Opening Eyes to Learning Difficulties

July 7th, 2010 in Uncategorized 2 comments

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Learning difficulty and disability has long been a problem for many children, parents and school teachers alike. Dysfunctions such as dyslexia and motor disability have hindered the progress of countless adolescents across the country and continue to do so with every passing day. Now, studies have been performed that may centralize learning difficulties to the eye, rather than the brain itself.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are conducting research that creates a causal link between motor and learning disabilities and dysfunction in visual perception. For example, people who cannot quickly learn a simple motor task such as catching a ball may have difficulty because the cells in their eyes are not perceiving the stimulus properly. The same rings true in individuals with dyslexia – their eyes may not be correctly processing the visual stimuli of words on the page.

Learning disability has long puzzled scientists and sufferers alike.

Learning disability has long puzzled victims, observers and scientists.

The ocular cells in contest here are deemed “magno cells” and detect rapid movements in our visual field, creating the movie-like perception we experience on a daily basis. Without these, life would look like a disconnected string of frames – much like a comic book. In a test conducted by the researchers, it was found that individuals with difficulty in mathematics also showed difficulty in tracking the randomized movement of a dot on a screen with their eyes, elucidating a link between eye function efficiency, detection of rapid changes in the environment and learning ability.

In a greater context, this finding may have implications in special education and may change the mindset of those working with individuals with additional learning needs. With this new information, learning disability can be combated from the angle of visual field perception. Techniques aiming to strengthen visual perception and eye efficiency (such as eye movement and tracking exercises) could act as a therapy for learning or motor disability previously thought to be localized in the brain itself.

Source: Science Daily via The Norwegian University of Science and Technology

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Toasters With Feelings

July 7th, 2010 in Uncategorized 5 comments

The Brave Little Toaster

The Brave Little Toaster

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Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals, or God. It has been a hallmark of faiths and religions worldwide. Humans have a natural tendency to assign intentions and desires to inanimate objects (“my computer isn’t feeling well today – he’s so slow!”), but they also strip “lower” beings (animals) of those same human characteristics.

We have a history of treating animals unnecessarily cruelly. I don’t mean killing for food – that’s necessary for our survival; I’m referring to dog fights, hunting, and other violence. We didn’t even think that animals could sense pain until quite recently!

Why do we think of lifeless forms as agents with intentions but of actual living creatures as emotionally inferior clumps of cells?

Could it be that the need to rationalize phenomena is simply stronger when the phenomena have absolutely no visible explanation?

And do toasters really have feelings??

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Antibodies to Reverse Nervous System Damage

July 5th, 2010 in Uncategorized 0 comments

Until now, it was believed that antibodies were proteins created by the immune system to solely protect the body against viruses and bacteria. However, a new study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine may give insight into another function of these vital proteins – nerve repair.

In a study conducted on mice,  the scientists at Stanford demonstrated that antibodies are able to repair nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS contains all of the nervous tissue outside of the brain and spinal cord.

It has been largely unknown why nerve tissue in the PNS is able to regenerate whereas the tissue in the brain and spinal cord cannot. Perhaps antibodies provide an answer. While antibodies have access to the peripheral nervous tissue, the blood brain barrier, as well as the blood spinal barrier, does not allow antibodies to pass into these structures.

The process by which the antibodies are able to repair peripheral nervous tissue is believed to be attributed to their ability to degenerate myelin. Myelin, the fatty tissue covering the axons of neurons, remains after neuronal death in the brain and spinal cord. However, in the remainder of the nervous system, the myelin is broken down by antibodies after damage to a particular neuron. In the laboratory, researchers created mice that can’t make antibodies, and as a result, repair to peripheral nervous tissue was impeded, as was the removal of the myelin. After injecting these mice with healthy antibodies, the myelin was removed and the nervous tissue was repaired.

It is scientists’ hope that this finding will lead to a way to repair central nervous system tissue damage caused by strokes and spinal cord injury. One researcher claims, “‘One idea,” said Barres, “would be to bypass the blood-brain barrier by delivering anti-degenerating-myelin proteins directly into the spinal fluid. We’re hoping that these antibodies might then coat the myelin, signaling to microglia — macrophages’ counterparts in the central nervous system — to clear the degenerating myelin.” That might, in turn, jump-start the regeneration of damaged nervous tissue, he added.”

For the full article, click here.

The Rise of Awareness of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Profession Sports

July 5th, 2010 in Uncategorized 0 comments

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While watching the World Cup games, I can’t help but to ask myself, “can the accumulation of damage of heading the ball induce a concussion?” The answer to this question will remain a mystery until it is empirically tested.  What we do know is that sport-related concussions (SRC), common in all sports, are in fact very serious injuries that should be properly assessed in order to prevent the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain disease resulting from multiple concussive events.

Before I proceed, I must clarify that athletes can suffer a concussion without experiencing loss of consciousness or amnesia, and that it does not necessarily have to be a direct blow to the head in order to induce a concussion. These very important, but overlooked, pieces of information can lead to an increase in the identification of concussions, a positive and giant step towards preventing CTE.

As discussed in a recent New York Times article, Chris Henry, the former Cincinnati Bengals wide-receiver, was the 22nd professional football player to be diagnosed with CTE after his death at the age of 26.   It is unknown how many athletes, of all ages, are suffering from, or are currently at risk of developing CTE.  Although Henry did not die as a direct result from CTE, he exhibited behavioral problems including depression, substance abuse, and poor-decision making abilities.  All three behavioral problems could be key identifiers when diagnosing a patient with CTE. Although CTE can only be identified after the athlete has passed away, simple neuropsychological tests, involving memory and visuomotor tasks, have been excellent tools when assessing SRCs, showing promise in the current research field.

Currently, physicians and researchers are struggling to put the SRC-CTE puzzle together because of the many confounding variables, such as overlapping symptoms including headaches and dizziness, involved in this alarmingly underreported brain injury. To find out more information about this topic, stay tuned for the upcoming article in The Nerve about SRCs and CTE, written by John Batoha and myself.

See the NYT article here.

“Touching me, touching you”

July 4th, 2010 in Uncategorized 0 comments

“Always give a firm handshake,” my father says, “that way they know you mean business.” Seems he was onto something. Recent research published in the June issue of Science supports his maxim.

Subtle tactile experiences have a significant impact upon our social judgments and decisions reports a team of scientists hailing from Yale, Harvard, and M.I.T. The researchers experimentally demonstrated the nonconscious influence of touch upon a variety of common social situations.

In one of the experiments, subjects were asked to evaluate candidates based upon the strength of their resumes.  The resumes were attached to either light or heavy clipboards. Resumes attached to heavy clipboards were much more likely to be rated as serious and important.

Another experiment found that subjects seated in a hard chair were more rigid in a mock haggling protocol then their soft chaired contemporaries.

The researchers hypothesize that because touch is the first sense to develop, specifically in the context of mother-child comfort and bonding,  it serves a critical role in the creation of an “ontological scaffold… of intrapersonal and interpersonal conceptual and metaphorical knowledge.”

The effects of this scaffold are apparent in words such as cool/hot, hard/soft, and rough/smooth that have risen from their tactile origins to carry additional semantic weight and social descriptiveness.

Originally reported here:

Abstract for Science article here:


July 2nd, 2010 in Uncategorized 12 comments

Casinos everywhere are packed- with gamblers ranging from newly legal young adults to middle aged women out for a ladies’ night to senior citizens with eyes reflecting the lights of the penny slots.  Amongst a sea of others.  What could they possibly have in common?  Dopamine (DA) receptors, of course!  A recent study by Tremblay et al investigated the magnitude of effect DA has on reinforcing gambling tendencies.

When playing a slot machine, players’ tendencies lean towards a pattern of instrumental conditioning.  In this way, when a trial returns a sizable payoff, participants are more likely to make a risky bet in the succeeding one.  However, when haloperidol (a D2 antagonist) was applied, the correlation between payoff and bet declined.  Tremblay cites a previous study (Pessiglione et al. 2006) in which haloperidol was associated with a loss of striatal activation in response to reward related versus non-reward-related stimuli.  Redish et al. (2007) proposes that persistent betting involves reactivation of a learned expectancy, the reward, a behavior modulated by DA.  It is interesting to note though, that participants in Pessiglione’s experiments reported enhanced pleasurable effects of the game under haloperidol, even while their tendency to bet large sums was decreased.

So, how will this information make you money?  Well, directly, maybe it won’t.  But the next time you make that fateful trip to Atlantic City, keep your dopamine in check.

Tremblay et al- Haloperidol and Slot Machine Gambling

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