake. Many types of dementia are linked to sleep disturbances, including difficulties in falling asleep. It is increasing acknowledged that these sleep disturbances may accelerate memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.”
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Genetic tug of war in the brain influences behavior

Genetic tug of war in the brain influences behavior | The future of medicine and health |
Not every mom and dad agree on how their offspring should behave. But in genetics as in life, parenting is about knowing when your voice needs to be heard, and the best ways of doing so. Typically, compromise reigns, and one copy of each gene is inherited from each parent so that the two contribute equally to the traits who make us who we are. Occasionally, a mechanism called genomic imprinting, first described 30 years ago, allows just one parent to be heard by completely silencing the other.

Now, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine report on a version of genetic parental control in mice that is more targeted, and subtle. Published in Cell Reports, so-called noncanonical imprinting is particularly prevalent in the brain, and skews the genetic message in subpopulations of cells so that mom, or dad, has a stronger say. The mechanism can influence offspring behavior, and because it is observed more frequently than classic imprinting, appears to be preferred.

“The field has traditionally thought of genetics at the level of the whole animal, and sometimes the tissue. We’re documenting it at the cellular level,” says senior author Christopher Gregg, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy. “Genetics is much more complicated than we thought.”
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Non-invasive spinal cord stimulation gets paralyzed legs moving voluntarily again

Non-invasive spinal cord stimulation gets paralyzed legs moving voluntarily again | The future of medicine and health |
Five men with complete motor paralysis have regained the ability to move their legs voluntarily and produce step-like movements after being treated with a non-invasive form of spinal cord stimulation. The new treatment builds on prior work to generate voluntary movements in paralyzed people through electrical stimulation – in particular, two studies (one completed in 2011, the other in 2014) that involved surgically implanting an electrode array on the spinal cord. This time, however, the researchers found success without performing any invasive surgery.

The new treatment uses a technique called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which involves strategically placing electrodes on the skin of the lower back. While receiving stimulation, the men's legs were supported by braces that hung from the ceiling. At first their legs only moved involuntarily, if at all. But they soon found they could voluntarily extend the distance their legs moved during stimulation. They doubled their range of voluntary motion after four treatment sessions.

In an effort to further improve voluntary motion, the researchers gave the men a drug called buspirone during the final four weeks of the 18-week study. This drug mimics the neurotransmitter serotonin, and it is known to induce walking motions in mice with spinal cord injuries.
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Harnessing the survival powers of cancer cells could wipe out heart disease

Harnessing the survival powers of cancer cells could wipe out heart disease | The future of medicine and health |
The same genes that allow many cancers to proliferate and thrive could in the future be repurposed as a force for good. A study at the San Diego State University (SDSU) Heart Institute has found that mouse hearts regenerate cells better, causing the mice to live longer, when their progenitor cells are modified to over-express a key gene in cancer production. The researchers believe this could lead to a new treatment for people with heart disease or who have suffered from other age-related cardiac problems.

The human heart normally heals and repairs itself using cardiac progenitor cells, which are basically cells that transform themselves into whatever specific type of heart cell is required. But as we get older, the process becomes less efficient. The body's self-therapy treatment weakens or stops entirely. This can lead to heart disease or cause complications in the recovery of people who have suffered heart failure.

Heart progenitor cells essentially wear out, and when they wear out they get cautious about dividing further to keep the supply up. Scientists believe they evolved to do this to protect the heart – if there's a transcription error during cell division, that could be it for you because even a minor problem in the heart can kill you.
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Memory problems? Go climb a tree. | KurzweilAI

Memory problems? Go climb a tree. | KurzweilAI | The future of medicine and health |
Climbing a tree or balancing on a beam can dramatically improve cognitive skills, according to a study recently conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Florida.

The study is the first to show that proprioceptively dynamic activities like climbing a tree, done over a short period of time, have dramatic working memory benefits.

Working memory (the ability to process and recall information), is linked to performance in a wide variety of contexts from grades to sports. Proprioception (awareness of body positioning and orientation) is also associated with working memory.

The results of this research, led by Ross Alloway, a research associate, and Tracy Alloway, an associate professor, recently published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, suggest that working-memory improvements can be made in just a couple of hours with these physical exercises.

The aim of this study was to see if proprioceptive activities completed over a short period of time can enhance working memory performance, and whether an acute and highly intensive period of exercise would yield working memory gains.

The UNF researchers recruited adults ages 18 to 59 and tested their working memory. Next, they undertook proprioceptively dynamic activities, designed by the company Movnat, which required proprioception and at least one other element, such as locomotion or route planning.

Working memory capacity increase of 50 percent; better than yoga
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What Makes a Human Brain Unique

What Makes a Human Brain Unique | The future of medicine and health |
Neuroscientists have identified an area of the brain that might give the human mind its unique abilities, including language. The area lit up in human, but not monkey, brains when they were presented with different types of abstract information.

The idea that integrating abstract information drives many of the human brain's unique abilities has been around for decades. But a paper published in Current Biology, which directly compares activity in human and macaque monkey brains as they listen to simple auditory patterns, provides the first physical evidence that a specific area for such integration may exist in humans. Other studies that compare monkeys and humans have revealed differences in the brain’s anatomy, for example, but not differences that could explain where humans’ abstract abilities come from, say neuroscientists.

“This gives us a powerful clue about what is special about our minds,” says psychologist Gary Marcus at New York University. “Nothing is more important than understanding how we got to be how we are.”
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Why the case against designer babies falls apart

Why the case against designer babies falls apart | The future of medicine and health |
When it comes to technological advances that could reduce human suffering, improve health and reduce disease, we are generally all in favour. But recent advances in procedures that tinker with reproductive cells are often seen as an exception. They attract fierce opposition from people who believe they are unethical and should be treated as serious criminal offences – which in some jurisdictions they are already. I don’t think these arguments are decisive, however. Indeed some of them are not convincing at all.

Ethical debates about changing the human genome make a distinction between two different types of cells. All cells except those involved in reproduction are known as somatic. These have been the subject of less controversial research for a number of years now – for example editing a type of white blood cell known as T-cells has become a major area of enquiry in cancer research.

Cells involved in reproduction are called germ cells. Changing them, which is sometimes described as germline editing, can have effects that can be inherited by the offspring of the people whose bodies are amended. In other words, the changes can enter the gene pool.
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Eye drops could spell the end of cataract surgery

Eye drops could spell the end of cataract surgery | The future of medicine and health |
People suffering from cataracts aren't exactly flush with options when it comes to restoring their vision. As they grow over time, they start to impede the ability to perform everyday tasks like reading and driving, prompting surgical removal either by scalpel or laser. But new research suggests a less invasive solution might be on the way in the form of a naturally-occurring molecule that can be administered through a simple eye drop.

Scientists had suspected that a molecule called lanosterol may have a role to play in the onset of cataracts. This suspicion was borne out of research at China's Sun Yat-sen University that found two children with inherited cataracts both shared the same genetic mutation that adversely affected the production of lanosterol. This lead researchers to surmise that the molecule might prevent cataract-forming proteins from clumping in the eyes.

The scientists then conducted testing where dogs suffering from naturally occurring cataracts were treated with eye drops containing lanosterol. Following six weeks of treatment, the team observed a reduction in both the size and cloudiness of the cataracts.
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Pill on a string pulls early signs of cancer

Pill on a string pulls early signs of cancer | The future of medicine and health |
As with every form of the deadly disease, early detection of oesophageal cancer is critical to recovery. The current approach of detecting the cancer through biopsy can be a little hit and miss, so the University of Cambridge's Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald and her team have developed what they claim to be a more accurate tool for early-diagnosis. Billed as "a pill on a string," the Cytosponge is designed to scrape off cells from the length of the oesophagus as it is yanked out after swallowing, offering up a much larger sample for inspection of cancer cells.

According to Fitzgerald, the five-year survival rate for oesophageal cancer is only 13 percent, a fact which has led researchers to hunt for signs of a condition that precedes the disease, known as Barrett's oesophagus. This sees the cells located in the lining of the oesophagus take on a different shape and grow abnormally, a process that is brought about by acid and bile reflux when fluids from the stomach come up to say hello. Between one and five of every 100 people with Barrett's oesophagus go on to develop oesophageal cancer.
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Have scientists found a drug to stop Alzheimer's disease?

Have scientists found a drug to stop Alzheimer's disease? | The future of medicine and health |
The first drug that can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease if caught early is expected to be unveiled this week.

Trials have been ongoing into a new treatment called Solanezumab which appears to stop the degenerative disease in its tracks.

The results will be announced by drugs giant Eli Lilly on at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Wednesday morning but if positive it will be the first drug proven to be effective for treating dementia.

Solanezumab, is an antibody which works by binding to the amyloid plaques which cause Alzheimer’s disease and clearing them from the brain.

Initial trials failed to show any benefit, but when researchers went back over the data they found that it seemed to work in people with mild symptoms and launched a new study.

There are 850,000 people currently suffering from dementia in the UK, with Alzheimer's disease being the most common type. The disease kills at least 60,000 people each year.

Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said it would be interesting to find out if the treatment worked in the long term.

"Current treatments only help with symptoms. They enable nerve cells to communicate with each other more effectively, but don't stop the underlying disease from getting worse," he said.
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Laser device may soon non-invasively monitor diabetics' glucose levels

Laser device may soon non-invasively monitor diabetics' glucose levels | The future of medicine and health |
In order to monitor their blood glucose levels, diabetics typically have to perform painful and inconvenient finger-prick blood tests – in some cases, several times a day. Using an implantable glucose-monitoring sensor is one alternative, although it must be surgically installed and subsequently removed for replacement. Another option may be on the way, however, in the form of a device that simply shines a laser on the user's finger.

Known as GlucoSense, the system was developed by Prof. Gin Jose and his team at the University of Leeds.

To use it, patients simply place the pad of their finger against a small glass window on the device. A low-powered laser beam is then projected through that window, and into their finger. Some of that light is absorbed by glucose in the bloodstream, and some is reflected back down onto the window.

Ions on the window glass surface subsequently fluorescence in infrared when exposed to that reflected light – the more light that hits them, the longer they glow. By measuring the duration of that fluorescence, a processor in the device is able to determine how much of the original laser light was absorbed by glucose, and can thus deduce the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds.
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Your Brain Is On the Brink of Chaos - Issue 15: Turbulence - Nautilus

Your Brain Is On the Brink of Chaos - Issue 15: Turbulence - Nautilus | The future of medicine and health |
In one important way, the recipient of a heart transplant ignores its new organ: Its nervous system usually doesn’t rewire to communicate with it. The 40,000 neurons controlling a heart operate so perfectly, and are so self-contained, that a heart can be cut out of one body, placed into another, and continue to function perfectly, even in the absence of external control, for a decade or more. This seems necessary: The parts of our nervous system managing our most essential functions behave like a Swiss watch, precisely timed and impervious to perturbations. Chaotic behavior has been throttled out.

Or has it? Two simple pendulums that swing with perfect regularity can, when yoked together, move in a chaotic trajectory. Given that the billions of neurons in our brain are each like a pendulum, oscillating back and forth between resting and firing, and connected to 10,000 other neurons, isn’t chaos in our nervous system unavoidable?
The prospect is terrifying to imagine. Chaos is extremely sensitive to initial conditions—just think of the butterfly effect. What if the wrong perturbation plunged us into irrevocable madness? Among many scientists, too, there is a great deal of resistance to the idea that chaos is at work in biological systems. Many intentionally preclude it from their models. It subverts computationalism, which is the idea that the brain is nothing more than a complicated, but fundamentally rule-based, computer. Chaos seems unqualified as a mechanism of biological information processing, as it allows noise to propagate without bounds, corrupting information transmission and storage.
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Implantable device hits targeted brain cells with light and drugs when triggered remotely

Implantable device hits targeted brain cells with light and drugs when triggered remotely | The future of medicine and health |
The field of optogenetics where individual brains cells are made to behave differently when exposed to light has wide-ranging potential. It may one day be used to reverse acquired blindness, alter pain thresholds and even hit the rest button on our biological clocks. With one eye on this emerging area of neuroscience, scientists have developed a device the width of a human hair that can be planted in the brain to deliver light or drugs only where needed, offering better targeted treatments and reduced side effects.

The tiny device features microfluid channels and microscale pumps, and is made to be soft like brain tissue so as not to cause inflammation and neural damage. It also houses four separate chambers for carrying drugs directly to the brain and cellular-scale inorganic light-emitting diode (μ-ILED) arrays, allowing it to shine light on targeted cells. And critically, its functions can be triggered remotely.

"Now, we literally can deliver drug therapy with the press of a button," says Jordan McCall, a graduate student at Washington University in St Louis and member of the research team. "We’ve designed it to exploit infrared technology, similar to that used in a TV remote. If we want to influence an animal’s behavior with light or with a particular drug, we can simply point the remote at the animal and press a button."
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Can we reverse the ageing process by putting young blood into older people? | Ian Sample

Can we reverse the ageing process by putting young blood into older people? | Ian Sample | The future of medicine and health |
On an August morning in 2008, Tony Wyss-Coray sat in a conference room at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, California, waiting for his lab’s weekly meeting to begin. Wyss-Coray, a professor of neurology at Stanford University, was leading a young group of researchers who studied ageing and neurodegeneration. As a rule, the gatherings were forgettable affairs – the incremental nature of scientific progress does not lend itself to big surprises. But a lab member scheduled to speak that day had taken on a radical project, and he had new results to share.

Saul Villeda, an ebullient PhD student with slick black hair and a goatee, had spent the past year engrossed in research that called to mind the speculative medical science of the middle ages. He was investigating whether the old and frail could be rejuvenated by infusions of blood from the young. The hypothesis was not as absurd as it might sound.
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Experts conclude that hallucinations and delusions are common and understandable

Experts conclude that hallucinations and delusions are common and understandable | The future of medicine and health |
A report published by the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology challenges received wisdom about the nature of mental illness.

‘Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia: Why people sometimes hear voices, believe things that others find strange, or appear out of touch with reality, and what can help’ has been written by a group of eminent clinical psychologists drawn from eight universities and six NHS trusts, together with people who have themselves experienced psychosis.

It provides an accessible overview of the current state of knowledge, and its conclusions have profound implications both for the way we understand ‘mental illness’ and for the future of mental health services.

Many people believe that schizophrenia is a frightening brain disease that makes people unpredictable and potentially violent, and can only be controlled by medication. However research conducted over the last 20 years and brought together in this report reveals that this view is false. Rather:

The problems we think of as ‘psychosis’ – hearing voices, believing things that others find strange, or appearing out of touch with reality – can be understood in the same way as other psychological problems such as anxiety or shyness.
They are often a reaction to trauma or adversity of some kind which impacts on the way we experience and interpret the world.
They rarely lead to violence.
No one can tell for sure what has caused a particular person’s problems. The only way is to sit down with them and try and work it out.
Services should not insist that people see themselves as ill. Some prefer to think of their problems as, for example, an aspect of their personality which sometimes gets them into trouble but which they would not want to be without.
We need to invest much more in prevention by attending to inequality and child maltreatment. Concentrating resources only on treating existing problems is like mopping the floor while the tap is still running.
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How to get more men using condoms – put the pleasure back into sex

How to get more men using condoms – put the pleasure back into sex | The future of medicine and health |
Pleasure, excitement and intimacy are powerful drivers in young people’s sexual decision making. But they are rarely considered when it comes to strategies for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or promoting condom use.

Stubbornly high rates of STIs in the UK, particularly among under-25s, demonstrate that the plethora of messages and campaigns focused on risk of infection as the driver for condom use have failed to resonate with young people. Or more accurately, with all young people, all the time. It is time to move away from building messages around sex as a risk of infection or pregnancy, and instead to develop campaigns around sex as pleasure, intimacy and excitement.

Some recent practice and research is starting to put the pleasure agenda in the foreground of sexual health. For example, recent empirical research in the United States has highlighted how young people’s motivation to seek pleasure was the most important factor behind their lack of condom use. This priority means pleasure is a factor we can’t afford to neglect.

For young men, sex is also pivotal in the construction of their sense of masculinity. Pressures on young men to be good at sex, to take the lead and to maintain and sustain an erection are high. Condom use can threaten or undermine these imperatives by placing this performance at risk. Young men fear that the interruption to apply a condom may cause them to lose their erection and make them appear fumbling and unsure. It requires a level of negotiation and discussion which they can find difficult and embarrassing and it does not fit their conception of sex as spontaneous and exciting.

This combination means that, despite having the knowledge about its importance, condom use in itself constitutes a more immediate and significant risk to young men than that of infection, which is often seen as trivial and treatable.

Embracing and seeking to control risk is a valued masculine attribute. Consequently, being seen as sexually risky and adventurous by rejecting social conformities relating to safe sex can also enhance masculine status.

However, it is not only young men who are resistant to condom use. Research shows that young women also have preferences for condom-less heterosexual sex, often citing condoms’ impact on feelings of intimacy and trust as important factors. And while gender stereotypes and masculine expectations mean that this “romantic” rationale is not typically associated with or acknowledged by young men, it doesn’t mean that, in the privacy of an encounter with their partner, the desire to be intimate and the pleasure of this closeness is not also privileged by young men.

Talking more about pleasure would enable us to better promote condom use among young men. It would enable us to explore alternatives to penetrative sex, discuss the nitty gritty (such as how to manage condom use without fumbling and embarrassment) and challenge the preoccupation with sex as a performance to be mastered.
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Can a bribe lure us to eat less? - Futurity

Can a bribe lure us to eat less? - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
In our super-sized world, it’s not easy to eat less at meals. But a new study suggests even modest incentives to eat smaller portions can pay off in a big way.

Call it the “Happy Meal effect.” Given the choice between a full-sized meal and one half the size with a modest “prize,” people will consistently choose the smaller meal. What’s better, it doesn’t take a free car to motivate healthier eating. Just the chance of winning a $10 lottery is enough.

Researchers say the findings could be a way to fight obesity rates and health care costs.

“Portion sizes at US restaurants are often two or three times what they were 20 years ago, which is also distorting how much we eat at home,” says Deborah MacInnis, professor of business administration and professor of marketing at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “The increase in portion size directly parallels the increase we observe in obesity.”
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Can brain scans separate training from talent? - Futurity

Can brain scans separate training from talent? - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
New research on the brain’s capacity to learn suggests there’s more to it than “practice makes perfect.”

A music-training study finds evidence to distinguish the parts of the brain that account for individual talent from the parts that are activated through training.

The research involved brain-imaging studies of 15 young adults with little or no musical background who were scanned before and after they underwent six weeks of musical training. Participants were required to learn simple piano pieces.

Brain activity in certain areas changed after learning, indicating the effect of training. But the activity in a different set of brain structures, measured before the training session had started, predicted which test subjects would learn quickly or slowly.

“Predisposition plays an important role for auditory-motor learning that can be clearly distinguished from training-induced plasticity,” says Robert Zatorre, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University who co-directs Montreal’s International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research (BRAMS).

“Our findings pertain to the debate about the relative influence of ‘nature or nurture,’ but also have potential practical relevance for medicine and education.”
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Why your brain acts like a jazz band - Futurity

Why your brain acts like a jazz band - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
The human brain improvises while its rhythm section keeps up a steady beat. But when it comes to taking on intellectually challenging tasks, groups of neurons tune in to one another for a fraction of a second and harmonize, then go back to improvising, according to new research.

These findings, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could pave the way for more targeted treatments for people with brain disorders marked by fast, slow, or chaotic brain waves, also known as neural oscillations.

Tracking the changing rhythms of the healthy human brain at work advances our understanding of such disorders as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and even autism, which are characterized in part by offbeat brain rhythms. In jazz lingo, for example, bands of neurons in certain mental illnesses may be malfunctioning because they’re tuning in to blue notes, or playing double time or half time.
“The human brain has 86 billion or so neurons all trying to talk to each other in this incredibly messy, noisy, and electrochemical soup,” says study lead author Bradley Voytek. “Our results help explain the mechanism for how brain networks quickly come together and break apart as needed.”
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Drug companies eye ‘superhuman’ genes - The Times of India

Drug companies eye ‘superhuman’ genes - The Times of India | The future of medicine and health |
Steven Pete can put his hand on a hot stove or step on a piece of glass and not feel a thing, all because of a quirk in his genes. Only a few dozen people in the world share Pete's congenital insensitivity to pain. Drug companies see riches in his rare mutation. They also have their eye on people like Timothy Dreyer, 25, who has bones so dense he could walk away from accidents that would leave others with broken limbs. About 100 people have sclerosteosis, Dreyer's condition.

Both men's apparent superpowers come from exceedingly uncommon deviations in their DNA. They are genetic outliers, coveted by drug companies Amgen, Genentech, and others in search of drugs for some of the industry's biggest, most lucrative markets.

Their genes also have caused the two men enormous suffering. Pete's parents first realized something was wrong when, as a teething baby, their son almost chewed off his tongue. "That was a giant red flag," says Pete, now 34 and living in Kelso, Washington. It took doctors months to figure out he had congenital insensitivity to pain, caused by two different mutations, one inherited from each parent. On their own, the single mutations were benign; combined, they were harmful.
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The Test That Can Look Into A Child's (Reading) Future

The Test That Can Look Into A Child's (Reading) Future | The future of medicine and health |
If this isn't an honest-to-goodness crystal ball, it's close.

Neurobiologist Nina Kraus believes she and her team at Northwestern University have found a way — a half-hour test — to predict kids' literacy skill long before they're old enough to begin reading.

When I first read the study in the journal PLOS Biology, two words came to mind: science fiction.

Because flagging some 3-year-olds as potentially troubled readers — before they've even tried reading — feels eerily like being handcuffed by Tom Cruise in Minority Report for a crime that hasn't happened yet.

Kraus herself says the test is nothing short of "a biological looking glass into a child's literacy potential."

To understand how the test works, she says, you need to understand that reading begins not with our eyes but with our ears, as we hear and catalog speech sounds. It's hard work. Everything we hear, our brains have to process, separating the stuff that's meaningful from pure noise. And they do it in microseconds.

"This is arguably some of the most complex computation that we ask our brain to do," says Kraus.

Every sound creates a kind of electric reflection in the brain. Brain waves even look like the sound waves they're reacting to. And it's loads of information packed into these brain waves that, Kraus says, can tell her if a child who can't yet read may have trouble reading down the road.
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Scientists come up with a sixth taste - IOL Lifestyle

Scientists come up with a sixth taste - IOL Lifestyle | The future of medicine and health |
London - There have been many failed attempts to provide evidence of a sixth sense, but now scientists have at least, they claim, come up with a sixth taste - the taste of fat.

Fat, which now joins sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savoury) has a unique and unpleasant taste that researchers have called oleogustus. They suggest its identification could lead to new ways of fighting obesity and heart disease, and to the creation of improved fat replacements.

“Our experiments provide a missing element in the evidence that fat has a taste sensation, and that it is different from other tastes,” says Professor Richard Mattes, director of the Ingestive Behaviour Research Centre at Purdue University in Indiana, US.

“Identifying the taste of fat has a range of important health implications. At high concentrations, the signal it generates would dissuade the eating of rancid foods,” he adds.

“But at low levels, it may enhance the appeal of some foods by adding to the overall sensory profile, in the same way that bitterness alone is unpleasant but at appropriate levels adds to the appeal of wine and chocolate.”

Current fat replacements may have been less successful than was hoped because they mimic the texture of fat, but not the taste, says the professor. Our food choices are often based on memories of how we felt after eating an item, but the taste of fat may contribute to those associations, he adds.

There has been a consistent recognition over the centuries of four primary taste qualities - sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami, referring to a meaty or savoury taste and first reported in 1908, has increasingly been accepted as a fifth basic taste.
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Egg yolk extract could allow people with celiac disease to eat gluten

Egg yolk extract could allow people with celiac disease to eat gluten | The future of medicine and health |
If you or someone you know has celiac disease, then you'll know how much it can limit one's diet. Because people with the autoimmune condition have a negative reaction to the gluten in grains such as wheat, rye or barley, that means they can't consume many baked goods, pastas, liquors, or any number of processed foods that use wheat as a binding agent. Soon, however, they may be able to eat whatever they want – if they take a new egg-based supplement first.

The supplement was developed by associate professor Hoon Sunwoo and retired professor Jeong Sim, at Canada's University of Alberta.

Utilizing a compound derived from the yolks of chicken eggs, it binds with gluten in the stomach. This keeps a class of proteins known as gliadin, which is the "problem" component of gluten, from damaging the absorptive surface of the small intestine.

As a result, sufferers of celiac disease (or other forms of gluten intolerance) should be spared the usual symptoms that occur when they consume gluten – these can include headaches, fatigue, bloating and anemia.

Before that can happen, however, the supplement will need to be put through an efficacy trial which is due to take place within a year. It is hoped that a consumer product could subsequently be available in Canada within three years, with a rollout in the US and Europe to follow.

The university has partnered with the UK-based Vetanda Group to commercialize the supplement.
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India: the pharmacy of the world where 'crazy drug combinations' go unregulated

India: the pharmacy of the world where 'crazy drug combinations' go unregulated | The future of medicine and health |
India has been called the pharmacy of the world. Many generic drugs are made there and much of its drug production is exported internationally. Thousands of fixed dose combination (FDC) drugs – where two or more drugs are combined in a set ratio in a single dose form, usually a tablet or capsule – are formulated, made and sold within India.

Many FDCs are safe and effective. They are used in situations where both the drug combination and the doses needed are standardised and stable, for example, in the treatment of HIV, for Parkinson’s disease and in contraceptive pills.

However, in a study investigating these drugs in India, we found thousands of FDCs on the market made up of formulations never approved for marketing by the national regulator, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, and that were likely to be more harmful than beneficial to patients.
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Miniature brain organoids made from patient skin cells reveal insights into autism | KurzweilAI

Miniature brain organoids made from patient skin cells reveal insights into autism | KurzweilAI | The future of medicine and health |
Taking a radical research approach to understanding autism, Yale School of Medicine researchers converted skin cells from autism patients into stem cells and then grew them into tiny brains in a dish — revealing unexpected mechanisms of the disease.

The study was published in an open-access paper today (July 16) in the journal Cell.

Most autism research has taken the approach of combing through patient genomes for mutations that may underlie the disorder and then using animal or cell-based models to study the genes and their possible roles in brain development. That has left more than 80% of autism cases with no clear genetic cause.

“Instead of starting from genetics, we’ve started with the biology of the disorder itself to try to get a window into the genome,” says senior author Flora Vaccarino the Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry and Professor or Neurobiology at Yale.

The clinical characteristics of autism are complex and wide-ranging, making the prospect of finding common underlying factors slim. So the researchers focused on the approximately one-fifth of autism patients that share a distinctive feature correlated with disease severity — an enlarged brain.
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