Tag Archives: Brain

This Protein Predicts a Brain’s Future after Traumatic Injury

WIRED

A blood test of “NfL” proteins answers questions about damage severity that doctors—and families—desperately need.

NEIL GRAHAM SEES a lot of head injuries: “Car accidents, violence, assault, gunshots, stabbing—the works, really,” says Graham, a neurologist from Imperial College London who practices at St. Mary’s Hospital nearby.

Doctors stop the bleeding, they relieve any pressure building inside the skull, maybe they’ll put the patient into a coma to keep the brain from overworking when it needs to relax and heal. Imaging can also help—to an extent. CT scans or MRIs pinpoint bruising or specks of hemorrhage in gray matter, the brain’s outer layer where neurons do most of their processing. But a clean scan isn’t a clean bill of health. Trauma to axons—a neuron’s root-like fibers that extend toward other neurons—often appears only in the deeper white matter, sometimes eluding simple scans.

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You’re Not Alone: Monkeys Choke Under Pressure Too

WIRED

Now you can blame the primate brain. And neuroscientists are eager for a deeper look.

SITTING ALONE IN a dim room in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Earl flung his arm to the left. He slowed his movement down, examining the position of a cursor on the computer screen in front of him. Where his hand went, so did the cursor. Earl gestured the dot closer to a colorful target zone, just as he had done thousands of times before. This time, he expected a big reward, but instead—time’s up. Earl, a rhesus monkey, choked under the pressure. He didn’t move the dot into the target before the timer ran out.

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What Rat Empathy May Reveal About Human Compassion

WIRED

Rats may feel concern when cage mates are trapped. But, like people, they don’t always care enough to help.

AGONY IS CONTAGIOUS. If you drop a thick textbook on your toes, circuits in your brain’s pain center come alive. If you pick it up and accidentally drop it on my toes, hurting me, an overlapping neural neighborhood will light up in your brain again.

“There’s a physiological mechanism for emotional contagion of negative responses like stress and pain and fear,” says Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, a neuroscientist at Tel-Aviv University in Israel. That’s empathy. Researchers debate to this day whether empathy is a uniquely human ability. But more scientists are finding evidence suggesting it exists widely, particularly in social mammals like rats. For the past decade, Bartal has studied whether—and why—lab rodents might act on that commiseration to help pals in need.

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This Brain-Controlled Robotic Arm Can Twist, Grasp—and Feel

WIRED

Nathan Copeland learned to move a robotic arm with his mind, but it was kind of slow. Then researchers gave him touch feedback.

NATHAN COPELAND WAS 18 years old when he was paralyzed by a car accident in 2004. He lost his ability to move and feel most of his body, although he does retain a bit of sensation in his wrists and a few fingers, and he has some movement in his shoulders. While in the hospital, he joined a registry for experimental research. About six years ago, he got a call: Would you like to join our study?

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This Is Your Brain Under Anesthesia

WIRED

For the first time, researchers were able to observe, in extra-fine detail, how neurons behave as consciousness shuts down.

WHEN YOU ARE awake, your neurons talk to each other by tuning into the same electrical impulse frequencies. One set might be operating in unison at 10 hertz, while another might synchronize at 30 hertz. When you are under anesthesia, this complicated hubbub collapses into a more uniform hum. The neurons are still firing, but the signal loses its complexity.

A better understanding of how this works could make surgery safer, but many anesthesiologists don’t use an EEG to monitor their patients. That bugs Emery Brown, who does monitor his patients’ brain patterns when they are under. “Most anesthesiologists don’t think about it from a neuroscience standpoint,” says Brown, who is a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT and of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, as well as a practicing anesthesiologist. For the past decade, he has studied what happens to brains when their owners are unconscious. He wants to know more about how anesthetics work, and to track fine-grain signatures of how neurons behave when patients are under. He wants to be able to say: “Here’s what’s happening. It’s not a black box.”

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If You Transplant a Human Head, Does Its Consciousness Follow?

WIRED

In her new book, Brandy Schillace recalls the unbelievable legacy of a Cold War era neurosurgeon’s mission to preserve the soul.

BRANDY SCHILLACE SOMETIMES writes fiction, but her new book is not that. Schillace, a medical historian, promises that her Cold War-era tale of a surgeon, neuroscientist, and father of 10 obsessed with transplanting heads is true from start to finish.

Schillace came across the story behind her book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher, somewhat serendipitously: One day, her friend, Cleveland neurologist Michael DeGeorgia, called her to his office. He quietly slid a battered shoebox toward her, inviting her to open it. Schillace obliged, half-worried it might contain a brain. She pulled out a notebook—perhaps from the ‘50s or ‘60s, she says—and started to leaf through it.

“There’s all these strange little notes and stuff about mice and brains and brain slices, and these little flecks,” Schillace says. “I was like, ‘What … what are all these marks?’”

Probably blood, DeGeorgia told her. The blood-flecked notebook belonged to Robert White, a neurosurgeon who spent decades performing head transplants on monkeys, hoping to eventually use the procedure to give human brains new bodies.

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A New Way to Restore Mobility–With an Electrified Patch

WIRED

In a clinical trial, wearing a small stimulator on their necks helped people with quadriplegia build back movement they had lost years ago.

THE PROVERBIAL STORY of overcoming paralysis tends to start with the legs: Superman vows to walk again; a soap opera character steps out of their wheelchair. “I think society has a tendency to focus solely on the walking aspect of disability,” says Ian Ruder, a magazine editor with the United Spinal Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for people with spinal cord injuries and disorders. But Ruder, who has used a wheelchair following an injury 23 years ago, says even restoring just a fraction of his hand function would improve his quality of life more than walking. “The difference between being able to pinch with my thumb and not be able to pinch with my thumb is hard to understand for most people,” Ruder says. “That would unlock a whole new level of independence.”

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