Friday, November 29, 2013

Brain and nerve research in today's health news

It's time to follow through where I left off in Staying safe and healthy during the holidays.
As I wrote at the end of Questions answered about the Affordable Care Act, "Stay tuned for dealing with holiday stress, the brain, and other health topics."
This morning's topic is the brain and sensory systems.  I'll start off with this video from the University of Alabama, Birmingham: A ticket to ride: UAB program opens doors to drivers who are sight-impaired.

To Dustin Jones, the bioptic driving program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham provides one very important benefit: freedom.
A ticket to ride: UAB program opens doors to drivers who are sight-impaired
By Bob Shepard
Friday, November 22, 2013
To Dustin Jones, the bioptic driving program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham provides one very important benefit: freedom. Jones, a 24-year-old recent UAB graduate who works in information technology, is a typical young professional.

But he has a congenital eye disease called optic atrophy, which had prevented him from getting a driver’s license at age 16.

“My job is in Hoover,” Jones said. “Without a driver’s license, I would have to live within walking distance or use public transportation. I would be limited in my economic and social opportunities and not really part of the community as I am today.”
Here at Crazy Eddie's Motie News, it may not lead if it bleeds, but if it moves, it usually does.

Follow over the jump for more on the brain from UAB, UCSD, University of Iowa, and the University of Wisconsin.

University of Alabama, Birmingham has more in Stroke mortality is down, but the reason remains a mystery.
By Nicole Wyatt
Thursday, November 21, 2013
A national group of leading scientists, including one University of Alabama at Birmingham expert, says that for more than 100 years fewer people have been dying of stroke, yet it is still unclear why this decline remains constant.

The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have published a scientific statement, Factors Influencing the Decline in Stroke Mortality, which has also been affirmed by the American Academy of Neurology as an educational tool for neurologists. The statement is published in the AHA journal Stroke.

Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and was previously recognized as the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Stroke Association. However, stroke has now fallen to the fourth leading cause of death due to decreases in people dying from it. This has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to acknowledge the decline, and a similar decline in heart disease, as one of the 10 great achievements in public health of the 20th century.
I checked the CDC site, and the third leading cause of death is now "Chronic
lower respiratory diseases," which I take to mean chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.  Heart disease and cancer are still number one and two.

The rest of the articles deal much more with neurology in the strict sense, beginning with University of California, San Diego's Brain Surgeons Go with the Flow.
Water-Based Imaging Technique Maps Brain Neurons Prior to Surgery
By Jackie Carr   
November 21, 2013
Neurosurgeons at UC San Diego Health System are using a new approach to visualize the brain’s delicate anatomy prior to surgery. The novel technique allows neurosurgeons to see the brain’s nerve connections thus preserving and protecting critical functions such as vision, speech and memory. No needles, dyes or chemicals are needed to create the radiology scan. The main imaging ingredient? Water.

“The brain can be mapped by tracking the movement of its water molecules,” said Clark Chen, MD, PhD, neurosurgeon and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at UC San Diego Health System. “Water molecules in brain nerves move in an oriented manner. However, outside the nerves, the molecules move randomly. Neurosurgeons at UC San Diego can use these distinct properties to locate important connections and to guide where surgery should occur or not.”

The technique, called tractography or diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), has been used for investigational and diagnostic purposes to better understand the effect of stroke and neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.  UC San Diego Health System neurosurgeons are among the first in the nation to apply this technology to guide brain tumor surgery.

University of Iowa: Protein variants alter Alzheimer's progression
Introducing protective variant into brain appears to halt, even reverse progression in mouse models
By: UI Health Care Marketing and Communications
2013.11.20 | 01:03 PM
Inheriting different versions of a protein called apolipoprotein E (APOE) significantly alter a person's risk of developing the sporadic, late-onset form of Alzheimer's disease. One version of the gene, APOE4, is the strongest genetic risk factor for developing this type of Alzheimer's disease. Whereas inheriting the APOE2 version of the gene appears to decrease the risk. But exactly how these variants alter risk has been controversial among researchers.

Now an animal study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators in collaboration with researchers at the University of Iowa shows that even low levels of the Alzheimer's-associated APOE4 protein can increase the number and density of amyloid beta (A-beta) brain plaques. The presence of APOE4 also leads to increased plaque-associated damage of brain cells and greater amounts of toxic soluble A-beta within the brain in mouse models of the disease. Conversely, introducing APOE2 into the brains of mice with established plaques actually reduced A-beta deposition, retention, and neurotoxicity, suggesting the potential for gene-therapy-based treatment.

"Using a technique developed by our collaborators at the University of Iowa, we were able to get long-term expression of these human gene variants in the fluid that bathes the entire brain," says Dr. Bradley Hyman, of the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MGH-MIND) and senior author of the report in the Nov. 20 issue of Science Translational Medicine. "Our results suggest that strategies aimed at decreasing levels of APOE4, the harmful form of the protein, and increasing concentrations of protective variant APOE2 could be helpful to patients."
University of Wisconsin: Rare disease yields clues about broader brain pathology
by David Tenenbaum
Nov. 20, 2013
Alexander disease is a devastating brain disease that almost nobody has heard of — unless someone in the family is afflicted with it. Alexander disease strikes young or old, and in children destroys white matter in the front of the brain. Many patients, especially those with early onset, have significant intellectual disabilities.

Regardless of the age when it begins, Alexander disease is always fatal. It typically results from mutations in a gene known as GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein), leading to the formation of fibrous clumps of protein inside brain cells called astrocytes.

Classically, astrocytes and other glial cells were considered "helpers" that nourish and protect the neurons that do the actual communication. But in recent years, it's become clear that glial cells are much more than passive bystanders, and may be active culprits in many neurological diseases.

Now, in a report in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at UW-Madison show that Alexander disease also affects neurons, and in a way that impacts several measures of learning and memory.
Look for the rest of the week's health news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (MAVEN to Mars) tomorrow.

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