Art of NASA (Very Cool)

I was browsing through Kepler's Books yesterday (Menlo Park, CA) and saw this...

Very impressive commentary on space travel from a unique perspective.

Happy New Year! It'll be a great year.

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Diabetes-Alzheimer's Link Strengthened

Diabetes is linked to Alzheimer's again in this study, announced today, along with measured cognitive performance deficit on standardized tests. Diabetes is a disorder related to the metabolization of sugar and its presence in abnormal levels in the bloodstream. Onset can be influenced by diet and exercise. Energy levels in the brain are impacted, which seems to cause the aberrant power-management process to instigate which creates a byproduct of amyloid which in turn dampen out neural communication...threatening memories, awareness, and eventually involuntary core processes such as breathing.


2008, A Glorious Year for Make Benefit of Alzheimers Condition

In summary:

  • Increasing visibility into the formation of amyloid plaques, and potential cause
  • Increasing research into genetic determinants of cognitive dysfunctions (including our research)
  • Pretty clear triangulation of evidence on the hypothesis that exercise may help avert Alzheimer's from multiple studies (including one announced yesterday at Columbia)

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  • 12.28.2008

    Klaatus Excellent Adventure

    Let's see. Tom Cruise blowing up Hitler or Keanu Reeves in a matrix-ish remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The latter.

    It just so happens the answer to life, the universe and everything is revealed under the golden arches of mickey D's. Who'd have thought? Reeves never really gets accustomed to his human form, having been deposited from a glowing, cumulonimbus orb in Central Park in a gelatinous case filled with mucus membrane. When its clear that the orb and its orb colleagues are a doomsday device and a series of arks that will initiate a cleansing of the earth by blotting out people because of their fossil fuel consumption, like the unceremonious axing of a poorly-rated TV pilot, scientist-babe Jennifer Connelley tearfully begs Klaatu to have a heart just as all is lost.

    "We can change. We'll go to rehab," she sobs.

    But sending a plague of metal locusts, Klaatu's heart was hardened. "It might be too late," he says gravely.

    Then, moved by her contrition and the trenchant soliloquy of Nobel prize winning physicist John Cleese while Klaatu dangles him head first out of a building window, who entreats...

    "Yes, I'm dreadfully sorry. We sincerely and completely apologize. Our behavior was reprehensible."

    Klaatu and the collective brain ponder things.

    "D...u....u....u...d....d...d...e...e....." I guess you humans can change, after all. "A..w..e...s...o...m...e."

    Then he blinks out. Earth is saved.

    Yes, the same Keanu Reeves who started out in film/hip-hop mogul Ted Field's production of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

    Note: A small amount of creative license was taken in the description of le films' events to protect the innocent. :-)

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    Blood Sugar Level, Alzheimer's LINK

    An athlete at rest

    A chronic reduction in blood sugar to the brain is suspected of instigating some types of Alzheimer's, according to new research by scientists at Northwestern. Blood sugar level is impacted by both blood flow (not enough flow or slow highly viscous blood) and also some conditions like diabetes.

    When the amount of metabolized sugars delivered to the brain for energy is reduced, the brain reacts by redirecting resources. The protein e1F2alpha changes, causing a boost in production of an enzyme that switches on the development of the protein masses that in turn discourage additional blood flow and energy to the brain.

    In this scenario Alzheimer's represents the toxic byproduct of this runaway, degrading resource management process that ultimately dampens all neuron activity.

    "The finding is significant because it suggests that improving blood flow to the brain might be an effective approach to prevent or delay Alzheimer's," said Dr. Robert Vassar, principal investigator of the study being published in the journal Neuron.

    Take action now by exercising.

    It might not be a coincidence that the Industrial Age, modern epidemic of Alzheimer's was not diagnosed until 1906, when Alois Alzheimer gave a speech describing the development of tiny protein filaments in the brain of one of his former patients with memory loss.

    Change of lifestyle characterized by industrial machine labor and office work coupled with the rise of the automobile and mass transit and a corresponding decline in human-powered agrarian farmwork has significantly reduced regular cardiovascular exercise for adults.

    This is indeed strange when exercise appears to be the best and most efficient way to enhance blood flow and circulation, maintain and boost healthy capillary action through the body, and to evenly deliver energy via the blood serum.

    It may be that we are polluting our brains with sedentarism, creating structures which are the equivalent of cognitive toxic waste dumps. You'll notice that the modern form of Alzheimer's was much less prevalent prior to 1900 than it is now.

    The brain appears to handle lowered blood sugar as a famine indicator, and reacts with a short-term energy solution that has highly negative consequences.

    No allowance or protocol seems to exist in the body's engineering to attribute this condition to lethargy brought on by an excess of plenty. With APOEe4 individuals, this protein combination appears to offer greater famine resistance as an adaptation to the harsh environment, but again has negative consequences.

    So what can you do? Exercise your brain and BODY. This seems to be abundantly clear now. APOEe4 offers an even greater risk than normal in modern society.

    If you think about it, a whole array of teleologically fascinating eschatological questions arise. For example, major figures in humanity's history can be viewed as either increasing or decreasing the risk vectors leading to Alzheimer's based on their social and policy decisions. Untethering human workers from the land, while a 20th century blessing, might increase the risk for post-modern Alzheimer's disease. Offering widespread employment in urban centers has the same effect-more Alzheimer's risk.

    Our sociology and population ecology is inextricably linked to our health in ways that we have not commonly foreseen, and the rationally objective knowledge worker/ researcher/technical caste, those carrying the Promethean torch of science, might be oddly myopic and partially blind to this risk.

    Other related CogLabs links:

    Evolution in Just a Few Minutes
    (Flash Movie)

    APOEe4 Test Subjects Exhibit Lack of Brain Connectity

    APOE May be Associated with Unsuccessful Aging

    Cognitive Labs Gene Research Published (paper format)

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    Another Study: Video Games Do Boost Brains

    In this case, a study population played the game Rise of Nations. After a while, they showed improvement on cognitive tests. This tells us what we already know - that complex tasks involving repetition and especially multi-tasking which demands a recurrent loop of attentiveness load can extend the boundary of cognitive ability.

    Unless the specific variables of the game play map to quantitatively measurable scales of assessment, and this assumes that a set of qualitative or social choices with a very large and tenuous possibility frontier and unknown internal verisimilitude can be expressed mathematically, it's difficult to take the conclusion beyond the initial mild statement. Nolan Bushnell could just as easily have said that Pong was brain-boosting, or the video-disc game dragon's lair (the first anime-style game [no sprites] that could be controlled from a console) boosted the brain while the gamer waited for her/his pizza to get ready.

    However, this means that more rigorous and focused studies of populations that already have been published exhibit that much more potentiality and promise. Our exploratory work with professional gamers (2005) exhibited as much.

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    Wiring Your Brain with Nanotubes

    Could your extant network of neurons be somehow boosted, helping you think faster?

    In addition to the process of cognitive stimulation through focused games and exercises, a biochemical process; the physical sciences may intrude in the form of inlays of molecular-scale carbon nanotubes, according to European researchers.

    Research done by scientists in Italy and Switzerland has shown that carbon nanotubes may be the ideal 'smart' brain material. Their results, published December 21 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, are a promising step forward in the search to find ways to “bypass” faulty brain wiring.

    The research shows that carbon nanotubes, which, like neurons, are highly electrically conductive, form extremely tight contacts with neuronal cell membranes. Unlike the metal electrodes that are currently used in research and clinical applications, the nanotubes can create shortcuts between the distal and proximal compartments of the neuron, resulting in enhanced neuronal excitability.

    The study was conducted in the Laboratory of Neural Microcircuitry at EPFL in Switzerland and led by Michele Giugliano (now an assistant professor at the University of Antwerp), University of Trieste professor Laura Ballerini and Maurizio Prato, also from the University of Trieste. "This result is extremely relevant for the emerging field of neuro-engineering and neuroprosthetics," explains Giugliano, who hypothesizes that the nanotubes could be used as a new building block of novel "electrical bypass" systems for treating traumatic injury of the central nervous system. Carbon nano-electrodes could also be used to replace metal parts in clinical applications such as deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease or severe depression. And they show promise as a whole new class of "smart" materials for use in a wide range of potential neuroprosthetic applications.

    What is envisioned might be a mechanism for re-creating a powerful creative brain with dynamic activity, attributed in the past to top artists and scientists such as Einstein and Tesla. Certainly this is an area for more exploratory research.

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    Akhenaten and Tut Link

    An inscribed limestone block might have solved one of history's greatest mysteries -- who fathered the boy pharaoh King Tut. Zahi Hawass claims it proves King Tut was the son of King Akhenaten.
    read more

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    A New Game: Terminate the Clock

    An ode to Clock Drawing
    , one of the paper and pencil cognition tests, like using a plumb line to design a foundation instead of autodesk.

    and Albert is back from sabbatical!

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    Economics 2008: The Bullwhip Effect

    In the 1990's, Stanford professors Dr. Hau Lee, Seungjin Whang and V. Padmanabhan wrote a paper titled "The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chains" Google scholar | PDF which envisioned the supply chain as a cracking whip with Actors (at the terminus of the grip) who created a flagellum-like unpredictability for Parties, or trading partners, several links down the chain, where actions taken were magnified by the distance from the grip.

    The Federal Reserve's new sub 0.2% interest rate (the lowest in U.S. history) may have similar effects, and it's possible that Hau's theoretical framework that simply illustrated the problems in a supply chain can be useful to picture what's really going on.

    The motivation of the cuts is said to be "stimulation of the markets" but what does that mean? The goal really appears to be to stimulate transactions  rather than any of several bureaucratese phrases such as 'stimulating credit' that are reported in the media, which seems to not understand what it is reporting.

    As an economy, we've become addicted to ever-increasing levels of transactions, in the form of industry origination of deals providing immediate percentage-point payback on the face value of money created on paper as debt. These fees create the revenues which are then plowed into service purchases, wages, and durables.

    This transactional economy is so large that it simply cannot tolerate a slowdown in transaction volume based on debt origination and securitization.

    If the merry-go-round stops, or the whip stops cracking, all the players are at risk of getting thrown off to an uncertain destiny. What happens if you fill a bucket with water and whirl it around in a 360 degree circle perpendicular to the ground?

    The water is pushed down by the centrifugal force. If you stopped suddenly, the water is immediately ejected all over the place, annoying onlookers who will get soaked.

    Thus, the slowing down of transaction velocity is a worse fate than inflation, which impacts the Actors at the end of the grip more than the people at the end of the whip riding the whirlwind. Indeed, if there is inflation, the Actors always get their percentage cut first, long before the saps at the end of the whip (called consumers and also retail investors) get their adjustment.

    And thus, we're down to someone borrowing $5.00 and paying back $5.01 a year later for the privilege. If the Actors don't loan the money out, they don't get paid - and neither does anyone else. And this is why the merry-go-round can't be allowed to stop and why Indiana Jones can't stop whirling his whip.



    2000 Year Old Brain Found in England

    Image of brain from York, believed to be part of a ritual sacrifice

    A 2,000 year old brain was discovered in York and the announcement recently hit the wires. It would be fascinating to see if the brain shows any signs of amyloid accumulation and whether or not the individual was APOEe4 positive, if it could be extracted from the DNA.

    Probably not, as DNA extraction of soft tissues is notoriously fraught with difficulties, such as contamination from the modern context, and any dried blood recovered may have degraded.

    Early speculation suggests that the individual, dating to around 0 or the beginning of the Common Era (C.E.), was sacrificed and placed into a peat bog, as part of a religious ceremony dating back to Druidic practice. In this era, the Britons were self-governing and independent. Other recovered bodies in the U.K. and Northern Europe have shown evidence of similar treatment.

    One scholarly speculation, that lead poisoning from pipes and lead-treated ceramic vessels caused widespread dementia in the first few centuries of the common era has been shown as fallacious, since such pipes would have been used only by a small fraction of the population and, according to hydrologists, dissolved calcium carbonate (lime) deposits from the water sources and vessels would have precipitated on any exposed lead surfaces, creating a molecular barrier.

    Links for background:
    Peat bog burials in Northern Europe
    Druidism and Sacrifice
    Lead pipes + ancient dementia

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    Collagen VI Brain Protection Found by Scientists

    The role of collagens in muscle, cartilage, and skin are well understood. Now, researchers from the Gladstone Institute, Stanford, and UCSF have found that collagen VI can protect against amyloid-beta protein accumulation, one of the causative factors, and often observed affiliated conditions, for the start of Alzheimer's Disease.

    It appears that neurons in the AD-prone brain of mice constitute a collagen factory, fabricating the substance which impacts changes in gene expression. Scientists led by Dr. Lennart Mucke and Dr. Jason Cheng led the research, which included participation from Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford and Paolo Bonaldo at University of Padova, Italy. Amyloid appears to attach itself to neurons via the action of small toxic assemblies called oligomers.

    However, neurons under threat from Alzheimer's secrete collagen VI, which blocks the adhesion of the amyloid, thus inhibiting amyloid accumulation. So far, the research has been limited to mouse models and cell cultures, but offers promise if the blocking action of collagen VI can be safely boosted to prevent disease progression or incipience and via replication in humans.

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    Collagen VI brain protection found by Scientists

    Scientists from the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease (GIND), UCSF, and Stanford have discovered that a certain type of collagen, collagen VI, protects brain cells against amyloid-beta (Aβ ) proteins, which are widely thought to cause Alzheimer's disease (AD). While the functions of collagens in cartilage and muscle are well established, before this study it was unknown that collagen VI is made by neurons in the brain and that it can fulfill important neuroprotective functions.

    The team of investigators led by GIND director Lennart Mucke, MD, reported in a recent edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, that collagen VI is increased in brain tissues of Alzheimer's patients.

    "We first noticed the increase in collagen VI in the brain of AD mouse models, which inspired us to look for it in the human condition and to define its role in the disease," said Dr. Mucke.

    The Gladstone team had profiled changes in gene expression using DNA microarrays, which provides an unbiased method for identifying key biological pathways. By comparing all of the genes that are active in disease and normal tissue, one can get valuable information on new pathways and potential therapeutic targets.


    Echoes of Viking DNA in Modern England, According to Scientists

    Lindisfarne Priory Stone, 794 C.E.

    "From the fury of the Northmen, O lord, deliver us!," was the chant said to have been repeated endlessly in Dark Age churches and monasteries from northern Spain to France, west to Ireland (where the Vikings founded Dublin), Greenland, Iceland, and Vinland (Canada); the whole of the British Isles except the isolated southwestern tip, the Isle of Man, whence come the tailless manx cats, which are manx-allele positive, and north to Orkney, the Faroes and Shetland.

    Around the Baltic periphery of Germany and Poland they came, and down the rivers of Ukraine and Russia to the Black Sea and Constantinople, where, unable to scale the massive walls and too impatient for sieges, some Vikings took up eating Spam and became mercenaries.

    DNA analysis may have solved the puzzle, at least in the UK. Taking cheek-swab samples of hundreds of men around the British Isles and the northern islands, geneticists at University of London wanted to find out the echoes of how much "Viking" is left in the population today through the footprint of the Y chromosome.

    In so doing, they hoped to learn more about two earlier population groups, the so-called 'Britons' or Celts and the Angles and Saxons, tribes which started invading Angle-land (German) as early as 300 C.E., best remembered in the old English tale of Beowulf, a time of magic swords, rings, dragons, and monsters.

    Were they just raiding parties, or did they settle in these areas? The king of France, tired of their incessant pillaging and vandalism, made an accommodation with Rollo, a Viking war leader, by giving him a large hereditary fief, Normandy. In return, Rollo was supposed to settle down, support the king, and most importantly, defend the coast against other Vikings. Vikings later settled in southern Italy/Sicily, Russia-playing a role in the founding of the state, and around Constantinople.

    The gene analysis was supported by the BBC and presented in a BBC Learning Series, the 'Blood of the Vikings.' It is no longer posted but may appear again. The accompanying scientific publication info is here. Additional research has just been completed.

    The results were quite interesting.

    The Vikings that invaded the British Isles were primarily from two points of origin, Denmark and Norway, who exhibited some genetic differences. It turns out that the early population of Britain has partial affinity with the pre-bronze age Gallic peoples that inhabited a broad swath of land from Asia Minor across Europe to France and Spain, in particular the Basques.

    For a time prior to 6,000 B.C.E., the English channel was a misty meadow or tidal valley, forming a land bridge with the continent. This native Briton population is echoed in the genetics of southwest Britain and central Ireland, which resisted the Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans, and is still (21st century) not fully assimilated with the other parts of the British Isles, according to geneticists.

    left: Genetic footprint of UK populations in the 21st century
    right: The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century around the North Sea. The red area is the distribution of the dialect Old West Norse, the orange area is the spread of the dialect Old East Norse and the green area is the extent of the other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility

    While there is a visible genetic difference between these remote, early peoples who were isolated by geography, and the Angles and Saxons who occur throughout the remainder of England; there was an insignificant genetic difference between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danish Vikings, mainly because these tribal groups all originated in the same area, northern coastal Europe.

    In fact, accounts and the archaeology of the Saxon invasions tell us that their raids were somewhat like the Viking raids 400 years later. Groups of warriors arrived by sea in boats festooned with shields. In response, the Romans created a military office to defend against these raiders, the Count of the Saxon Shore (Comes Litoris Saxonorum), who built a chain of stone fortifications along the coast to defend against the raiders and safeguard in-kind taxes.

    Walls of Garrianonum fort

    At least one pretender to the imperial throne, Carausius, held this office prior to seizing power and creating a Britanno-Gallic empire, so we may conclude that it was an important administrative post with ample resources. The last legions sailed away from Britain in 410 C.E. to take part in a campaign on the continent, never to return, leaving the Romanized Briton population to deal with the seafaring Saxons and Angles.

    Interestingly, genetic differences occur fairly dramatically in the North Sea isles held by Britain, the north of Scotland, and parts of the coast of Western England and Ireland, where the genetic footprint of the Norwegians is evident, with some 40-60% of the population showing affinity to that of Norway in the northern islands, and pockets elsewhere.

    In the U.S., you would have to go to North Dakota to see anywhere near a similar level of Norwegian ancestry, which is around 30% of the population, 17% in Minnesota and 14% in South Dakota.

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    Herpes Simplex Type I - New Alzheimer's Risk Factor?

    Research on six patients based on post-mortem analysis has revealed that 90% had signs of Herpes Simplex virus in their brains, leading the scientists to postulate a link between herpes and Alzheimer's.

    The sample size is rather small, but the potential relationship, irrespective of causality, is worth follow-up study.

    Story at New Scientist

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    Drier Mediterranean Weather Holds a Clue to Decline and Fall of Empires

    Why did the Roman Empire fall? This question is in the headlines today.

    Portrait of Edward Gibbon in 1779

    Edward Gibbon
    , an observer from the age of reason and a close confidante of Lord North, the British prime minister charged with the prosecution of the war against the rebellious American colonies, argued first that the division of the empire, followed by religious revolution, was responsible:

    "The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of the military spirit were buried in the cloister; a large portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to the specious demands of charity and devotion; and the soldiers' pay was lavished on the useless multitudes of both sexes, who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity. Faith, zeal, curiosity, and the more earthly passions of malice and ambition kindled the flame of theological discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody, and always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from camps to synods"

    However, modern historians debate at least a dozen causal theories, with differering patterns of emphasis.

    Climate change, indicated by samples taken from a cave near Jerusalem, adds a key scientific wrinkle to the debate, as it seems that between 100 and 700 C.E., the Mediterranean experienced an exceptionally dry climate, with driest periods occurring around 100 and 400 C.E.

    Recent research has materially linked the decline of the North African provinces west of Egypt to the fall of the western half of the empire, as archaeology and aerial geographical analysis now hint at vast areas under cultivation which began to decline around the year 400. The size and extent of agriculture, large-scale shipping and transport monopolies, and the links between these enterprises and the Roman treasury are only now becoming understood. When archaeologists first looked at the region, they found large, well-preserved cities such as Thamugadi seemingly in the middle of the desert, reclaimed by the Sahara, but underestimated the productivity of the region, which had a year-round growing season, unlike Europe.

    New estimates suggest that these provinces contributed 1/3 to 1/2 of the tax revenue of the empire and this mercantile system based in Africa, but linking East and West, North and South by sea formed the basis for Imperial wealth in an era when tribute and spoils from war had declined; the last profit-taking wars being principally the removal of accumulated wealth from the Temple during the sack of Jerusalem in the Jewish revolt which was in fact a Roman province and not an external enemy (A.D. 66-73), and the destruction of the Parthian capital Ctesiphon in 198 A.D.

    Scene of the capture of Ctesiphon, Iraq. Arch of Septimius Severus, Rome (c) 200

    The African provinces depended upon a delicate balance of water resources and increasing demand. Long-term drought presumably caused a perennial decrease in the productivity of the extensive irrigation works, pulling the plug on the empire's sustaining financial lifeblood just as defensive wars and a governmental expansion required heavy and unremitting expenditures.

    Bronze, silver-washed antoninianus of Probus, 276-282 C.E.

    While the emperors attempted to bail themselves out with massive debasement programs, issuing billions of coins of low quality, such measures did not right the ship of state. The eastern half of the Empire survived longer because of its pre-existing greater wealth, re-organization which accessed new powers of longevity, and greater level of urbanization.

    Gold coin of Anastasius, Eastern Roman emperor, 491-518 C.E.

    Unlike in the west, where the German warlord Odoacer replaced the nominal emperor Romulus Augustus in 476; in the East, Anastasius (491-518) reformed the economy and tax codes, leaving the treasury with a surplus of 320,000 pounds of gold upon his death in 518.

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    New Tack on Anti-Oxidants for Cognitive Fitness

    NBC Los Angeles' medical anchor Dr. Bruce Hensel, who interviewed us back in 2005 before publication of our research, is covering this story.

    Could antioxidants help memory and prevent Alzheimers?
    A new study is looking into it. Other studies have shown most supplements do not prevent memory loss-despite claims. This study looked at specific antioxidant never studied before this way. The belief is that it will prevent the brain from getting damaged over time," Dr. Bruce Hensel reported.

    Babs Ziielazinski is a dynamic octogenarian who's taken to the keyboard in the last few months. "I can do the fingering with the right hand and i can fiddle a little bit with the chords and, but it sounds pretty good to me," Babs said.

    Her enthusiasm is part of a plan to keep her mind active for the long term. "So maybe if i get to the age of a hundred, I'll still know what I'm doing," she said.

    She's also joined a Rush University Medical Center study to see if an antioxidant supplement can prevent Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Raj Shah is a researcher on the project: "What we're trying to do is to test to see if the Cerefolin NAC, which is a combination of high dose b vitamins and an antioxidant, will help to replace some of the antioxidant capabilities that the body is losing," Shah said.

    The theory: as we age, antioxidant production drops and may allow damaging proteins to build-up in the brain. "The oxidative stress causes the nerve cells not to function as well, and to die sooner, and that brings out the symptoms," Shah said.
    Participants take a multi-vitamin plus another pill, which may be the antioxidant booster Cerefolin NAC.

    "It'll be interesting to see if the combination of those two agents together seem to bring a little bit more benefit than just the b vitamins by themselves," Shah said.

    Whether the supplement actually helps is still up in the air. Results will help Babs decide whether her memories can be preserved by a pill.

    "Other co like vitamins E, A and C have not been proven to help," Dr. Hensel said.

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