Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Phase I clinical trials to start soon for proving neural stem cells:

Battens disease is a fairly rare neurodegenerative disease that targets infants and young children. This is a autosomal recessive disorder (that is, they occur when a child inherits two copies of the defective gene, one from each parent) Occurs in an estimated 4 of every 100,000 births in the United States
The disease manifests because of genetic mutations that prevents nerve cells from properly disposing off spent lipids and proteins resulting in the excess buildup of these materials in the brain causing slow eventual neuronal death.
In a documented case, the patient goes from having vision problems, to being blind, to having motor issues, to being bedridden and ultimately to death by the time the patient was in her teens.

StemCells Inc is scheduling phase I clinical trials to see if neuronal stem cells transplanted to willing patients (infants and young children) can actually help secrete enough of an enzyme that will help breakdown the harmful aggregates of protien/lipid buildup. The company has a very good story at http://www.stemcellsinc.com/clinicaltrials/clinicaltrials.html.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Art and alzheimer.

Most of us slowly falter, slow down and then go away. Alzheimeirs accelerates this process so much so that it is pretty unbelievable when you actually see some of its effects on people. In this case, a celebrated artist William Utermohlen decided to sketch his self portrait during various stages of his illness over the years. It is very evident that the 'self' in the 'self-portrait' seems to be slowly slipping away. An exhibition is on at the New York Academy of Medicine for the next couple of days that details some of his later works. For those of us who may not be able to take the time out from our busy schedules to see this, but still interested in the effects that this terrible illness has on human lives, this site and this one are useful ones...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dissociative fugue or dissociative identity disorder

This is an item of interest and we do not run into too many of this in the news. I was at the train station yesterday reading the NY times and was struck by the news article that talked about a Denver man having a rare disorder called dissociative fugue... (defined as the existence in an individual of two or more distinct personalities or ego-states, each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment).

There is no known neurological explanation - but I am sure there will be in the years to come. Make for interesting reading especially it has echoes of some of the great Oliver Sachs stories... (this book is highly recommended).

Read on more from a new article at the place where it happened (where else but Denver, TX)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Do macacas have brains?

I recently ran into an article of an individual who was reportedly called a macaca (is a dismissive epithet used by the erstwhile colonials in Central Africa for the native population. It may be derived from the name of the genus comprising macaque monkeys and may be construed as a racial slur) by none other then the current United States senator from Virginia.

On further research I found out the purported macaca had the following distinctions..
1. He had a GPA of 4.1 at the elite Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax county, Virginia
2. He scored 1550 on SATs
3. His great-grandfather accompanied Mahatma Gandhi to London for talks on political reform. 4. His grandfather was secretary of the World Health Organization in the 1990s.
5. His father was a prosperous mortgage banker
6. His mother, a teacher of Indian classical dance.
7. His family played important roles in the founding of Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham VA , one of the largest Hindu temples in the country.

I also found out that the following about the word macaca (from Wikipedia):

1. The first European settlers in the Congo Free State derogatively referred to natives as macaques
2. In the Belgian Congo, colonial whites continued to call Africans macaques and insist that they had only recently come down from trees. The term sale macaque (filthy monkey) was occasionally used as an insult.
3. The word is still occasionally used in Belgium (both in Flanders and in Wallonia) as a racial slur, referring not to Congolese but to Moroccan immigrants or their descendants.

Go figure...

Read on about the senator exploits at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/24/AR2006082401639.html

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Significant life events and memories

I ran into this interesting paper (Significant life events and the shape of memories to come: A hypothesis avalaible at http://www2.umdnj.edu/neuroweb/PDF_files/Shors_2006.pdf) from the Department of Psychology at Rutgers written by Tracey Shors that talked about the seemingly strange phenomenon whereby patients who have intense life experiences seem to ‘forget’ large portions of their lives, but still remember in stunning details events that happened to them 20 or 25 years back. She talks about two patients K and F with very large retrograde amnesia after severe neurological insults (one of which was an electrical shock from an oven and the other involved an aneurysm from a temporal lobe hematoma). In the case of Mr. K, he did not remember any part of his life from 1946 to 1980 (he was 53 years old) and Mrs F remembered nothing between 1960 and 1979. Both Mr. K and Mrs. F fairly important life changing events back in 1946 and 1960 (Mr. K’s family house burned down and his family became destitute and Mrs. F was having an illicit baby of a married man).

It was also recorded that they behaved exactly like they were frozen back in time (Mr. K blushed and was skipping and giggling like the teenager he was back in 1946).

Professor Tracy has advanced a theory in her paper that states that hormonal imbalances that inevitably happen when human beings go through intense life altering experiences actually alter neurological substrates like neurons and synapses and thoroughly rewire the brain and result in synaptogenesis (generation of new synapses) and neurogenesis (generation of new nerve cells). In Dr. Tracey’s words,

I began this review by discussing those most unusual cases of K and R, whose life tapes were essentially spliced, leaving them without a decade or so of remembered experience.
You might ask how these examples relate to the theme of this review. Recall that their memory loss went back to times in life associated with stressful and traumatic events.
In the case of K, his memory loss went back to when his family house burned down and his family became destitute. In the case of R, her loss went back to when she become pregnant with a married man’s baby. That these significant life events were associated with the beginning (or end, depending on how you look at it) of the memory deficit suggests that their brains were anatomically altered during those eventful times. Presumably, these two people experienced hormonal changes during these events, which would in turn alter anatomical structures within their brains. Decades later, their brain traumas simply revealed the underlying anatomies into which these memories of life were carved. Under normal circumstances, these anatomies would alter the shape of memories to come.”

This is a good paper and has been accepted by a prestigious journal, but I had a question…

Memory taxonomy consists of two types (1) Declarative (that which stores semantic (factual) and episodic (events)) and (2) Non-declarative (storage of learned behavior like procedural skills that include swimming and cycling and storage of emotional responses regulated by amygloid structures) . If I tend to accept the ‘hormone’ theory hypothesized by Dr. Tracey, then it should have wiped out both declarative and non-declarative memories. How come it wiped out only the declarative memories and hence only the semantic and episodic parts between 1946 to 1980 for Mr. K and between 1960 to 1979 for Mrs. F? Hormone inspired neurogenesis and synaptogenesis will not be able to distinguish between the substrates responsible for the two types of memory described above… This remains unanswered in this otherwise well written review…

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Humans could evolve into two distinct species...

"HUMANS could evolve into two sub-species within 100,000 years as social divisions produce a genetic underclass.
The mating preferences of the rich, highly educated and well-nourished could ultimately drive their separation into a genetically distinct group that no longer interbreeds with less fortunate human beings, according to British scientist Oliver Curry. The rest would be shorter and stockier, with asymmetric features and lower intelligence.

Dr Curry also said that the current concept of race would be gone by the year 3000, as relationships between people with different skin colours produce a "coffee-colour" across all populations."

Read more at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2406821,00.html

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Important neuronal growth signalling agents revealed

Researchers at the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) connected to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, led by Bassem Hassan, have achieved a major step in unraveling the growth process of axons, the offshoots of neurons.
They have identified certain signaling cascades as the most important actors that stimulate neuronal growth and have also discovered precise roles for each of these signalling cascades. Their research shows that the growth of axons and the activity of neurons are completely independent of each other.

This new finding may lead to better understanding of a variety of nerve diseases. I say may here because this study will need to progress a lot further before direct correlation can be made to diseases like MS, ALS or Parkinsons...

Read on more at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=53971&nfid=crss

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Misfolded Protein Common To Dementia, Lou Gehrig's Disease

Scientists have identified a misfolded, or incorrectly formed, protein common to two devastating neurological diseases, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease).
The findings suggest that certain forms of FTD, ALS and possibly other neurological diseases might share a common pathological process.

"This exciting basic science discovery provides the first molecular link between a dementia--FTD--and a motor neuron disease--ALS. It will advance understanding of the pathological processes of FTD and ALS, and possibly of other neurological disorders".Virginia Lee, Ph.D., and John Trojanowski, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, led an international team of scientists in this discovery

FTD affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. People with FTD may exhibit uninhibited and socially inappropriate behavior, changes in personality and, in late stages, loss of memory, motor skills and speech. After Alzheimer's disease, it is the most common cause of dementia in people under age 65.

ALS is a progressive disease of brain and spinal cord motor neurons that control movement. Over time, walking, eating, speaking and breathing become more difficult in this fatal disease. Some people with ALS also have FTD, and some with FTD also develop ALS, suggesting that common mechanisms might underlie these two diseases.

In certain neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS and some forms of FTD, scientists have identified clumps of protein--or inclusion bodies--that accumulate in brain cells and neurons. However, understanding why they form and what they contain has been elusive.

Following years of research, they have now identified TDP-43 as a constituent part of the clumps that form in ALS and in the most common form of FTD. Although its precise role is not well understood, TDP-43 is involved in the complex process of transcribing and regulating genetic information in the nucleus of the cell.
"There is much more to learn about how this nuclear protein is clumped in the cytoplasm of cells and about the mechanism by which it is implicated in two distinctly different diseases," says Stephen Snyder, Ph.D., program director, etiology of Alzheimer's disease, NIA Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program. "It is possible that the TDP-43 protein will be a key to a more complete understanding of both FTD and ALS."

Read more at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=53530&nfid=crss

Nascent attempts

Guess the reasons for starting off this blog are many, but some of the primary ones are as follows:

- Clarify thoughts about society, science, neurology, art
- Showcase and write stories about my paintings
- Online forum to blather about injustices
- Create a 'somewhat diary' of activities

and many more.

Hopefully some, if not all of these will be served. Time will tell.