Category: News

Falling through the cracks: addiction revisted

September 27th, 2013 in News 0 comments

crackcake

Thanks for the crac-I mean cake!

High Price is the most recent book from Carl Hart about the underlying causes of drug addiction. The text, which is written as a combination of personal memoir and scientific review, uses the author’s research to back the idea that the physiological basis of drug addiction isn’t so much to blame as the sociological conditions in which abusers find themselves. Dr.Hart is a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University, who, having seen the first-hand effects of crack-cocaine addiction in the lives of those around him throughout his childhood in Miami, dedicated his career to attempting to elicit the underlying causes of what he observed. What he found surprised even him.

Dr. Hart began as an undergraduate, doing research on rats self-administration of cocaine. Initially, he saw the rats dose themselves to death, unable to resist the drug’s allure. What he noticed, however, was that when rats had an ‘enriched’ environment, they were able to ignore the drug for other rich stimuli, namely the presence of a fellow rodent to play with, a wheel to run on, or tasty treats to snack on. He then applied this line of thought to human subjects. In Dr. Hart’s experiment, crack-cocaine users, who were not seeking rehabilitation, were recruited to live in a hospital setting where every day they were given a sample of the drug (the dose of which was varied day-to-day and unknown to the subjects), followed by the choice of a monetary reward (which they would collect at the end of the study) or the option to continue smoking crack. Contrary to the societal belief that in their desire for the drug, crack addicts are beyond rational thought, the subjects made predictable and logical decisions in their daily choice. When the initial dose was fairly small, the monetary reward was reliably chosen over continuing to use the drug. What Dr. Hart concluded from these results was that addicts, in the right setting, can weigh the prospect of using the drug equally with gaining benefits that are only rewarded further in the future. What he drew from that idea was that perhaps the evidence we see of drug addiction in our culture is more heavily influenced by the situations surrounding those people rather than the actual physiological basis itself.

 

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Cupidity of Commodity

September 24th, 2013 in Article, News, Pop Culture 0 comments

WARNING: the following article features sentences written either by professionals or under the supervision of professionals. Accordingly, Matt and the producers must insist that no one attempt to recreate or re-enact any sentence or thought described in this article.

Personal Note from the Producers: Don’t feed into the character Matt creates, he truly is a good person. #NWTS

Cue the Pink Floyd…

Boom boom ba boom boom boom ching ching guitar riff….”MONEY!”

Greedy

What do you want? What do you need? Food? Water? Shelter? Sure, sure, yes maybe, but what do you want? Dream bigger, you’re thinking too realistically! Stop limiting yourself, open up! Close your eyes, relax,  paint the picture how you see it. Don’t tell me, just visualize it, taste it, feel it! C’mon man, it’s in there somewhere! Yes Yes, exactly bottle up all those ‘it’s not gonna happen’ or ‘yeah right’ moments you experienced and strangle the life out of them! You want the Arancio Argos Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 with the matte wheels to match, okay. You liked that bachelor pad in Phuket didn’t you? The one with the wrap around balcony, snug love seat, black leather couch, gourmet kitchen, his/her bathrooms…yeah that’s the one. But how? That’s impossible right? How do you expect to reward yourself with such prodigal riches at such a young age? Who are you trying to follow? Me: Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Adrien Broner, Scott Disick, Lavish P! Because we’re all rich peasants! If you can’t afford to roll with the crew baby, then you’re merely a campesino (shout out to to the Spanish readers). We get everything we want! There ain’t no morality in this [bleep]! We might as well call ourselves the seven deadly sins! We take pride in our beliefs, feed off of your envy, consume more than we require, lust in the beauty of those we surround ourselves with, avoid physical labor, laugh at your anger, and most importantly: ignore the realm of the spiritual because its not worth a dime! Now, I love me some greed in the morning, especially served with a bowl of lucky charms. But is the idea of greed more innate than we think it is? Are the moral perceptions of greed and neuroscience more intertwined than we think? Shall we…

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Which Way to the Brain Gym?

September 23rd, 2013 in News 0 comments

Intelligence is classically thought of as an immutable characteristic of each individual, pre-determined by genetics and permanent for a person’s entire life. But what if this is not true? It is an appealing idea to think that somehow, one can voluntarily, and naturally, boost his or her level of cognitive performance. Research has already shown that the brain is more plastic than originally thought. Parts of the hippocampus, a subcortical brain structure implicated in tasks of memory and other cognitive control functions, as well as the olfactory bulb (smell center) have been shown to generate new neurons after initial neurogenesis in the mammalian brain. These findings play into the idea that there is a way to somehow become smarter, even though you aren’t necessarily born with such cognitive gifts.

There are now apps and other computer programs that claim to improve brain function with excessive use. One of the bigger names in this field, Lumosity, runs advertisements that their brain-training program is backed by research and is “based on neuroscience.” The purpose here is not to discredit such apps like Lumosity and Brain Fit, but to take a closer look at the legitimacy of these claims of cognitive improvement, examine some actual research being done, and encourage a critical approach to a topic that popular culture REALLY wants to be true.

Brain Workout (from: http://www.chiangmaisos.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/brain-gym-exercises.jpg)

Brain Workout (http://www.chiangmaisos.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/brain-gym-exercises.jpg)

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CLARITY Makes Brains “See-Through”

April 30th, 2013 in News 0 comments

The science community received big news out of California last week as Karl Deisseroth and his team of researchers from the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University had their paper concerning their newly developed CLARITY brain imaging technique published in Nature. The most astounding aspect of the newly released technique is that is creates a “see-through” brain that can be anatomically analyzed in a number of ways. This method truly is a game-changer as it revolutionizes how neuroscientists are able to view brain tissue and allows for a clearer view of the big picture. In this case the big picture is an intact, whole brain.

The technique operates on the idea lipids in the bilayer of a cell’s plasma membrane block visible light. This is why the brain is normally not transparent. Removing these lipids but still keeping the other parts of the cell and its environment intact would render the brain “see-through” and allow for much easier imaging of large pieces of brain tissue, if not the whole brain at once. This idea is carried out by taking the brain and infusing it with acrylamide, which binds proteins, nucleic acids and other molecules, then heating the tissue to form a mesh that holds the tissue together. The brain is then treated with SDS detergent to remove the light-blocking lipids resulting in a stable brain-hydrogel hybrid. From here the transparent tissue can be fluorescently labeled for certain cells and analyzed. Through the whole process there is less than 10% protein loss in the brain tissue compared to around 41% for other current methods. This is an amazing improvement!

http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2013/downloads/CLARITY/CLARITY_stained.jpg

Example of brain image produced by CLARITY from neurons in an intact mouse hippocampus. (http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2013/downloads/CLARITY/CLARITY_stained.jpg)

 

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Obama’s BAM Project Becomes BRAIN Initiative

April 6th, 2013 in News 0 comments

 

Obama-Quote-BRAIN-Initiative-EyeWireAt his State of the Union address nearly two months ago, President Obama announced plans for the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project (see The Nerve blog Part 1 and Part 2), a billion-dollar ten-year research initiative to gain a better understanding of the brain and to provide deeper insights into diseases like Alzheimer Disease, Parkinson Disease, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

On Tuesday, April 2nd, the President announced that he plans to include the BAM project – now termed the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative – in his 2014 budget proposal. The director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, notes that one of the major goals of the project is to simultaneously sample from many neurons in real-time. Although existing technology can measure the activities of single neurons and of brain regions, it cannot measure those of circuits. Because existing technology has not yet advanced to a level that allows such complex analysis, the BRAIN initiative will be initially funded $100 million for the year of 2014 to develop and advance neuroscience technologies. Yearly negotiations will take place to determine future funding.

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Don’t Panic! – Mice Aren’t Actually the Smartest

April 2nd, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments

 

“Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons….In fact there was only one species on the planet more intelligent than dolphins, and they spent a lot of their time in behavioural research laboratories running round inside wheels and conducting frighteningly elegant and subtle experiments on man. The fact that once again man completely misinterpreted this relationship was entirely according to these creatures’ plans.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

As tempting as it may be to believe the science fiction version of the intelligence rankings, real-life science has spoken and suggests (much to my displeasure) that humans may actually be the highest on the intelligence scale.

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Ketamine: Kan it Kure Depression?

March 27th, 2013 in News 0 comments

Affective disorders are those disorders of the brain that are characterized by severe and inappropriate shifts in mood or emotion. These shifts are often to extreme ends of the emotional spectrum where an affected individual is constantly full of energy and confidence (mania) or withdrawn, fatigued, and excessively sad with little interest in usually enjoyable activities (depression). Both of these conditions have been observed and recorded in human history for thousands of years but only recently have they been recognized as brain disorders, given names like major depression and bipolar disorder, and treated as medical conditions.

In the past 150 years it has been noted that the onset of depression is occurring at higher rates and at younger ages that ever before. This data could be the result of factors including an increase in patients coming forward to be diagnosed, improved diagnoses, or simply better record keeping. Whatever the reason, it is estimated that 15 to 20% of the population is experiencing symptoms of major depression at any given time, with a greater occurrence in women than in men. Many are affected by this disorder and a cure has yet to be found. But before we continue, a distinction must be made between major depression and “reactive depression” in which a person may feel depressive symptoms because of a single event like the loss of a loved one or a failure of some kind. Major depression is a prolonged state in which an individual may display a number of symptoms including depressed mood, loss of interest in most activity, change in body weight or appetite, changes in sleep patterns, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and suicidal thoughts. Depending on the severity of the depression a patient may display many, or only a few of these possible symptoms.
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Are you flushing away brain cells? How urine cells can give rise to neurons

March 7th, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments


Uh-oh, urine trouble! Well, now that that’s out of my system (ahem), how would you feel if you learned that you’ve been flushing away potential brain cells? I’m not talking about the copious amount of hours you’ve logged online or kicked back in front of the television just this past month. On a daily basis, you’re expelling 1-2 liters of a possible source of neurons in a way you’ve never expected – through urinating.

Back in 2009, stem-cell biologist Duanqing Pei demonstrated that kidney epithelial cells, a common component of urine, could be converted into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which have the ability to differentiate into any cell type found in the body. Recently, Pei and his colleagues at China’s Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health took this technique a step further by converting iPS cells into functioning neurons. More

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A Blacked Out Memory

March 3rd, 2013 in Article, News, Pop Culture 0 comments


Social gatherings are often the scene of hippocampal disruptions.

Social gatherings are often the scene of hippocampal disruptions. (Scene from the movie Twelve)

“White Mike and his father moved after his mother died of breast cancer. It ate her up and most of their money. They can’t control the old radiators and its very hot in the spring time. In White Mike’s room, old unpacked boxes stick out of the closet so he can see them. Maybe you know how it is, maybe you don’t? But sometimes if you can’t see what you’re finished with its better. White Mike stripped to his shorts and laid down on the floor so he felt a little cooler. That’s how it was the first night in his new room and that’s how it still is. White Mike is thin and pale like smoke. White Mike has never smoked a cigarette in his life, never had a drink, never sucked down a doobie. He once went three days without sleep as a kind of experiment. That’s as close as he’s ever gotten to fucked up. White Mike has become a very good drug dealer.
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Connectionism

March 1st, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments


In light of the Obama Administration’s decision to commit $3 billion over 10 years to NIH’s Brain Activity Map project, we thought it may be important to go back to our roots.

Who are we? This is the ultimate question posed by all of Western thinking and perhaps NIH’s Brain Activity Map is the culmination of our efforts. The goal of the project, in a nutshell, is “mapping the activity of every neuron in the human brain in 10 years.” Absurd, outrageous, momentous, profound! Okay, so when did we decide that this was possible, or even that we should try? In their modern form, these beliefs spring from a movement in cognitive science called Connectionism.

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