Tag Archives: brain

Bringing brain disorders back into balance with Brain’s thermostat?

Bringing a new path of hope to people with brain development disorders is Dr. Gina Turrigiano and her team at Brandeis University. They demonstrated for the first time in a live animal that the brain has a “thermostat” that maintains a balance of excitement. When it gets too excited a system exists to tone down the firing rate of the neurons or vice versa. This discovery has implications in brain disorder conditions in which the balance is lost in psychiatric conditions like autism where the brain does not get excited enough, or epilepsy in which the brain gets too excited. The brain’s “thermostat” keeps the neurons on an even keel even as they change in response to learning, development or environment factors. This thermostat worked even when the animal was awake or asleep. Read the original article published in the journal Neuron as the cover article on October 16, 2013 by clicking here.

Dr. Turrigiano says that if scientists can figure out how these set points are built, then researchers may be able to adjust them and bring the brains of people suffering from such disorders back into balance.

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered "synaptic scaling" where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered “synaptic scaling” where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrig1ano, was conferred the 2012 HFSP Nakasone award, McArthur Foundation award and the NIH Director’s Pioneering award for her pioneering work and introduction of the term “synaptic scaling”. The concept is that the developing and fully developed brain has inbuilt mechanisms that allow balancing the need for plasticity. It allows the brain to enable learning and development while maintaining the stability and integrity of the circuits that drive behavior.

Work in her lab has shown that neurons can “tune” themselves and scale down excitement or vice versa. However, this concept of “synaptic scaling” or thermostat control had never been observed in a life animal until now.

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Can we repair the brain? A UK research-USA industry collaboration

Collaborating transatlantically are UK based Center for Clinical Brain Sciences established as recently as 2004 and USA based Biogen. A landmark clinical study will observe three licensed drugs for neurological conditions. Late stage progressive form of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients will be monitored for two years says Prof. Siddharthan Chandran, Director of the Anne Rowling Clinic. MRI scans will test for signs of MS disease progression. The research initiative is being funded by Biogen. The UK researchers will provide greater insight into the cell and biological processes behind progressive neurological diseases.

Over 35 million people are affected and the global cost for treatment and care is at 700 billion and rising.  Multiple sclerosis progresses fast.  Within 18 months of the first symptoms a person may become wheel chair bound. How does the brain cell wiring system get damaged so rapidly? The hope lies in a new discovery – stem cells can spontaneously repair damaged brain cells, by laying new myelin over nerve cells.  Treatment options being considered for research are by either activating existing stem cells in the brain or by transplanting stem cells to replace dead or dying brain cells. The UK research team has done the ground work for this research since their public is open to the advantages of stem cell research and understand the implications of using a patient’s own stem cells. This risky and super expensive research needs visionary and patient funding leaders. That is where Biogen comes in.  Naturally, such collaborations cannot be done in countries where the citizens do not understand or are opposed to the possibilities of stem cell research.

Dr. Siddharthan Chandran gave a talk at TEDGlobal 2013 describing his vision of hope for neurodegenerative diseases of the brain. See a description of his talk and more images by clicking here or at: http://blog.ted.com/2013/06/12/regenerating-hope-tedglobal-2013-with-siddharthan-chandran/

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Could “brain to brain” via internet communication research help autistics?

Researchers at University of Washington plugged the wirings of a human brain into the most advanced computer known by man – another human brain. They predict such “brain to brain” communication research might help people with disabilities communicate their needs for food, water or a game better. Amazingly, brain signals between these two human beings might work even if they spoke different languages, thus signaling the age of unification via grey matter.

This research was conducted at University of Washington between two human researchers located at opposite ends of the same campus. One human researcher wearing a brain cap contraption controlled via the internet the action of another human researcher wearing a wired contraption over the motor cortex area. Similar research has been done between rats or a human and a rat at Duke University and Harvard University.

Such research requires intereactions between mechanical engineers, bioengineers, neuroscientists, robotics experts, and computer scientists. Bringing them together are visionary leaders with a long – term approach to results and possible applications. Those who expect immediate economic impact will naturally not fund such research. University of Washington has been fortunate to have been funded with patient, visionary leaders. Their research is helping build a dynamic computer and robotics campus exploring the last frontier – the brain.

Read more in this Forbes article by Jennifer Hicks explained after interviews with researchers and accompanied with pictures and diagrams.

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Hunger is mental but Obesity is genetic

A California State University researcher, Takako Hara, raised a question in 1997, “What is the relationship between hunger and eating?” Hunger has been analyzed by several researchers for decades in three different criteria – biological, cognitive and learned. Click here to read this article summarizing the role of hunger in obesity research in 1997.  With the sequencing of the human genome, the role of the genes we inherited from our parents and their role has been extensively researched by obesity researchers and summarized in an article by Harvard University which you may click here to read.  We want to convince our readers that obesity can be strongly influenced by healthy environments and lifestyle choices.  However, we have to acknowledge that a certain segment of humans are genetically at far higher risk of obesity than the rest of us, on the same diet, in the same environment.  It is for them that it becomes critical to conquer this battle of mind over stomach and genetics.

People whose stomach was removed still felt hungry.

Hunger and Eating based on Biology
Humans use an external clock in their daily routine. At “lunch time” it is time to eat. Interestingly, people feel hungry for particular tastes. For example, the four basic tastes bitter, salty, sweet and sour are often included in statements when hungry.

Hunger and Eating based on Cognition
Blue is said to be an appetite suppresant – can you remember a single blue food that you crave? Mother nature does not produce blue food. Color greatly affects our hunger and people eventually can learn to change their preference. Children at a party beg for a cupcake with blue icing.

Our Brain, our intestine and Hunger
There are two places in our brain that control the feeling of being hungry or full. One part signals when to begin eating and the other part signals when to stop eating. The intestine or the gastrointestinal tract controls short-term hunger, or impulse eating.

So, What is Obesity?
Exceeding the average weight for a given height at a specific stage in one’s life may be defined as being obese. Simple overeating does not explain the cause of obesity. Obese people tend to respond more often to external cues of hunger like “lunch time” than the non – obese. There are boundary levels of feelings of hunger and being full that are determined by biology. For the obese this biologically determined boundary is higher than the non-obese.

Eating Disorders
There are people who can starve themselves and are called anorexics. A cognitive or learned component of anorexia cannot be ignored. While those who eat too much and then throw up by forcing themselves to throw up are called bulimic and tend to have a connection with depression. Both anorexics and bulimics may suffer from malnutrition.

Mind and Body Connection to Hunger
There are two kinds of hunger; one that is caused psychologically and the other that is caused physiologically. Problems like eating disorders and obesity occur frequently because we try to fullfil our psychological hunger. Until we acknowledge the fact that it is often times our mind that is hungry and not our stomach we may never be able to be fully “not hungry”.

The Sense of Hunger is Not Just the Food we Put Into Our Mouth but The Thoughts Controlled by The Environment Around All of Us.

Hunger Obesity BrainHunger in Children and Tantrums 
Occasionally, serious emotional or behavioral problems in children, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis may sometimes indicate a problem more serious than hunger (Read more).  Excessive tantrums in pre-schoolers and it’s relationship to hunger is being extensively researched. Quoting Andrew C. Belden, Ph.D., a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) research scholar in child psychiatry,

“Healthy children may even display extreme behaviors if they’re very tired or sick or hungry. But if a child is regularly engaging in specific types of tantrum behaviors, there may be a problem.”

Unquote. You may click here to read more on when excessive tantrums in preschoolers may indicate mental evaluation is warranted rather than simple hunger of a healthy child.

Common Obesity is caused by Mutations in Multiple Genes
The search for an obesity gene that began several decades ago illuminated several genetic factors are responsible for obesity. Many people who carry the so called “obesity genes” do not become overweight until exposed to certain lifestyle factors which influence the genes that they inherited from their parents, including certain rare forms of obesity. Quoting from a Harvard University article, “Obesity – promoting genes in an Obesity – promoting world”:

To date, genome-wide association studies have identified more than 30 candidate genes on 12 chromosomes that are associated with body mass index. (8-10) It’s important to keep in mind that even the most promising of these candidate genes, FTO, accounts for only a small fraction of the gene-related susceptibility to obesity.


The interplay of genes and genes – environment warrants attention. Twin studies are often cited by obesity researchers. A recent study of over 25,000 twins suggested a strong genetic influence on BMI. Twins have the same genetic influence on BMI and thus, obesity, assuming environment and lifestyle at home is same for the twins. It is increasingly clear that genetic factors identified so far make only a small contribution to obesity risk. Click here to read this Harvard University article.

Related Articles
High Fructose corn syrup – why would anyone educated still consume it?
How the biological inheritance from your parents defines you
Race, ethnicity and kidney disease
Two Traditional Plant-based Diabetic management from Africa, and India
War on obesity and diabetes by reducing intake of drinks with sugar to 16oz in New York City

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