Neuroscience Social Network

16 07 2010

I haven’t checked on Neuroscience News in quite a while, so I was extremely excited to see the changes. They now have an entire neuroscience social network setup and is free to join. I’m heading over again right after this to join up.

I’m trying to think of a good username right now. I want a name that screams “neuroscience” but not necessarily “obsessed about neuroscience.” If you have any suggestions please post them here in the next few minutes.

I’ll give you all 30 minutes until I join. If nobody makes a suggestion then I’ll leave it to my own neuroscience geeky imagination and I don’t like to trust that imagination.

Hope to meet some new neuroscience friends over there.  If you know me from this spot, be sure to let me know over there and friend me.

Neuroscience Social Network

Neuroscience Research on Coffee and Night Workers

12 11 2009

Neuroscience News had a story I can relate to all too well. Since I work mostly at night, I’m often throwing back a few cups of coffee in attempts to get past an energy slump. I know all about the metabolic comedown after that initial increase from the caffeine, but I continue it anyway. This article may cause me to rethink my coffee intake.

You can read the about the long term side effects coffee had on night time workers at Neuroscience News.

US Allows 1st Human Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy to be Tested

23 01 2009

Human embryonic stem cell therapy used to treat spinal cord injuries will be studied for the first time. The United States Food and Drug Administration ruled to allow Geron, a U.S. biotechnology company, to begin testing human embryonic stem cell therapy on patients with recent spinal cord injuries.

It is great to see science coming back to life in the United States.

Newborn Baby Born With Foot in Brain

17 12 2008

An extremely interesting medical case was disclosed today at Neuroscience News.

A baby was born with a foot, hand, thigh and intestinal pieces in its brain. Brain surgery was performed in Colorado and the baby seems to be doing well other than a few minor problems that need to be addressed such as visual processing problems.

I’ve seen my share of medical abnormalities in medical books, odd websites and other means, but this one has to be one of the strangest.

Neuroscience continues to awe me and the fact that the baby is doing fairly well following such an intensive brain surgery is incredible.

My best wishes go out to the family and the incredible baby.

Foot in a brain

This photo isn’t of this case, but close enough to give an idea of what a foot in the brain would look like.

New Genetic Syndrome Discovered – MEDNIK

5 12 2008

There is a very interesting article at Neuroscience News covering the discovery of a new genetic syndrome known as MEDNIK. MEDNIK stands for mental retardation, enteropathy, deafness, peripheral neuropathy, ichthyosis and keratodermia.

According to the artcle, MEDNIK is caused by faulty development of neural networks within the spinal cord, inner ear and brain. It seems these neural networks are impaired due to a mutation in the AP1S1 gene.

In zebrafish, a loss of the AP1S1 gene caused similar developmental problems as listed above. When the geneticists induced expression of normal human AP1S1 genes in zebrafish that had the zebrafish AP1S1 genes removed, the zebrafish were able to rectifiy the developmental problems. When the mutated form of human Ap1S1 was used in the zebrafish, the developmental problems remained.

Clearly, this animal model will be of great use to study this horrible genetic syndrome and hopefully lead to gene therapy for those suffering from MEDNIK.

You can read the article here: Discovery of a debilitating genetic syndrome – MEDNIK

Light Triggers a New Code for Brain Cells

14 11 2008

Taken from: Light Triggers a New Code for Brain Cells at Neuroscience News

Brain cells can adopt a new chemical code in response to cues from the outside world, scientists working with tadpoles at the University of California, San Diego report in the journal Nature.

The discovery opens the possibility that brain chemistry could be selectively altered by stimulating specific circuits to remedy low levels of neural chemicals that underlie some human ailments.

Dark tadpoles don pale camouflage when exposed to bright light. The researchers have now identified cells in the tadpole brain that respond to illumination by making dopamine, a chemical message, or neurotransmitter, recognized by the system that controls pigmentation.

“We used to think activity turned a switch to specify which transmitters a neuron would use only in early development,” said co-author Davide Dulcis, a postdoctoral fellow in neurobiology who designed and conducted the experiments. “But this is happening after hatching.”

The cells, found in a cluster called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, connect to a gland that releases a hormone that disperses pigments to darken skin. Dopamine squelches hormone release leaving pigments tightly packed in skin cells and the tadpoles nearly transparent.

“The behavior meets an ecological need.” Dulcis said. “Pale tadpoles are difficult for predators to see in a bright environment, so the faster the tadpoles change their pigmentation, the better they are able to survive.”

Cells in the core of the cluster always make dopamine, but a ring of surrounding cells normally don’t, even though they are connected to the gland.

Bright light alters this pattern, however. After just two hours, cells in the surrounding ring show signs of making the new neurotransmitter. Because they are already hooked up to the hormone-producing target, illumination can result in noticeably paler tadpoles in as little as ten minutes.

“The new dopamine neurons are not simply activated at random,” said co-author Nicholas Spitzer, a professor of neurobiology who leads the research group. “It’s as if they are a kind of national guard, waiting in reserve to be called out. There’s a pool of neurons waiting for the right sensory stimulus to be called into action and to adopt a new transmitter.”

The signal-switching cells receive a link directly from the eye and are part of a brain circuit shared by a variety of animals from bony fish to humans. Although these cells don’t contribute to vision, they do monitor light levels for other purposes, particularly for coordinating daily rhythms of physiology and behavior.

Activity might alter brain chemistry in other circuits as well, the researchers say. Light helps people who experience seasonal affective disorder, for example. Their symptoms of depression, which descend during long winter nights, lift in summer and also abate when they are regularly exposed to bright light, a therapy that can be as effective as anti-depressant drugs.

“Maybe it’s the case that for many neurons there is additional circuitry that can be activated under certain circumstances,” Spitzer said.

Depleted brain chemistry underlies several diseases, including Parkinson’s. If a reserve pool of neurons could be identified and recruited by stimulating particular neural circuitry some of the side effects that stem from flooding the entire brain and body with drugs designed to boost levels of specific neurotransmitters might be avoided, he said.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study.

The Sighs Heard ‘Round the World

8 11 2008

Sighs of relief are echoing across the entire science landscape this week as the Obama win sinks in.

Like many, I stayed up late on election night to guard the television set just in case a bandit attempted to swipe another election away from the people. I too cheered when the reluctant stations finally credited Obama with the win in the presidential election.

After a few minutes of celebrating, I noticed long forgotten feelings swelling up yet again inside me that hadn’t been present in quite some time.

Relief. Optimism. Pride. Inspiration. Welcome back to you all.

The scientific forums across the net are coming to life with a new sense of purpose. Scientists across the world, whom often expect the United States to help lead the way in research, are extremely relieved to see the end of a brutal Bush era.

We all seem to be thinking the same things. ‘Let’s get back to work’ and ‘hold on to your hats.’

News is starting to spread regarding the possible lifting of stem cell research bans, increasing of scientific funding and improvements in our educational system.

Barrack Obama has the potential to be credited with helping so many of the discoveries that await by simply allowing them to occur. Many years from now, scientists will point back to these decisions as necessities for the scientific marvels they will behold.

The relief we feel could be compared to that felt by Michael Phelps as he finally edged his toes over the starting blocks for that first race in these last Olympics.

Scientists take your mark.

Living neural networks made with neurons from rat brains are being tested to control electrical grid programs in lab.

8 10 2008

Taken from: living neural network article at neuroscience news

Managing power networks in the future may involve a little more brain power than it does today, if researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology succeed in a new project that involves literally tapping brain cells grown on networks of electrodes.

The Missouri S&T group, working with researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology, plans to use the brain power to develop a new method for tracking and managing the constantly changing levels of power supply and demand.

Led by Dr. Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, the researchers will use living neural networks composed of thousands of brain cells from laboratory rats to control simulated power grids in the lab. From those studies, the researchers hope to create a “biologically inspired” computer program to manage and control complex power grids in Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria and elsewhere.

“We want to develop a totally new architecture than what exists today,” says Venayagamoorthy, who also directs the Real-Time Power and Intelligent Systems Laboratory at Missouri S&T. “Power systems control is very complex, and the brain is a very flexible, very adaptable network. The brain is really good at handling uncertainties.”

Venayagamoorthy hopes to develop a system that is “inspired by the brain but not a replica. Nobody really understands completely how the brain works.”

The research is funded through a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation.

The Missouri S&T team will work with researchers at Georgia Tech’s Laboratory for Neuroengineering, where the living neural networks have been developed and are housed and studied. A high-bandwidth Internet2 connection will connect those brain cells over 600 miles to Venayagamoorthy’s Real-Time Power and Intelligent Systems Laboratory. Missouri S&T researchers will transmit signals from that lab in Rolla, Mo., to the brain cells in the Atlanta lab, and will train those brain cells to recognize voltage signals and other information from Missouri S&T’s real-time simulator.

Venayagamoorthy’s lab is capable of simulating a power grid the size of Nigeria’s, or a portion of the combined New England and New York grid in the United States.

Working with Venayagamoorthy on this project at Missouri S&T are Dr. Donald Wunsch, the Mary K. Finley Missouri Distinguished Professor of Computer Engineering, and Dr. Keith Corzine, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Georgia Tech researchers involved in the project are Dr. Steve Potter, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, and Dr. Ronald Harley, the Duke Power Co. Distinguished Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

Traditional artificial neural networks (ANNs) have been around for years. Modeled after the brain, they are designed to recognize patterns and learn over time. But they don’t work well with complex systems, Venayagamoorthy says.

“As electric power and energy systems get larger and larger, the dynamics become more complicated, and the neural networks have to be scaled up,” he says. “But as they scale up, they break down. It becomes more difficult for neural networks to learn and change in real time.

“They can learn online, but the learning is slow and sometimes the decision-making is very short-sighted,” he says. For instance, if a transmission line is taken out during a severe storm, traditional ANNs cannot react quickly enough to locate the problem and bring the system back online.

Through this research, Venayagamoorthy and his colleagues hope to develop what he calls BIANNs, or biologically inspired artificial neural networks. Based on the brain’s adaptability, these networks could control not only power systems, but also other complex systems, such as traffic-control systems or global financial networks.

The Georgia Tech researchers, led by Potter, have developed living neural networks that can control simple robots, but this will be the first time anyone has attempted to tap the brain power to control more complex systems.

After testing the system in simulated environments, the researchers will then test them in actual power grids in Mexico, Brazil, China, Nigeria, Singapore and South Africa. One goal of the project is to develop a system that can be implemented in the “future intelligent power grid,” says Venayagamoorthy. The researchers envision that grid integrating a variety of power sources, such as wind and solar farms, energy storage facilities, self-sustainable community or neighborhood micro-grids, and other non-traditional energy sources.

“Our studies are going to be based on what is predicted for the next 20 years,” Venayagamoorthy says.

Four Legged Baby Will Undergo Amputation

7 07 2007

Those that haven’t had the opportunity, or stomach, to browse through medical books featuring oddities of the human form may find this case a bit shocking.

A baby girl with four legs was born near a small town called Polokwane in South Africa on Thursday. Doctors are planning on amputating two of her legs. They expect her to make a full recovery and live a normal life.

“Our medical specialists have observed her and believe that she can pull through,” said a health official spokesperson.

“The baby is responding very well and surgery will be carried out on her very soon.”

Another case of a four legged girl was reported in 2003. The young child with polymelia, a condition of being born with excessive limbs, was born in Zambia. The child had 4 legs, 3 arms, 3 kidneys and an abnormal liver. Unfortunately, she died at 3 months old from septicemia before undergoing operations to help her.

Zambia baby born with 4 legs in 2003.
Zambia baby born with 4 legs and other oddities in 2003.

UPDATE: I’m sorry to report that this baby did not make it out of surgery “following complications in her stomach after the operation,” reported provincial health department spokesperson Phuti Seloba.

Neuroscience Research Geek is Born

6 07 2007

Yes, I’m a neuroscience research geek and this is my first blog. I’m not sure why I waited until 2007 to get a blog going, but I have a hunch it has to do with reduced function of  dopamine D2 recepetors in my rhinal cortex. I’m waiting for more research to determine the validity to this claim. Maybe I just don’t like my new keyboard too much. Either way, I’m here to spill out my thoughts about neuroscience research and other opinions on science.

I’ll also post neuroscience research articles that I find fascinating. This will function as my supplemental memory storage device until I get my hands on a neural chip to upgrade my cortical memory. I’m not holding my breath, but the research is looking amazing even at this early stage.

I’ll work on the visual aspects of this blog for a while and then I’ll dedicate a lot more time to writing posts that may not embarrass me too badly. I look forward to hearing other opinions on neuroscience and getting to know fellow neuroscience research geeks. Feel free to drop me comments, links and suggestions for further reading.

This wasn’t so bad. Right D2s?