2013 has been a remarkable year for scientific discoveries about the brain. Loss of memory, the onset of dementia, the growth of a brain tumor are all common fears. A single protein in the brain was discovered to correlate with memory and as memory diminishes with aging, so does this protein. When laboratory rats are give this protein, their memory improves. This means there may well be a way to counter aging’s negative effect on memory. Several studies have shed important light on Alzheimer’s Disease. Genes associated with this disease have been discovered and demonstrates that the immune system is involved in some manner. By studying functional MRIs, researchers have been able to follow the anatomic evolution of Alzheimer’s in the brain. Another remarkable study found an elevation of certain proteins in the spinal fluid as much as five years before the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This could allow for early detection of this disease and possibly more effective treatment.
Glioblastomas, the most aggressive of all brain tumors with very poor survival rates have novel and possibly much more effective treatments in phase one clinical trials. A vaccine has shown promise in early studies and in a highly unusual study at Duke, injecting polio virus into the tumor bed has shown remarkable results.
Concussions have received well-deserved wide-spread attention. More proof of the damaging long-term consequences of concussions was demonstrated in a study evaluating MRIs of individuals with brain plaques. Researchers showed a correlation between memory loss, an greater number of plaques and a history of concussions.
The ability to study brain function though a variety of new MRI techniques has shed much light on a wide array of important issues. It has been shown that in individuals suffering from chronic pain there is a reduction in the gray matter in certain areas of the brain and that this reduction can be reversed with effective treatment of the chronic pain.
A remarkable and disturbing but not so surprising study showed that children raised in poverty with limited compassionate parenting and caregiving had smaller brains with reduced cognitive and emotional capabilities.
A study from the University of Pennsylvania proved something that surprises almost no one, that women’s and men’s brains work differently. Women have more interactions between the two hemispheres of the brain whereas men have more interconnections within each hemisphere.
Extraordinary work carried out a Duke University showed that a monkey could control virtual arm movements through a computer with thoughts alone. Certainly if a monkey can do it, it won’t be long before humans will be manipulating their environment via a computer through thought alone.
Two studies demonstrated something that we should all take heed of, that exercise even into our senior years not only has a beneficial effect on overall health but also on brain health. The likelihood of dementia can be reduced and new nerve cells can grow. So, for 2014 resolve once again, and mean it, to exercise your body and your brain.
More detailed information about all these studies can be found on this website in the “in the news” section.