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Entries in Brain (58)

Wednesday
Aug142013

Dyslexia May Be Visible in Childrens' Brain Scans

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Success in learning often begins with success in reading. If parents and teachers are late discovering reading issues, it can be a struggle to get young children on track in school.

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say that they may be able to detect learning disabilities like dyslexia earlier than ever. They tested 40 kindergarteners to see how they performed on a phonetic test -- one of the key building blocks of reading. Some of the students did well, while others performed poorly.

When researchers scanned the brains of the children, they found that the poor performers had differences in an area of the brain involved with processing language and speech.

While the findings are still preliminary, they may assist pediatricians in identifying the children who may need extra assistance in school so that they will not be at a disadvantage when it comes to school.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec032012

Arizona Woman Nearly Dies as Brain Fluid Leaks Out Nose

Courtesy of The University of Arizona College of Medicine(NEW YORK) -- For more than four months, a clear, tasteless liquid leaked out of Aundrea Aragon's nose whenever she bent over, but doctors reassured her that it was only allergies.

"It wasn't even dripping, it was pouring out of my nose," said Aragon, a 35-year-old mother from Tucson, Ariz.  "If I looked down or bent over, it would literally pore out of the left side of my nose.  I had no control at all."

Even though doctors "blew off" her concerns, Aragon said that "deep down," she knew something was seriously wrong.

And there was: Her brain was leaking cerebrospinal fluid through two cracks in the back of her sphenoid sinus, a condition that could have killed her.

"I am still kind of in shock," said Aragon, who had surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center in October.  "I was very fortunate.  They said I could get meningitis and go into a coma and die."

Aragon's condition -- a cerebrospinal fluid leak -- is rare, occurring in only 1 in 100,000 or 1 in 200,000 patients, according to her surgeon, Dr. Alexander G. Chiu, chief of the division of otolaryngology.

Most often it is seen in overweight patients who have high cranial pressure, and the sinus "pops open."  Sometimes a car accident or head trauma can cause a tear.

"In her case, it was more of a freak thing," said Chiu, who has treated only about 100 cases.

The danger isn't the loss of fluid, according to Chiu, but rather infection.

"You are constantly making brain fluid," he said.  "It can be fatal when there is a connection between the cleanest part of the body, the brain, and the dirtiest part, the nose."

Chiu and his colleague, neurosurgeon Dr. G. Michael Lemole, used an endoscopic method to access the sinus and patch up the two sinus cracks.  They entered the sinus through the nose and grafted skin over the leaky spots.

"Scar tissue grows over the graft and it protects her for the rest of her life," Chiu said.  "It shouldn't happen again -- she's so young."

Still, Aragon will have to be monitored several times a year.

"She's not leaking anymore, but we have to make sure she doesn't spring a new leak," her doctor said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep042012

High Blood Sugar Levels Linked to Brain Shrinkage

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- High blood sugar levels may take a toll on the brain, a new study found.

The Australian study of nearly 250 non-diabetic men and women found those with high blood sugar levels tended to have shrinking in brain areas linked to memory and emotional processing. The results held up even after controlling for lifestyle factors such as smoking and weight.

“If replicated, this finding may contribute to a reevaluation of the concept of normal blood glucose levels and the definition of diabetes,” wrote study author Dr. Nicolas Cherbuin, director of the Neuroimaging and Brain Lab at Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

Previous research has linked diabetes, a disorder in which blood sugar levels are abnormally high, to age-related cognitive decline.  But the new study, published Monday in the journal Neurology, suggested controlling blood sugar levels could boost cognitive health in non-diabetics.

How exactly?  The jury’s still out.

Some studies suggest blood sugar control can help regulate the body’s inflammatory response, which has been linked to brain shrinkage.  Another theory is that high sugar levels make the blood stickier, raising the risk of clots that starve the brain.

Either way, experts said, the study supports healthy eating to keep blood sugar levels in check.

“This is in line with many other studies that have been published and adds to all of the data on diabetes affecting brain health,” said Dr. R. Scott Turner, director of the Memory Disorders Program and a professor of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center, who was not involved with this study.

For non-diabetic patients with high blood sugar levels, Turner recommended adopting the American Diabetes Association diet, which is high in non-starchy vegetables and low in carbohydrates and protein.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug222012

Music Lessons Linked to Lasting Brain Benefits

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Music lessons early in life may have lasting benefits on the brain, new research suggests.

The study of 45 young adults found that those with at least one year of childhood musical training had enhanced neurological responses to sound, a trait tied to improved learning and listening abilities.

“There’s good evidence that playing a musical instrument can profoundly affect the nervous system, but most of the studies have looked at people who are still playing,” said study author Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University. “This is the first study, to my knowledge, to look at the more typical scenario of people taking music lessons as kids.”

Using tiny electrodes, Kraus and colleagues measured the brain’s response to sound in Northwestern students with varying degrees of musical training -- from none at all to 11 years of lessons.  After controlling for IQ, they found people with at least one year of musical training were better at processing sound than those with no musical training.

“We know from previous studies that if you have a robust response to sound, you’re generally a better learner,” said Kraus.  “You’re better able to hear conversations in noisy places, your reading ability tends to be better and your auditory memory also seems to benefit.  Those skills are important.”

The small study, published Wednesday in the journal Neuroscience, suggests even a year’s worth of music lessons can have lasting effects on brain function.

“To me -- and this is just my scientific opinion based on converging evidence -- those are dollars well spent,” said Kraus.

How long do the effects last?  That’s the next study, Kraus said.

“Certainly the hypothesis to be tested now is whether these experiences in childhood continue to have a mark on the nervous system throughout people’s lives,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun192012

Florida Teen Survives Spear Through Brain

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- The first images of a Florida teen who survived a spear shot into his head show the key factors that likely saved the teen’s life, his doctors said.

Yasser Lopez, 16, was fishing with a friend at a Miami lake nearly two weeks ago when the spear gun they were using accidentally deployed and hit Lopez in the head, according to Miami-Dade police.

Lopez was rushed by paramedics to the University of Miami-Jackson Memorial Hospital where he arrived conscious but with three feet of the spear protruding from his forehead.

“The tip, it didn’t penetrate the skin but you could feel underneath the skin on the back of his head so we knew that it went all the way through,” said Dr. George Garcia, an assistant professor of surgery at the Army Trauma Training Center who treated Lopez.

Doctors credited the paramedics who treated Lopez with saving his life by not immediately pulling the spear out of the teen’s head.

“The temptation if you don’t have experience with these things is, ‘Oh well, pull it out,’” said Dr. Ross Bullock, a neurosurgeon at Jackson Memorial.   “If you do that, most of the time it’s uniformly fatal.”

Paramedics used a re-bar tool and pliers to stabilize the spear and a hydraulic cutter to clip the steel spear so the teen’s head could fit inside a CT scanner.

The X-rays of Lopez’s head showed the spear went all the way through his head at an angle and exited the other side but just missed his eye and dodged all major blood vessels in Lopez’s brain.  It also traveled through the right hemisphere of his brain, less than one inch above the central brain that controls the senses, heart rate and breathing.

“All of these are structures that, if this had happened to affect those, he would not have been likely to have survived to even get to the hospital,” Bullock said.  “If you had to have a spear go through there [the head], then this spear chose the right path to go with the least damage.”

Doctors used the X-rays to plan the complex three-hour surgery in which they removed the spear from Lopez’s head.

Lopez was moved out of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit on Monday.  Doctors say he is now sitting up and speaking a few words and that brain scans since his surgery show the spear caused relatively little damage to his brain.

The teen may have some lingering trouble with movement on the left side of his body, doctors say, but he is expected to make an otherwise full recovery.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun132012

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Not Offer Touted Brain Benefits After All

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Despite doctors' advice that omega-3 fatty acids can prevent a decline in cognitive function, a new review of previous studies suggests that taking omega-3 supplements may not offer any brain benefits at all.

Researchers led by Emma Sydenham at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analyzed data from three separate studies that evaluated the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on cognitive function among older people who showed no signs of dementia or other brain dysfunction.

The studies involved a total of 3,536 people and lasted between six and 40 months.

They found that subjects with normal brain function who either supplemented their diet with omega-3 fatty acids -- fats commonly found in fish and plant oils -- either in capsule form or by using supplement-containing margarine spreads, did not perform better on standardized tests than subjects who received a placebo.

"The results of the available studies show no benefit for cognitive function with [omega-3] supplementation among cognitively healthy older people," the authors wrote.  But they did add that researchers need to conduct longer studies to assess whether there are preventive benefits.

But experts not involved in the research review say there is clear evidence of the ability of omega-3s to prevent cognitive decline.

Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, said that the studies the Sydenham team evaluated have major flaws.

"Other studies have found that those who ingest omega-3 fatty acids are at lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease," said Small.

A study published in February found a link between low levels of omega-3s and a more rapid aging of the brain and greater likelihood of losing memory and abstract thinking ability.

The extent of those cognitive benefits remains under debate, however, said Dr. Samuel Gandy, a professor of Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

"There is some evidence that omega-3s may protect from aging-associated memory impairment, but there is no consistent evidence that omega-3s delay or protect from Alzheimer's disease," he said.

While the role of omega-3 fatty acids in protecting the brain still needs to be fleshed out, the researchers who performed the study review stressed that omega-3s may offer other benefits.  While they didn't mention it specifically, helping protect against cardiovascular disease is one of them.  Eating fish, they wrote, "is recommended as part of a healthy diet."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun072012

Targeting the Brain’s Appetite Control Switch

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Scientists in search of the control switch for the brain’s dinner bell have a new clue.  Researchers studying mice at Columbia University Medical Center found that when they messed with a certain protein that is found in the brains of mice -- and humans -- the rodents’ appetite and metabolism changed.

Dr. Domenico Accili, the leader of the study, whose findings were published Thursday in the journal Cell, said the protein seems to be intimately involved in regulating food intake, and provides an intriguing target in the never ending search for a drug to regulate how much people eat.

The protein, called Gpr17, controls how the brain’s cells respond to insulin, one of the chief hormones involved in hunger and metabolism.  When Accili and his team injected a drug to activate GPr17, the rodents’ appetites increased; injecting a chemical to turn Gpr17 off made the mice eat less.

Accili said controlling this protein in the brains of humans may be more than just a pipe dream.  Many drugs currently on the market work by acting on the family of proteins to which Gpr17 belongs.  The difference is those drugs, such as asthma medicines and blood thinners, don’t cross from the bloodstream into the brain.

“If we were able to tweak those medications so they cross into the brain, they could probably have positive effects against weight gain and help us control appetite,” Accili said.

Accili said his team would work next on redesigning the drugs they injected into the rodents’ brains so that they cross from the bloodstream into the brain.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun062012

CT Scans in Kids Linked to Leukemia, Brain Cancer Risk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BETHESDA, Md.) -- Gina Baker carefully weighed the pros and cons of a CT scan for her 1-year-old son.

"His pediatrician said she wanted to do a scan to make sure everything was OK," said Baker, explaining concerns that "the little guy's" head was growing too quickly. "They told me the risks from the radiation were low, but you definitely struggle with those types of decisions as a parent."

The scan came back normal, giving Baker some peace of mind. But Baker, a 31-year-old nurse and blogger from Brigham City, Utah, said she still worries about the test's long-term effects -- a fear bolstered by a new study linking childhood CT scans to cancer later in life.

"Radiation exposure from CT scans was associated with an increased risk of brain cancer and leukemia, and that risk increased with increasing levels of radiation exposure," said Amy Berrington de González, a radiation epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., and co-author of the study published Wednesday in The Lancet.

The study, of more than 355,000 children and teens in the U.K., found those exposed to 60 milligrays of radiation -- the cumulative dose of two brain CT scans -- were three times more likely to develop brain tumors. Those exposed to 50 milligrays of radiation were three times more likely to develop leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells produced in the bone marrow.

Berrington de González stressed that the absolute cancer risk is very small, accounting for one extra cancer case per 30,000 children scanned.

"Providing the scan is clinically justified and performed properly with a child-size dose of radiation, the benefits should easily outweigh the risks," she said.

But for parents like Baker, forced quickly to weigh the immediate benefits with the long-term risks, the decision weighs heavily.

"You want to do what's best for your family," she said. "I did agonize over it."

Radiation has long been known to cause DNA damage that can lead to cancer. But the cancer-causing effects of doses doled out during CT scans were purely theoretical.

"Those estimates drew a lot of controversy because they were based on the cancer risk in atomic bomb survivors," said Dr. David Brenner, director of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research and lead author of the 2001 study estimating the cancer risk from CT scans. "There was debate about whether the risks were real, and this study shows pretty unequivocally that they are."

But Brenner said the benefits of CT scans, namely their ability to quickly detect life-threatening problems and guide life-saving surgeries, indeed outweigh the risks.

"All medical procedures have risks and benefits," he said. "That said, there are situations where CT scans are being used too much."

Brenner estimates some 20 percent of the country's 80 million CT scans each year are either unnecessary or could be replaced by a radiation-free ultrasound or MRI.

"That's why we need basic guidelines; decision rules that determine when a CT scan is medically appropriate," he said, adding that such guidelines already exist but are not always used.

Dr. Andrew Einstein, director of cardiac CT research at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and author of an editorial accompanying the study, said he hopes doctors will think twice before ordering CT scans in children, and parents will ask about alternatives.

"I think we need to redouble our efforts to ensure patients are getting appropriate tests with the lowest radiation dose possible," he said. "There are good reasons to use CT scans; it's a lifesaving test for many people. But with every good thing in medicine, there's a potential downside. And for CT scans it's the radiation."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May102012

Font Size Can Affect Your Emotional Brain Response, Study Says

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(BERLIN) -- People have more of an emotional brain response to words in larger fonts than in smaller ones, according to the findings of a new study.

Researchers at the Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany connected 25 participants to an electroencephalogram, or EEG, a device used to measure electrical activity in the brain.  They then gave participants 72 different positive, neutral and negative words in a variety of font sizes.

The study, published in the journal PLoS One, found that the positive (e.g. holiday) and negative (e.g. disease) words printed in a larger size elicited a stronger emotional brain response than smaller-sized words.

Changing the size of neutral words, like chair, did not elicit the same type of response.

“In general, emotional words capture more attention than neutral words,” Mareike Bayer, lead author of the study, told ABC News.  “These effects are reflected in specific brain activations which can be measured by event related brain potentials in the EEG."

“Our study showed that the effects of emotional meaning are boosted when words are presented in large fonts,” said Bayer.  “In other words, more attention is captured by larger emotional words, probably explaining the power of large fonts in tabloid headlines or catchwords.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May092012

Here’s Your Brain When You Brag

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- For many, talking about themselves is an act of self-promotion, but according to a new study, there is a simple explanation for why people share so much information about themselves: It feels good.

According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sharing activates the same pleasure region of the brain that lights up in response to food and money.

“The act of sharing information about yourself with other people is a rewarding activity to engage in,” said Diana Tamir, a graduate student in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neurosicence Lab at Harvard University, and an author of the study.

Using MRI, the researchers recorded the brain activity of volunteers and asked them to talk about themselves or another person. The scans showed that when volunteers spoke about themselves there was increased activity in the region of the brain associated with pleasure. In another test, the volunteers could make money by choosing to answer questions that weren’t about themselves, but instead of maximizing their earnings, they chose lower margins so they could talk about their lives.

“In our study our participants were willing to pay about a penny to self-disclose. In the real world I think people are often willing to pay much more than that,” Tamir told ABC News. “I do think this sheds some light on the way people share so much on the Internet.”

After looking at previous studies of naturalistic conversation, Tamir and her colleague Jason Mitchell found that about 30 to 35 percent of what people talked about was themselves, but on the Internet Tamir said that number skyrocketed to about 80 percent.

“With the Internet...we can kind of constantly reward ourselves repeatedly,” Tamir said. “The Internet is a great way to send out information, but I don’t think it can ever replace real conversations where people are sharing back and forth and soliciting information from other people.”

Tamir believes the fact that humans are hardwired to talk about themselves is not a bad thing. She said previous studies had found that people would pay money to solicit information from other people.

“If you were friends with somebody and they never told you anything about themselves, you’d probably stop being friends with them,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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