Tag Archives: brain

Explore the Mysteries of the Brain

In April 2013, President Obama announced the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. During the speech, he said, “We have a chance to improve the lives of not just millions, but billions of people on this planet through the research that’s done in this BRAIN Initiative alone.”

The BRAIN Initiative’s purpose is to help researchers better understand brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, and traumatic brain injury. It will allow researchers to produce dynamic pictures of how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins, “The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works—or, unfortunately, doesn’t quite work when disorders and disease occur… This is just the beginning of a 12-year journey, and we’re excited to be starting the ride.”

Many technology firms, academic institutions, and scientists, such as the NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), have committed to advancing this initiative. The NSF has partnered with NBC Learn to produce a video series entitled “Mysteries of the Brain,” which draws on research conducted through the White House for the BRAIN Initiative. The series will discuss how the brain develops, controls emotions, and creates memories.

This eight-part video series will include the following segments:

  • Searching for Answers—Discusses how new research has begun to decipher the unsolved mysteries of the brain.
  • Thinking Brain—Discusses how the brain can store and process large amounts of information.
  • Evolving Brain—Discusses how the basic movements of a tiny fish can teach us big ideas about how the brain’s circuitry works.
  • Emotional Brain—Discusses using a virtual reality room to study how the brain reacts to positive and negative emotions.
  • Brain States and Consciousness—Discusses the study of a fruit fly to understand how the brain’s cells communicate to control sleep patterns.
  • Building a Brain—Discusses how the brains of tadpoles help us understand how neural circuits develop and absorb information from the surrounding environment.
  • Perceiving Brain—Discusses how functional magnetic resonance imaging allows researchers to view the brain and determine how it distinguishes important information from every day scenes.
  • Brain-Computer Interface—Discusses how devices can monitor and extract brain activity to enable a machine or computer to accomplish tasks, from playing video games to controlling a prosthetic arm.

The “Mysteries of the Brain” series is available for free viewing at NBCLearn, Science360, and the White House Blog. The National Science Teachers Association is developing lesson plans for middle and high school students, which will be available later this summer.

Did you watch the series? If so, what did you think? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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Alzheimer’s in a dish: Scientists discover new way to test drug treatments

Scientists have found a way to replicate human brain cells for use in Alzheimer’s research, according to an article in the New York Times this week. Lead researcher Rudolph E. Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and his colleagues were able, for the first time, to grow human brain cells in a petri dish, where the neurons formed networks as they do in an actual brain. Their study was published in the online version of the journal Nature.

The researchers have resolved a long-standing problem with Alzheimer’s research, the New York Times reports. Previously, drugs had to be tested in mice, which have a different form of the disease. With human brain cells grown in a gel, the cells form the same kinds of networks that they do in a real brain. After implanting the cells with Alzheimer’s genes, the researchers began to see plaques and tangles develop—the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s.

“It is a giant step forward for the field,” said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Duke University, in a recent interview. “It could dramatically accelerate testing of new drug candidates.”

This discovery will allow researchers to quickly test drugs that could slow or stop the progression of the disease. In fact, Dr. Tanzi and his colleagues have started to test 1,200 drugs currently on the market as well as 5,000 experimental ones. This huge project would have been impossible using mice, but with the new petri dish system, says Dr. Tanzi, “we can test hundreds of thousands of drugs in a matter of months.”

The full text of Dr. Tanzi’s study, along with videos showing Alzheimer’s brain cells in the culture, can be found online in the current issue of Nature.

Editor’s Note: On Saturday, November 1, an enthusiastic team of PAR employees will be participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s here in Tampa, Florida—one of a series of walks to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, which is the largest voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research. To find a walk near you, click on the link and visit their Web site today!

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