Reese's and Green M&M's slow Alzheimer's-Just Kidding

Happy Halloween!

Good News. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Green M&M's have been shown to slow down the effects of Alzheimer's Disease in a recent study. Adults who eat one Reese's candy per day...

Just kidding, but we've all seen the effects on kids under 10 years old.

In honor of Halloween, we are working on a contraption that will allow us to maximize our haul of candy per a given area, which would make F. Winslow Taylor proud.

This is a problem here on the homefront since homes tend to be rather far apart and also far from the street for little feet. The contraption needs to have three wheels (at least) and stand unaided, it also must have dual ventral storage areas for the take. It would be best if it were self-propelled, and driven by remote control. We'll let you know what we come up with.

The Sun Never Sets

"The sun never sets on the British Empire," so declared the denizens of Eton and former 'officials of Empire' before relaxing in retirement at Tunbridge Wells.

Now it appears that the lifeblood of the Empire, tea, rather, may cause the sun to set on Alzheimer's. Certainly it appears that drinking of tea may be provide benefits to the consumer beyond the warmth and richness of the cup on an Autumn day.

From Science and Tech Today

Both green and black tea inhibited the activity of enzymes associated with the development of Alzheimer's in a study conducted by England's Medicinal Plant Research Centre. The effects of green tea lasted for a week, versus one day for black tea, the scientists found.

A steaming cup of tea, the relaxing drink of choice for millions in countries such as Britain and China, could help ward off the effects of Alzheimer's disease, scientists said on Tuesday.
Laboratory tests found that regular cups of green and black tea inhibit the activity of certain enzymes in the brain which bring on Alzheimer's, a form of generative dementia that affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide.

The research by the Medicinal Plant Research Centre at Newcastle University, northeast England, is published in academic journal Phytotherapy Research.

Scientists tested coffee as well as green and black tea, the latter of which -- the variety enjoyed by most Britons -- is derived from the same plant as the green variety but has a different taste and appearance as it is fermented.

The results found that while coffee had no significant effect, both green and black tea inhibited the activity of enzymes associated with the development of Alzheimer's.

According to the journal, tea inhibited the activity of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which breaks down the chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Alzheimer's is characterized by a drop in acetylcholine.

Green tea and black tea also hinder the activity of the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE), seen in protein deposits found on the brains of patients with Alzheimer's.

However green tea alone had a further effect, obstructing the activity of beta-secretase, which has a role in the production of protein deposits in the brain associated with Alzheimer's.

The effects of green tea also last for a week, scientists found, as against only a day for black tea.

"Although there is no cure for Alzheimer's, tea could potentially be another weapon in the armory which is used to treat this disease and slow down its development," said head researcher Dr Ed Okello.

"It would be wonderful if our work could help improve the quality of life for millions of sufferers and their carers.

"Our findings are particularly exciting as tea is already a very popular drink, it is inexpensive, and there do not seem to be any adverse side effects when it is consumed.

"Still, we expect it will be several years until we are able to produce anything marketable."


Stanford Research Targets Amyloid Role in Alzheimer's

Researchers at Stanford are seeking to unravel and reverse the mystery of Amyloid protein accumulation. Amyloids accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer's Disease candidates, eventually triggering the progression of the disease in concert with biochemical factors occurring at the molecular level. Understanding these interactions are key to developing a solution to the Disease.

(AP)A potential new therapeutic approach to Alzheimer's disease protects brain cells in culture by drastically reducing the neurotoxic amyloid protein aggregates that are critical to the development of the disease. The treatment involves dispatching a small molecule into the cell to enlist the aid of a larger “chaperone” protein to block the accumulation of the brain-clogging protein.

The new "Trojan horse" technique overcomes a major challenge in drug design - namely, the limited ability of molecules small enough to enter a cell to interfere with interactions between much larger proteins. The researchers said it might also be possible to use this new approach to sabotage proteins central to pathogenic organisms, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

"We achieved much better protective effects than have been achieved by pharmaceutical companies and by other academic groups using other approaches,"
said Gerald R. Crabtree.

Led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Gerald R. Crabtree, the researchers reported their findings in the October 29, 2004, issue of the journal Science. First author Jason Gestwicki and senior author Isabella Graef are both members of Crabtree's laboratory at Stanford University School of Medicine.

>>Read More>>


How the Brain Evolves

There is even more news upcoming on the Alzheimer's front, for example, some major findings were announced by Stanford University in the area of amyloid plaque; but on that score, we would like to bring you an eyewitness report after we speak to colleagues at Stanford tomorrow.

We would like to offer for thought this important essay on the evolution of the human brain by Dr. Seth Shostak, UC-Berkeley astronomer and SETI Institute scientist.

By Seth Shostak
SETI Institute
posted: 28 October 2004

Is there really life out there? Was a kinder, wetter Mars once dotted by bacterial blooms whose progeny now await our discovery? Do unseen, alien microbes swim in the buried oceans of Europa, Callisto, or Ganymede? What about Titan’s sub-zero methane lakes?

We still don’t know whether any of these nearby worlds houses living things. But the smart money is betting that there are countless alien landscapes, both around our star and others, where conditions are not only ripe for life, but biology has actually burst forth.

The odds for extraterrestrial life, in other words, are reckoned to be good.

But when it comes to intelligent life -- life that could invent science and technology -- the bookmakers hesitate. After all, the road to Homo sapiens was snaky. There were myriad forks in the evolutionary road, and not a few biologists have suggested that if the history of this planet had been only slightly different, humans would never have made the scene. Intelligence was a highly improbable accident, they say.

The only way to thoroughly disprove this rather conservative notion would be to find intelligence elsewhere. That’s what SETI tries to do.

But there’s another line of research that could give us important insights: we could investigate how species become intelligent. If the process that drives species to higher IQ depends on contingency and happenstance, we might infer that thinking is a rare talent. If not, then we can confidently expect plenty of sophisticated galactic brethren.

Regrettably, we still don’t know how our own intelligence arose. What prodded our ancestors to evolve from simple simians to cogitating creatures? One theory says it was all a consequence of mating behavior that selected for reproductive fitness, but there are other possibilities.

As little as we know about our own intellectual history, we know even less about other, clearly brainy species, such as dolphins.

Correction: make that past tense. Some research just published by behavioral biologist Lori Marino (of Emory University and the SETI Insitute), together with her colleagues Dan McShea and Mark D. Uhen, has, for the first time, mapped out the intelligence of toothed whales and dolphins over the past 50 million years. This map may lead us to some real research treasure: uncovering just what it is that provokes evolution to select for high intelligence.

How could Marino and her team measure the IQ’s of animals that breathed their last millions of years ago? She used what has become an accepted standard for gauging the intelligence of animals both dead and alive: the so-called ‘encephalization quotient’, or EQ. Simply put, this is the mass of the brain, as a fraction of body weight. If you have an average-sized brain for your body weight, then your EQ is one. If you have twice as massive a brain as the average species your size, then your EQ is two – and you move, if not to the head of the class, then at least a few rows forward.

For example, cougars, whose body weight is comparable to yours, have EQ’s of one. Humans have an EQ of seven, which means that your brain is roughly seven times more massive than those of these big cats (which is why you can invariably beat them at Scrabble).

Marino’s team spent four years prowling the dusty collections of museums, tracking down fossil crania of toothed whales and dolphins. They then determined their brain volumes with the help of computer tomography. The animals’ weight was estimated by measuring the size of some of the bones where the spinal cord enters the skull, a parameter known to be strongly correlated with body mass. With data in hand, they could then compute the EQ’s of more than 200 specimens, representing 37 families and 62 species.

What did they find? To begin with, cetaceans had a big jump in EQ about 35 million years ago, quadrupling from EQ = 0.5 to EQ = 2.1. No one knows what caused this cerebral shift, but one possibility is that it was the consequence of developing echolocation -- "seeing" their surroundings by voicing high-pitched chirps and analyzing the reflected sounds.

However, in the last 35 million years, these creatures have produced descendants with a wide range of EQ’s, some quite average with EQ’s around 1.0, and others with EQ’s of 4 and 5, rather close to our own. Indeed, as Marino says, "The smarter cetaceans may not be far behind us; they can do a lot of the things that only humans and great apes can do. They might be a good example of a complex, but largely non-technological intelligence."

What does this show? We’re not closely related to dolphins in an evolutionary sense. And yet they developed intelligence comparable to our own. That suggests that there is real survival value in intelligence, and that there are many ways that nature can produce it.

"Here you have four or five different animal groups that, from an evolutionary standpoint, are very different," says Marino. "But there’s clearly a higher order selection effect that has created similarities in function. It might be the consequence of some aspect of social interaction."

"And keep in mind," Marino points out, "brains don’t all just get bigger over time. You’d better have a very good reason for having a big brain, because they’re metabolically very expensive. You’ll have the brain that you need, no more."

But for those creatures inhabiting an ecological niche where intelligence pays off, it sounds as if high IQ’s could be reached via many roads. "Cetaceans and primates are not closely related at all, but both have similar behavior capacities and large brains -- the largest on the planet. Cognitive convergence seems to be the bottom line."

So what about the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence? Marino waxes philosophical: "I think this research is a piece of the puzzle, although we still have a long way to go."

"It does tell us something about how intelligence developed on this planet, so the more we learn about that, the better we can estimate the likelihood of it developing elsewhere. And it also gives us a better understanding of what the range of possibilities is."

Humans are not the only brainy game in town. And that statement may extend to the cosmos.


Study: Mental Exercises Dramatically Slow Alzheimer's Disease

WebMD is reporting that cognitive exercise slows Alzheimer's Disease and that the effects may be more pronounced with frequent cognitive exertion and testing.

Oct. 27, 2004 -- Coupling the drug Aricept with regular mental stimulation dramatically slows the decline of Alzheimer's disease in people with mild or moderate disease compared with medications alone, new research shows.

When Alzheimer's patients participated in weekly sessions -- which involved reading and writing -- they retained more communication skills, functional abilities, emotional well-being, and quality of life, compared with those patients who were simply taking Aricept, reports researcher Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, with the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Aricept is widely used because it helps people with Alzheimer's disease retain memory and improves performance in other mental functions, writes Chapman. However, the improvements are fleeting; in Alzheimer's disease, a progressive brain disease, Aricept reduces functional decline by only 38% over one year's time when compared with placebo.

Patients with Alzheimer's disease rarely get any treatments beyond medications like Aricept. However, a growing number of studies have shown that mental exercises can help with memory, verbal abilities, problem solving, calculations, overall functioning, and quality of life, Chapman notes.>> ">read more>>

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The last two days have been extremely busy...thus we have not been able to say much here. We do have some interesting pieces coming up, but in the meantime I urge you to read this Wired piece, if you happened not to catch the link before.


Today Space, Tomorrow the Brain

Memory Loss Prevention and Memory Preservation are amongst the Final Frontiers facing humanity, along with space. While Richard Branson has licensed the spaceship one technology to enable private space flight, others are working on the brain, understanding its structure, and understanding how to extend and preserve its function through software, fMRI, and pharmaceuticals.

Tracking and Monitoring (MemCheck), imaging (fMRI), nutritionals and pharmaceuticals, and even, Memory Storage will be utilized in combination to spot, analyze, and treat impairments; finally, storing away memories in a computer chip. Three of the Four are possible today, though we are just at the baby-steps of what will be a vast revolution, the Fourth - memory storage, has just been announced from a USC and Kentucky research team.

You can help make it all possible by taking our test, purchasing MemCheck, featuring MemCheck on your site or blog - and we will let you know how you can help.

LONDON, England -- William Shatner wants to boldly go where he's only pretended to go so far.

The "Star Trek" star is among more than 7,000 people who have told Richard Branson they would gladly pay him $210,000 (£115,000) for a trip aboard his planned spacecraft, the entrepreneur said Friday.

Former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro has signed up for a ride, and a Hollywood director who was not identified has booked an entire ship.

Trevor Beattie, chairman of the ad agency TBWA -- responsible for campaigns such as the "Hello Boys" Wonderbra campaign with Eva Herzigova -- offered to send a check as soon as the project was launched last month.

In all, more than $1.45 billion (£800 million) has been pledged -- years before the Virgin Galactic spaceship is even built, Branson said.

Branson, 54, is pouring $135 million (£74 million) into his latest commercial experiment, which promises to send the paying public 70 miles above the planet to experience six minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

Sunday Evening

Good Evening. This will be rather short. Some good news, we will be presenting a paper at the Neuroscience Society meeting in San Diego later today and will have some announcements related to this; the paper will cover the use of our secure, n-tier system for monitoring cognitive effects during clinical trials, where we help biotech companies determine efficacy of products, which is a pretty important function in the scheme of things. Here is a link to the topics of our research to date, in case you are interested.

107 people signed up today and most, of course, took tests. Thanks. We also will be announcing and explaining in more detail our 'affiliate' program this week, everything from refer a friend, to tools so people and groups concerned with patients and caregivers, health web sites, search engines, and other (web)blogs can link to our site.

I did not watch the World Series game, but it appears the 'curse of the Bambino' may be lifted, now that the Bosox are up 2-0. The curse, reputedly, was slapped on the Boston Red Sox by the Gods of baseball for trading George Hermann (Babe) Ruth to the Yankees, a day which for ever after for Red Sox fans, will live in infamy.


Jeff Hawkins and RNI.org

We attended Jeff Hawkins' RNI.org meeting yesterday in Menlo Park.

Jeff invented the Palm Pilot, the Visor and Treo, three well-known global consumer products. He has a longstanding interest on the brain and intelligence.

Speaking was professor Sue Becker from McMaster University, on theoretical models of cognition, on how people's memories change over time, even within seconds of their initial perception. Our focus here at CL on memory and observed brain speed would have to classify as catalytic outputs of the engine but not the sparkplug.


RNI is trying to understand the mechanics of intelligence, from an engineering perspective, assuming that the problem of understanding the brain shares a commonality with all engineering problems, and can be solved like building
an aqueduct, through repetition of innately simple concepts that offer the deceptive veneer, as in regarding an aqueduct in Spain or gazing up at the dome of the Hagia Sophia, of impossibility.

Jeff's Book is here: On Intelligence


New Fern Could Fight Alzheimer's

A botanist's relentless search of north Queensland's rainforests has paid off with the rediscovery of a fern species that could help in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

On a rainy day in January this year, James Cook University researcher Ashley Field fell over in amazement when he looked up into the rainforest canopy to see the fern that was believed to be extinct.

Mr Field and his wife Holly had been systematically hunting for the blue tassel fern (Huperzia dalhousieana) for two years on expeditions into the rainforest lasting up to two weeks.

"I knew what it was straight away," said Mr Field, a PhD student in Townsville.

"We'd been following lots of leads and came to an area where we were walking waist deep in water in pouring rain and found it.

"I was ecstatic. I was wobbly at the knees, we had just about lost heart when we came across it."

Holly Field, who also has a degree in botany, said her husband fell over when he saw the fern, overwhelmed that his long search for it had finally paid off.

"It would be a bit like seeing a dodo or something else that you thought was extinct, and there it is," she said.

The bluish-grey epiphyte grows at the tops of rainforest trees and was last recorded 26 years ago.

It was widely believed to be extinct, with forest clearance seen as a major factor in its demise.

Its rediscovery could lead to medicinal benefits.

In China, another member of the species is cultivated to extract the compound Huperzine, believed to help in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

Mr Field said a major pharmaceutical company had contacted him about the potential production of Huperzine from Queensland's nine rare species of tassel fern.

That potential had yet to be investigated, he said, but as a step towards that he was determined to focus his research on conserving the ferns.

In the meantime he was keeping the locality of the blue tassel ferns secret, knowing collectors would be keen to take them from the wild.

He likens the need for secrecy to that surrounding the Wollemi Pine found near Sydney 10 years ago, after only being known from the fossil record.

>>Read more at the AGE online>>


Schwarzenegger Backs Stem Cell Research


Governor Schwarzenegger, embodying the California spirit of entreprenurial vision against the odds, has decided to endorse stem cell research, unveiling a possible bonanza for California researchers - from the University of California to Stanford to private companies battling against human physical and cognitive impairments that may, in the future, be reversed through the agency of stem cell research, databases, web applications, and the internet.

March of a Million for Alzheimer's?

When we reach 1 million members here at cognitivelabs, which will be probably be upon us shortly, solely due to your support, we will hold a million-person march, or blog-in, to Sacramento to meet with the governor, and hear his plans for fighting Alzheimer's. He is probably further ahead on this topic than many people know.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, from The New York Times

Published: October 19, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 18 (AP) - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed a $3 billion bond measure on Monday that would finance human embryonic stem cell research, putting him at odds with the state Republican Party.

"California has always been a pioneer," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "We daringly led the way for the high-tech industry, and now voters can help ensure we lead the way for the biotech industry."

The endorsement comes at some political risk for the governor, a Republican who campaigned against California's going deeper into debt when he unseated Gov. Gray Davis in a recall election.

The state Republican Party officially opposes the measure, known as Proposition 71, which is meant to circumvent limits the Bush administration has placed on financing of embryonic stem cell research.

Mr. Schwarzenegger also endorsed a ballot proposal to scrap political party primaries, a change he said would send more moderates to the state capital.


A woman's life through the lens of Alzheimer's

It's a cosmic question: Who are you if you lose your mind? Liz Taylor, Seattle Times

Where does the unique "you" — your memories, humor and dreams — go when your body's still here but your brain stops working? This fundamental and heartbreaking question is at the core of a compelling film that will be presented at 8 p.m. Thursday on KCTS-TV. Part of the "About Us" series showcasing the works of Northwest filmmakers, "Quick Brown Fox" was produced by Seattle filmmaker Ann Hedreen and directed by her and her husband, Rustin Thompson. It's an intensely personal story that follows the shattered life of Hedreen's mother, Arlene, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at 66.

She had been brilliant, the smartest kid in her class growing up in Butte, Mont., which is now so polluted from copper mines that it's a major Superfund site.

She went to college for a year but dropped out, married and had her first baby by the time she was 20. Life was hard. She married twice, divorced twice, bore six children, married again in her 40s and gained three stepchildren, then almost immediately lost her husband to cancer, then lost her father four months later.

"As we were putting this film together," says Hedreen in the film, "the question people asked us most often was: When did it start? When and why and how? You can drive yourself crazy trying to guess. Was it all those toxic mud pies she made as a girl ... or was it the emotional steeplechase of her first two failed marriages? Of divorcing at 25? Or was it that fateful year, 1977, when everything bad that can happen, did?"

>>Read More at Seattle Times.com>>


Early Alzheimer's Detection could save Billions

Early detection is critical, and made possible through tools such as MemCheck. Only Punjab.com reports the following story:

A new report has found that delaying the onset of new dementia cases by as little as five months could save the community more than $1 billion.

Geoff Turner had memory problems and confusion for years, before being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

"The most embarrassing thing is, there is a word there and I can just think what it is?" Mr Turner said.

Geoff's wife, Maria, said: "For at least five six years beforehand I was saying to our GP 'Are you sure its not Alzheimer's?' and he said 'No, Geoff is too young, it's stress'."

Already 100,000 Australians are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and that number is predicted to double by the middle of the century.

A new report from Access Economics has found that if each new case of Alzheimer's could be delayed by five years, the community would save $67.5 billion in nursing and carrier costs between now and 2040 .

Scientists say that they are confident of developing treatments that will make earlier diagnosis possible.


4,000 People Join Up in the last 30

speedracer.com - a trip down memory lane

Thanks for your support. Over 4,000 of you have joined us in the past 30 days. All I can say is thanks very much. Just two weeks ago we passed the 3,000 threshold. It brings our total membership to 984,000, which is almost as much as live in the town of San Jose, more than the city of San Francisco.

If you have joined and taken our free memory test, that's great. The next step is to supersize it and sign up for one of our monitoring programs which you can buy here - what's best? Checking your performance and getting the actual data, and, playing two of our fun, speed-based games which can help you enhance your cognitive ability.

US Government, Private Sector to Speed Up Alzheimer's Research

This is great news for the future of understanding the very early stages of Alzheimer's. Imaging and testing will help to define the future kinds of pharmaceutical treatments that will yield increasing effectiveness.

David McAlary
14 Oct 2004, 18:14 UTC

Listen to David McAlary's report(RealAudio)

Among the most important tools for understanding the brain are imaging technologies that take pictures inside the skull by scanning the head. A new U.S. government collaboration with the private sector is aimed at making brain imaging a definitive tool for diagnosing and tracking Alzheimer's disease, the degenerative brain disorder that is becoming more widespread as the world's population ages.
In the last few decades, researchers have made great strides in understanding the biology of Alzheimer's disease, which the World Health Organization says affects about five percent of the global population. We now know, for example, that the patient's brain shrinks significantly because of the loss of nerve cells, causing dementia.

Yet despite the biological progress, there are no cures for Alzheimer's or treatments to delay its onset. Some drugs reduce the symptoms, but an expert on the imaging of degenerating brains, Dr. Michael Weiner of the University of California at San Francisco, says they are only short-term solutions.

"These drugs temporarily improve memory function, but they do not affect the progression of the disease at all," Dr. Weiner says. "They are kind of like morphine for the pain of cancer. They reduce the symptoms, but they do not slow the progression of the disease. What we want are disease modifying agents."

To speed progress in Alzheimer's research, U.S. government health agencies have teamed with private drug companies and Alzheimer's interest groups to develop biological standards to measure the disease's progression and determine its severity.

Currently, researchers focus on behavioral measures of dementia, such as memory changes and the ability to perform daily tasks. But the director of the U.S. government's National Institute on Aging, Dr. Richard Hodes, says scientists need additional, more objective, physical markers. Therefore, the project will focus on measuring the brain's deterioration through modern imaging techniques.

Dr. Hodes says this will provide data about the nature of Alzheimer's and possibly identify targets for drug intervention.

"If we can follow and track the progression of disease and can as sensitively as possible then determine the effective interventions to alter the course of disease, we have the real potential to accelerate and make much more efficient and effective our ability to design drugs and other interventions," Dr. Hodes says.

Laboratories follow different procedures to image the brain. Some use a technique called magnetic resonance imaging that looks at brain structure. Others use a so-called PET scan, which looks at brain chemistry and function. One goal of the new project is to determine what the standard should be to determine the state of an Alzheimer's brain accurately. It will also seek other biological markers to measure the state of dementia, such as conditions in the blood and brain-spinal fluid.

Project researchers will take various types of brain scans and blood and urine samples of 800 elderly people for five years - some of them normal men and women, others with mild cognitive disorder who are considered at high risk for developing Alzheimer's, and the rest who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The participants will also take standard clinical tests of memory and problem solving.

The University of California's Michael Weiner says the physical images of each person's brain will be compared to his or her mental test results to determine if brain shrinkage or other biological indicators are accurate markers for disease progression.

"That is what we call the validation process - to determine the extent to which the rate of change on the imaging and the biomarker data correlates to clinical progression," Dr. Weiner says. "Hopefully we will find that it will because we have a lot of preliminary data that suggests that we will, but we need to do it on a large scale."

The quest for physical markers to measure Alzheimer's is like the search for one for HIV. Researchers learned that the virus destroys disease-fighting immune cells called CD4 and that the number of CD4 cells a patient has determines the severity of HIV. The CD4 measure is a standard for treatment and AIDS research.

National Institute on Aging director Richard Hodes says doing the same for Alzheimer's might help reduce the number of people who get the dementia, now expected to triple to perhaps 90 to 100 million worldwide by 2050.

"The toll that would involve in terms of human suffering above all, but also the stress upon the medical system, the economy, and society at large is intolerable," Dr. Hodes says. "Hence the urgency in carrying through the studies that we are talking about."


U.S.Government to launch Alzheimer's study

A National study on Mild Cognitive Impairment was announced. The more insight and understanding that can be gained from early stage detection of memory loss, the better. This study will involve using MRI and other measures, a technique that Cognitive Labs has utilized at UC-Irvine previously in a pilot study.

WASHINGTON (AP) — About 800 older Americans will be asked to lend their brains to science this spring, part of a major government study to track early Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers will use brain-scanning MRIs and other tests to track people who have either early stage Alzheimer's or a milder type of memory loss known as "mild cognitive impairment." Over several years, they'll compare biological changes deep within those patients' brains to the aging that takes place in the brains of cognitively healthy seniors.

The goal is to find early warning signs that can identify people at highest risk of developing Alzheimer's, and markers to help test the effectiveness of new therapies faster than can be done today.

Plans for the $60 million, five-year study were to be unveiled Wednesday by the National Institute on Aging. While mostly funded by the government, about a third of the study's financing will come from pharmaceutical companies and the nonprofit Alzheimer's Association.

In April, researchers will begin recruiting 55- to 90-year-olds — some healthy, some with MCI, some with Alzheimer's — to participate in the study.


Quest for Eternal Youth

Programming Body and Mind - A first step in maintaining a healthy mind is regular monitoring of cognitive performance, whether or not one is genetically predisposed towards conditions such as Alzheimer's. Inventor Ray Kurzweil has taken the program a step further.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. by Leslie Walker. Inventor Ray Kurzweil takes 250 nutritional supplements a day in his quest to live long enough to reap the benefits he expects from biotechnology. He says he's trying to reprogram his body, as he would his computer.

"I really do believe it is feasible to slow down the aging process," Kurzweil told Technology Review magazine's Emerging Technologies Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here last week. "We call that a bridge to a bridge to a bridge - to the full flowering of the biotechnology revolution."

Kurzweil, a well-regarded scientist who invented the flatbed scanner and a reading machine for the blind, claimed his pills appear to be helping: Biological tests conducted at a clinic in Denver found his body resembles that of a man in his early forties, he claimed, rather than his true age of 56.

The claim startled many in the audience because there is no medically accepted way to measure aging. Most biological markers simply measure health.

And health is a theme Kurzweil returned to repeatedly; it is the subject of his latest book, "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever," co-authored with medical doctor Terry Grossman. But it was his broader vision of how biology, nanotechnology and information science are merging that set the backdrop for the conference, which brought together nearly 1,000 scientists and executives from various disciplines to peer into the future.

Kurzweil has long contended technology is advancing exponentially, as each new breakthrough -- fire, the printing press, computers, the Internet -- is used to speed up development of the next. Debate at the two-day event ranged widely about just what is on the horizon.

Presentations ranged across the frontiers of science, including robotics, nanotechnology, biometrics and geographical positioning systems. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee described the second big phase of the global computer network, a "Semantic Web" project involving tagging or defining online content in a special language. The idea is to let computers accomplish work humans now do by making it possible for machines to read the Web. "Isn't that a bit old-fashioned, having a human being browse the Web?" mused Berners-Lee.

DuPont's research chief, Uma Chowdhry, said her company is working on a long-range project for the Department of Energy involving a bio-refinery to create renewable energy resources. General Motors Corp. chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. described the automaker's plans to expand the safety and security services it offers through its OnStar subsidiary.

Yet no one got the crowd talking like Kurzweil, winner of the National Medal of Technology and author of "The Age of Spiritual Machines." He's known for making accurate predictions, including one about the emergence of a global network resembling the World Wide Web and another about when computers would beat humans at chess.

At MIT last week, Kurzweil described a future in which he's convinced immortality -- or a drastically longer life span -- will be possible thanks to emerging technologies. His new book, which will hit stores in a few weeks, outlines a special "longevity program" of diet, exercise and nutritional supplements aimed at slowing the aging process.

He and Grossman recommend simple starches and foods low in sugar and high in anti-inflammatory agents such as fish and nuts. They advise taking all sorts of substances such as phosphatidylcholine, a cell-membrane component that people tend to lose as they age, making their skin sag.

In an interview, Kurzweil said he and Grossman also have developed their own line of products and will launch a Web site to sell them, including shake mixes and other meal-replacement products.

Such dietary supplements tend to be controversial in the medical community. David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said the only regimen that has shown real potential to slow aging to date is drastically reducing calorie intake.

"We tell people to take these claims with a grain of salt because in many instances there is no evidence -- or the evidence is far from conclusive -- that these supplements will do anything," Schardt said.

Kurzweil acknowledged that science today can't halt aging, but he said he believes science will develop age-defying or even age-reversing techniques within 10 to 20 years, thanks to advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology.

He described three stages or "bridges" on the purported road to immortality. First is his healthy living program designed to correct "metabolic imbalances" and keep people alive long enough to benefit from the second stage. In stage two, a decade or so away, he contends biotechnology advances will block diseases and slow aging, because the decoding of our genome is already leading to tissue-engineering techniques for regrowing cells and organs, and to the creation of genetically targeted drugs and gene therapies.

These techniques, he said, should help some people reach the third stage -- about 30 years away -- when nanotechnology will allow humans to radically rebuild and extend their bodies with help from "nanobots," itsy-bitsy robots smaller than human blood cells that will slip into our bloodstreams to fix DNA errors, fight pathogens and expand intelligence.

At that point, he declared, humans may be able to live forever.

>>Read more of the Selection at Washington Post.com


Faces of Alzheimer's

Capital News 9 in Albany, New York, shows the human side of Alzheimer's

Eddy Alzheimer's Services from Rensselaer recently hosted a ceremony to launch a photo exhibit entitled "The Faces of Alzheimer's." And just as the title suggests, the exhibit brought out a human side to the disease.

Photographer Mark McCarty said, "These are all people with Alzheimer's, and I was trying to show them in a way that made them real people, that really expressed their individuality."

That expression was shown through the use of captions on each photograph, which were all written by relatives or loved ones. Each photograph includes a unique story or uplifting message. It's this positive approach to the disease that can be beneficial in the long run.

Nancy Cummings of the Marjorie Doyle Rockwell Center said, "Although Alzheimer's disease is certainly a tragic thing that happens, there's a lot to celebrate, and there's a lot to learn from the residents and whose photographs are portrayed in this exhibit."

The exhibit does more than simply show a person with Alzheimer's, it also portrays them as people. And, with the disease affecting more than 4.5 million Americans, including 47 percent over the age of 85, people certainly appreciate the support.

Family member Benita Soklowski said, "My mother was in one of those photos, and he did a great job capturing the twinkle in her eye. So I wanted to see the display because I knew it would be great, and it is."

The exhibit will be on display for public viewing through November in observance of National Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

You can watch a video here.


The Always-On Brain

(c) Warner Brothers

Our cognitive processes keep working at a furious pace even when their is no visual stimuli, suggesting that as we age, our accumulated experiences alter our perception. The implications for cognitive treatment, education, and entertainment could be staggering

Researchers at the University of Rochester have found in reality that roughly 80 percent of our cognitive power may be cranking away on tasks completely unknown to us. Curiously, this clandestine activity does not exist in the youngest brains, leading scientists to believe that the mysterious goings-on that absorb the majority of our minds are dedicated to subconsciously reprocessing our initial thoughts and experiences. The research, which has possible profound implications for our very basis of understanding reality, appears in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

"We found neural activity that frankly surprised us," says Michael Weliky, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. “Adult ferrets had neural patterns in their visual cortex that correlated very well with images they viewed, but that correlation didn't exist at all in very young ferrets, suggesting the very basis of comprehending vision may be a very different task for young brains versus old brains.”

A second surprise was in store for Weliky. Placing the ferrets in a darkened room revealed that older ferrets' brains were still humming along at 80 percent as if they were processing visual information. Since this activity was absent in the youngsters, Weliky and his colleagues were left to wonder: What is the visual cortex so busy processing when there's no image to process?

Initially, Weliky's research was aimed at studying whether visual processing bore any resemblance to the way real-world images appear. This finding may help lead to a better understanding of how neurons decode our world and how our perception of reality is shaped.

Weliky, in a bit of irony, set 12 ferrets watching the reality-stretching film The Matrix. He recorded how their brains responded to the film, as well as to a null pattern like enlarged television static, and a darkened room. Movies capture the visual elements that are present in the real world. For instance, as Keanu's hand moves across the screen for a karate chop, the image of the hand and all the lines and color it represents moves across a viewer's visual realm essentially the same way it would in real life. By contrast, the enlarged static-blocks of random black and white-has no such motion. Weliky was able to graph the movie-motion statistically, showing essentially how objects move in the visual field.

The test was then to see if there was any relationship between the statistical motion of the movie and the way visual neurons in the ferrets fired. Each visual neuron is keyed to respond to certain visual elements, such as a vertical line, that appears in a specific area of the ferret's vision. A great number of these cells combine to process an image of many lines, colors, etc. By watching the patterns of how these cells fired while watching The Matrix, Weliky could describe the pattern statistically, and match those statistics of how the ferret responded to the film with the statistics of the actual visual aspects of the film.

Weliky found two surprises. First, while the neurons of adult ferrets statistically seemed to respond similarly to the statistics of the film itself, younger ferrets had almost no relationship. This suggests that though the young ferrets are taking in and processing visual stimuli, they're not processing the stimuli in a way that reflects reality.

"You might think of this as a sort of dyslexia," explains Weliky. "It may be that in very young brains, the processing takes place in a way that's not necessarily disordered, but not analogous to how we understand reality to be. It's thought that dyslexia works somewhat like this-that some parts of the brain process written words in an unusual way and seem to make beginnings of words appear at their ends and vice versa. Infant brains may see the entire world the same way, as a mass of disparate scenes and sounds." Weliky is quick to point out that whatever way infant brains may interpret the world, just because they're different from an adult pattern of perception does not mean the infants have the wrong perception. After all, an adult interpreted the visual aspects of the film with our adult brains, so it shouldn't be such a surprise that other adult brains simply interpret the visual aspects the same way. If an infant drew up the statistics, it might very well match the neural patterns of other infants.

The second, and more surprising, result of the study came directly from the fact that Weliky's research is one of the first to test these visual neurons while the subject is awake and watching something. In the past, researchers would perhaps shine a light at an unconscious ferret and note which areas of the brain responded, but while that method narrowed the focus to how a single cell responds, it eliminated the chance to understand how the neural network of a conscious animal would respond. Accepting all the neural traffic of a conscious brain as part of the equation let Weliky get a better idea of the actual processing going on. As it turned out, one of his control tests yielded insight into neural activity no one expected.

When the ferrets were in a darkened room, Weliky expected their visual neurons to lack any kind of activity that correlated with visual reality. Neurologists have long known that there is substantial activity in the brain, even in darkness, but the pattern of that activity had never been investigated. Weliky discovered that while young ferrets displayed almost no patterns that correlated with visual reality, the adult ferrets' brains were humming along, producing the patterns even though there was nothing to see. When watching the film, the adult ferrets' neurons increased their patterned activity by about 20 percent.

"This means that in adults, there is a tremendous amount of real-world processing going on-80 percent-when there is nothing to process," says Weliky. "We think that if you've got your eyes closed, your visual processing is pretty much at zero, and that when you open them, you're running at 100 percent. This suggests that with your eyes closed, your visual processing is already running at 80 percent, and that opening your eyes only adds the last 20 percent. The big question here is what is the brain doing when it's idling, because it's obviously doing something important."

Since the young ferrets do not display similar patterns, the 'idling' isn't necessary for life or consciousness, but since it's present in the adults even without stimulus, Weliky suggests it may be in a sense what gives the ferret its understanding of reality. The eye takes in an image and the brain processes the image, but 80 percent of the activity may be a representation of the world replicated inside the ferret's brain.

"The basic findings are exciting enough, but you can't help but speculate on what they might mean in a deeper context," says Weliky. "It's one thing to say a ferret's understanding of reality is being reproduced inside his brain, but there's nothing to say that our understanding of the world is accurate. In a way, our neural structure imposes a certain structure on the outside world, and all we know is that at least one other mammalian brain seems to impose the same structure. Either that or The Matrix freaked out the ferrets the way it did everyone else."

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.


Build to Order Cognitive Enhancement

In a recent conversation with Dr. Stephen Ferris, one of the world's leading experts on Alzheimers's Disease and Cognitive Assessment, who heads the Silberstein Center for Aging and Dementia at NYU, we learned of the next frontier in pharmaceutical research, designing and developing drugs that may enhance certain aspects of cognitive performance. Companies such as Memory Pharmaceuticals have been focusing on development of this important market, and others may now be about to enter the field.

A recent issue of the journal Neurology discussed some of the implications. In the future, we may see some of the following:

Imagine a television makeover show where instead of plastic surgeons working on eyes and noses, neurologists work to enhance brains.

In this scenario, healthy people would receive cutting-edge drugs and treatments not to cure a brain disease, but to make them better people

While the idea might seem farfetched, an era of "cosmetic neurology" may be upon us soon.

"We live in an environment where there is a lot of pressure to excel," said Anjan Chatterjee, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. "I think it is absolutely likely that we are going to be seeing more of this."

Drugs developed for treating disease could instead be prescribed for healthy people hoping to enhance their cognitive or emotional performance, he said.

He offered several examples:

• Drugs normally prescribed for Alzheimer's disease patients might be given to commercial airline pilots or others in highly skilled jobs to improve attention and memory. The drugs also might be used for healthy seniors to prevent normal forgetfulness.

• Amphetamines, which in small doses can improve motor learning, already have been used in rehabilitation therapy for stroke patients. They might also be used to learn to play the piano.

• Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is used to treat clinical depression, might be applied to improve the mood of healthy people who are just having an off-day.

• Newer, nonaddictive drugs intended to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder could be used by college students studying for exams.

• Beta-blocking drugs, which can blunt the effects of emotionally traumatic events such as battle stress or a car accident, could be used to minimize memories formed during less-disturbing events such as a stressful family gathering.

In the future, Chatterjee said, neurologists might become "quality-of-life consultants."

On the other hand, struggling with pain builds character. Chatterjee cautioned that getting a boost without doing the work is cheating.

"A fundamental concern is that chemically changing the brain threatens our notion of personhood," he wrote.


Early Menopause Spares the Brain

A new study reported at today's American Neurological Association annual meeting in Toronto asserts that women do not begin to show cognitive decline as a condition of menopause, according to the ANA and Newswise.

Contrary to popular belief, women do not suddenly start to lose their memory when menopause begins, according to a study presented October 4, 2004, at the 129th annual meeting of the American Neurological Association in Toronto. Researchers in Taiwan studied women around the menopausal shift and found scant evidence for memory deficits in women during the early part of menopause.

A number of factors have contributed to the common belief that memory loss is an inevitable part of menopause, not the least of which is the perception by women themselves that they become more forgetful during or after menopause. In addition, some, but not all, studies of the effects of hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) have indicated that women who use HRT have less cognitive decline following menopause and lower rates of Alzheimer's disease. This research has been supported by a large body of experimental evidence that estrogen helps to keep brain cells healthy.

In this atmosphere, memory preservation has been viewed as a possible advantage of HRT, and many women use herbal supplements containing plant estrogens, touted as memory protective.

However, a well-publicized study released last year by researchers at Rush University in Chicago contradicted the idea of memory loss during menopause. In the present study, Jong-Ling Fuh, MD, of Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan and colleagues reveal findings that support this conclusion.

Fuh and colleagues took advantage of an ongoing study of women who live in a rural archipelago of islands called Kinmen (or Quemoy), located between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. Until the mid 1990s, access to the island was restricted by the Taiwanese government, which maintained many military bases in Kinmen. Thus, the population remains relatively homogenous, making it attractive for epidemiological studies.

The researchers recruited 694 premenopausal women, aged 40 to 54, into their study and assessed their memory at baseline and 18 months later. At the follow-up, Fuh and colleagues found that 23 percent of the 495 remaining eligible women (no hysterectomy or HRT during the intervening 18 months) had entered menopause.

With the exception of one test, these women scored similarly on various memory tests to the women who had not yet entered menopause. The exception was a test of verbal memory, which involved the sequential presentation of 70 nonsensical figures, several of which were repeated during the test. The subjects were asked whether the figures had been seen before or not.

On the verbal memory test, the women who had entered menopause scored slightly lower than those who had not.

"Since menopause is apparently not accompanied by a significant decline in most cognitive abilities, it might not be helpful for women to use estrogen or progesterone in order to improve their memory during this period," said Fuh.

The researchers note, however, that the follow-up period was just 18 months in this study, and their conclusions are limited to the early menopausal transition.

"A longer follow-up period is warranted to evaluate the impact of menopause on cognitive change," said Fuh.

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