By mhchitre

In Lieu of Halloween…

October 28th, 2011 in Pop Culture 0 comments

Yup, that’s all I’ve got. Enjoy being spooky!

Tarman Wants More Brains – YouTube

Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

October 21st, 2011 in Arts + Media 0 comments

Baghdad Central Prison, formerly known as Abu Ghraib prison

Have you ever wondered what pushes normal people to become hellacious monsters? Have you ever considered that the same person that turns evil has an equal chance of becoming a hero? If any of these questions have ever crossed your mind, Dr. Philip Zimbardo may have answers for you. More

The Odd Couple: Autism + Anorexia?

February 24th, 2011 in News 7 comments

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The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple via Omahype

Have you ever considered there to be commonalities between autism and anorexia? Up until a few weeks ago, the idea  never crossed my mind. I was more focused on how that other autism study about vaccines was proven to be a complete hoax.

On February 10th, researchers at the University of Bath in England released some information on an upcoming paper that is to be published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology. Dr. Mark Brosnan and the rest of his research team have possibly found a correlation between autism and eating disorders. Although there have been hints to this relationship in clinical settings (the news blurb refers to women diagnosed with eating disorders producing high scores on a "questionnaire that measures characteristics associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)"), no formal research had been performed to test the strength of the relationship between the two diseases.

Dr. Brosnan studied 61 boys and 71 girls between the ages of 11 and 14  to make up a total of 132 children. His reasoning for testing this age group was to see if there was a correlation between the two disorders at a young age in a "non-clinical population." All of the students filled out questionnaires that examined their characteristics and how strongly they relate to autism and eating disorders. The to be published results suggest that there is indeed a link between the two disorders, and the relationship is especially strong between "eating disorder, attention to detail and communication skills."

In addition to the results of the research being simply interesting, Brosnan has stated that finding this relationship is key since "'The application of one research area to another may contribute to a better understanding of both clinical conditions.'" Brosnan then goes on to describe how autism is seen as a disorder that mainly affects men, and eating disorders mainly affect women. However, his research shows that high scores relating to "attention to detail" and "poor communication skills" were found the most among those who expressed the largest tendencies toward eating disorder. High scores in these two areas of the autism assessment were the greatest predictor of a high score on the eating disorder assessment, not sex of the student.

This paper has yet to be published, so more complex questions about the study will remain unanswered until the research is officially published. However, these implications prove to be very intriguing. Keep an eye on it. I know I will.

Eating disorders linked with autism in school children - University News of the University of Bath

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Having Trouble Getting a Good Night's Sleep? There's an App for That.

October 29th, 2010 in Uncategorized 4 comments

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Maciek Drejak Labs released an app earlier this year for the iPhone (which can also be used on the iPod Touch) called "Sleep Cycle." Recently, Lifehacker rated this App the best alarm clock application function for smart phones for its weekly Hive Five feature.

The way this application works is by monitoring your body movements during sleep. The user is instructed to place the phone face side down between the fitted sheet and the mattress. Over the course of the night, the program registers high amounts activity (movement) as "awake," moderate activity as "Dreaming" (REM sleep), and little to no activity as "Deep Sleep" (slow wave sleep). For the first two or three nights of use, Sleep Cycle familiarizes itself with the user's movement patterns by creating a graph of the user's sleep cycle.

Example Graph from Sleep Cycle's Website

Sample graph of a user's sleep cycle

At the peaks of the graph, the user is most likely at his or her lightest sleep. The user sets an alarm for what time he or she would like to wake up. Within the last thirty minutes of a night's sleep, Sleep Cycle will analyze the peaks of the graph and will attempt to wake the user gently when he or she is exhibiting a peak of high activity (ie: experiencing light sleep).

Customer reviews express some mixed results with this application, but overall, it appears that many people have positive experiences with Sleep Cycle. Some users report that when the application works properly, they feel wonderful when they wake up rather than being ripped out of deep sleep or a dream when the alarm goes off.

Although this application is only useful for iPhone and iPod Touch users, it is fairly inexpensive at 0.99 cents, and it has the potential to help extremely deep sleepers.

Sleep Cycle - Maciek Drejak Labs
Best Mobile Alarm App: Sleep Cycle - Lifehacker

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Why Did You Choose to Read This?

August 5th, 2010 in Uncategorized 3 comments

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FoxTrot by Bill Waterston

FoxTrot by Bill Amend

The Stone (a philosophy-oriented opinion column in The New York Times) recently published two arguments related to free will. On July 22, Galen Strawson, a professor of philosophy at Reading University, presented the idea of determinism to his readers. In short, determinism is the idea that everything is causally linked to prior events. Because one cannot control the infinite influences of genetics, culture, and history, it is impossible for one to declare that one has free will. The choices that a person makes depends on an innate selection of preferences that a person already has, and that innate selection of preferences also depends on another set of preferences, and so the sequence regresses. Strawson agrees that this "reality" about the universe does not change anybody's opinion about free will and one's responsibility felt towards one's actions (he includes himself as an ultimate disbeliever), but simply believing free will is real does not make it so.

However, the Stone published an opposing argument on July 25th – a mere three days later. Before readers could wrap their minds around Strawson’s theory about free will, William Egginton, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, presented the fact that free will is at the forefront of everyone's lives. Egginton explains that humans have a tendency to explore beyond what their senses can understand. This trait is good since we as a species have grown to understand more about our surroundings, but this quality also leads to projection and sensationalism among us. People are quick to make assumptions and draw conclusions about facts presented to them. For example, the New York Times itself sensationalized a “finding” of dark matter when in reality, the “discovery” was no more important than levels of dark matter found by accident.

Egginton described an experiment where monkeys "were taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns." The computer that was hooked up to the monkeys then determined the decision the monkeys were about to make a few fractions of a second before the monkeys' eyes looked at the pattern. The scientists declared that because the monkeys were not taking time to weigh any options, the computer could predict the decisions that the monkeys were about to make.

Egginton asks, but were the computers really able to predict such decisions? Egginton argues that these computers were not predicting decisions; they were merely presenting the neural processes that led up to the monkeys making decisions. This makes sense if one considers the processing speed of computers. They generally perform functions (especially simpler ones) faster than human brains do. One could guess that these computers also work faster than monkey brains, so the computer was just offering the processes faster than the monkey. It was not extrapolating what the monkey would do before it would do it; it was only giving a readout of what the monkey had already decided a little bit faster than the monkey itself. No decisions were technically being made by the computer for the monkey.

Egginton finishes by saying that humans have free will whether they like it or not. They are prisoners of freedom not because they can choose but because they must choose.

However, these two arguments have left me feeling dissatisfied. Although I'm a believer of free will (I love Sartre), I can't help but think that both of these arguments sit on extreme ends. I'm assuming the editors at The New York Times wanted these arguments to be this way, so readers could make choices of their own about their free will.

My father has always told me that life is about balance. As a result, I try to rationally balance everything that I do, say, or think. I would say that a human's ability to have free will and live freely because is a combination of determinism and free will itself. In addition to humans having a tendency towards fanaticism by projecting their knowledge onto simple facts about the universe, humans also like to categorize and rationalize things such that they make the most sense for their own lives (I'm doing it, too!).

For example, when two people are breaking up, one of the partners may say that the breakup was inevitable while the other partner says that he or she had no idea that the breakup was coming. The partner that said the breakup was inevitable would most likely say that the breakup was a sensible thing to do, while the other partner would probably say that the breakup was random and unexpected. The person who views the breakup as a surprise will most likely feel more pain and mourn the end of the relationship more than the person who saw it coming. Despite the fact that these two people are undergoing the same breakup, they rationalize the events as determined or random depending on their point of view. The way they rationalize correlates directly with the way they choose to cope with the breakup.

For some people, saying that a higher power like determinism or even God essentially makes decisions for them makes their lives easier because they don't want to be held responsible for some of their personality traits or actions. For others, saying that they have free will and must make decisions all the time makes them feel better because they will feel like they've done all they could to change a situation when they fail or succeed. Many feel at peace when they "know" that their choices have made them who they are.

I can't say that either side is right or wrong, but life must be more nuanced than either argument says it is. At times, I feel as if certain choices I have made have definitely influenced what I've done or why I feel one way or another about a scenario. But other times, I don't think that anything I could have done would have changed what happened to me. Sure, if I fall down when I'm walking down some stairs, I certainly could have done something else, but why does that matter? For situations like that, I think that it doesn't really matter if your free will did or didn't cause that situation. It happened regardless of what caused it. That is what is most important.

We like to ruminate on how what we did affects what happened, but it seems that we need to be spending more time thinking about how what we do now will affect how we are in the future.

What do you choose?

Your Move: The Maze of Free Will - Opinionator Blog -
The Limits of the Coded World - Opinionator Blog -


Forget Me Not

July 10th, 2010 in Uncategorized 0 comments

Do you ever fear that you are losing your memory?

Do you ever fear that you are losing your memory?

One hundred years ago, when Alzheimer's Disease (AD) was even more of a mystery than it is now, amyloid protein aggregates were described as black spots that showed up on brain slices after autopsy. These aggregates, commonly known as plaques, denote the telltale sign that a patient has AD. Until recently, these plaques could only be detected after death, but Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, creator of Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, may have a solution.

On July 11th, Dr. Skovronsky will present his latest findings at the international meeting of the Alzheimer's Association in Honolulu. He has spent the last five years creating a fluorine radioactive dye to be used in positron emission tomography (PET) scans. The results of these PET scans are engineered to be so accurate that they can compete with brain autopsies, the only method currently available to determine whether a patient has AD.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) questioned Dr. Skovronsky about his fluorine-18 dye and whether the results of fluorine-18 PET scans compare to the definitive results of brain autopsies. Dr. Skovronsky recruited thirty-five patients in hospice with ranging levels of memory loss; all of these patients would receive a PET scan and would have their brains autopsied post-mortem. The results of each patient's PET scan matched his or her autopsy results.

If approved by the FDA, Dr. Skovronsky's work will lead to an increase in accuracy in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Currently, 20% of patients diagnosed with AD are revealed to not have the disease when an autopsy is performed. With fluorine-18, Dr. Skovronsky has fine-tuned a method to detect amyloid plaques in the brain in a living patient, which is a feat within itself. Previously, the only way one could determine whether a patient had the disease or not was through autopsy - a posthumous procedure. Now, patients could have the chance to receive an accurate diagnosis while they are still alive and earlier in their lives.

In addition to simply detecting plaque, fluorine-18 will also aid in understanding the development of the disease, for plaques were found in patients deemed as healthy when they took memory tests. Currently, people who are not diagnosed with AD earlier in life will not receive treatment until the disease has developed more, and they will likely not receive any preventative medicine. With Dr. Skovronsky's PET scans, doctors could diagnose the development of the disease earlier and administer preventative measures to slow down the development of the disease. Also, patients who are currently misdiagnosed with AD do not receive the correct treatments that they need for the diseases that are actually causing their memory loss or dementia, like depression.

The Vanishing Mind - Promise Seen for Detection of Alzheimer's - NYTimes
The Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative positron emission tomography core - Alzheimer's Dement. 2010
In Vivo Imaging of Amyloid Deposition in Alzheimer Disease Using the Radioligand 18F-AV-45 (Flobetapir F 18) - The Journal of Nuclear Medicine

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When an alarm isn't enough, try a dopamine agonist instead?

April 17th, 2010 in Uncategorized 0 comments

After a serious accident, victims can sustain grave injuries, such as severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), resulting in focal lesions and/or diffuse axonal injury. This can result in a coma that can develop into a Vegetative State (VS) or Minimally Conscious State (MCS), wherein the victim regains arousal, but with low awareness. Studies of these states suggest a deficiency in dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved with general stimulation, wakefulness, and circadian rhythms. Thus, to treat VS/MCS patients, dopamine agonists, such as l-dopa , bromocriptine, and amantadine, have been used. These agonists are plagued with issues, namely that they are either too weak (bromocriptine and amantadine) or may result in complications due to administration method (l-dopa). Thus, a group of researchers have recently tested apomorphine, which is potent and is a broadly acting dopamine agonist, to attempt treating VS/MCS. In fact, apomorphine is so potent, that it is the drug of last resort in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The researchers continuously administered apomorphine subcutaneously (via pump) to a 25-year-old male patient for 12 hours a day (followed by 12 hours of rest period) over 179 days. They saw results as early as the first day, when the patient was able to move his limbs on command and answer yes/no questions (which did not happen preceding treatment). Following this, their patient even made a full recovery of consciousness and regained substantial functional ability. This regain of consciousness and function continued pas discontinuation of treatment. Though there were side effects in the form of dyskinesias at high doses, the treatment resulted in remarkable recovery at lower doses. Using Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), an MRI technique, the researchers found a decrease of thalamocortical and corticothalamic projections (compared to the control). It may be that VS/MCS is a result of thalamocortical and corticothalamic dopaminergic deficiencies, which can be a treated quite easily with apomorphine. If it is a universal cause of VS/MCS in trauma victims, we may soon expect apomorphine widely used to revive comatose patients.

Fridman EA, Krimchansky BZ, Bonetto M, Galperin T, Gamzu ER, Leiguarda RC, et al. Continuous subcutaneous apomorphine for severe disorders of consciousness after traumatic brain injury. Brain injury : [BI]. 2010;24(4):636-41

-Neil Datta

Hey there!

March 30th, 2010 in Uncategorized 0 comments

Due to difficulties with technology, I was not able to get this post up on Monday.

BUT, I have a video for you all. Lately, I have been researching the American military's relationship with neuroscience, and I came across Mind Wars by Jonathan Moreno, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here he is discussing his book and the ties between the US military and neuroscience on "Conversations from Penn State."