Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive, Brain News RoundUp

Brain Health NewsInter­est­ing recent news:

For more on these news, and commentary:


1) A Par­a­digm Shift in Genet­ics (Philadel­phia Inquirer)
- “Our under­stand­ing of genet­ics is cur­rently under­go­ing a par­a­digm shift,” says Melanie Ehrlich, a mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist at the Tulane Can­cer Cen­ter. “It is now com­monly acknowl­edged among sci­en­tists that it is not enough to look to DNA as the sole deter­mi­nant of hered­ity.” Ehrlich is refer­ring to the emerg­ing field known as epigenetics.
- Sci­en­tists are now learn­ing that the epigenome is highly sen­si­tive to its envi­ron­ment. The food you eat, the air you breathe, and the stress or hap­pi­ness you feel can actu­ally alter your genetic makeup — not by chang­ing the sequence of your DNA, but by decid­ing which genes are expressed.
- Biol­o­gists have long known that our bod­ies and behav­iors are shaped in part by nature and in part by nur­ture, but the exact link between gene and envi­ron­ment had always been fuzzy. Now, it is com­ing into focus: The link is the epigenome.
- Epi­ge­net­ics is open­ing up a whole new win­dow on the nature of dis­ease. Many can­cers, for instance, are not genetic in ori­gin — caused by one or more muta­tions to our DNA — but epi­ge­netic. “We finally under­stand that abnor­mal epi­ge­netic changes are just as impor­tant for can­cer for­ma­tion and devel­op­ment as are genetic muta­tions,” Ehrlich says. “With­out epi­ge­netic changes, human can­cers would prob­a­bly be rare.” The same is believed to be true for autoim­mune dis­eases, dia­betes and depression.
Com­ment: this is a superb arti­cle on epi­ge­net­ics and “genetic determinism”. Given the grow­ing dis­cus­sion on the value of genetic test­ing, we often think the miss­ing ques­tion is, “what are peo­ple sup­posed to do once they receive the results”? stress and depres­sion can increase the risk of a vari­ety of men­tal health prob­lems, vs. good lifestyle habits that can lower it, so com­pa­nies offer­ing test­ing and their clients really should be pay­ing atten­tion to that follow-up. More are more biol­o­gists are excited about epi­ge­net­ics, or how our own lives and envi­ron­ments are what turn on and off those genes, get­ting rid of the idea of genetic deter­min­ism (except for a few rare conditions).


2)  Con­fer­ence on Brain Devel­op­ment and Learn­ing: Mak­ing Sense of the Sci­ence (thanks Pete)

- July 12–15, 2008 in Van­cou­ver at the Sher­a­ton Wall Cen­ter hotel. Two main focus areas of the con­fer­ence will be ADHD (exec­u­tive func­tion and pre­frontal cor­tex) and stress (includ­ing trauma, depres­sion, anx­i­ety, and resilience).

Com­ment: excel­lent agenda and speak­ers. Great con­fer­ence for any­one active in the atten­tion deficits field.

3) 1 in 5 vet­er­ans found with men­tal dis­or­der (Boston Globe)

- “An esti­mated 300,000 vet­er­ans among the nearly 1.7 mil­lion who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are bat­tling depres­sion or post-traumatic stress dis­or­der. More than half of those peo­ple, accord­ing to the study con­ducted by the Rand Corp., are slip­ping through the cracks in the bureau­cratic sys­tem, going with­out nec­es­sary treatment.”

- “The study sug­gests two key changes. It sug­gests ways to allow ser­vice mem­bers to get men­tal health care “off the record” to avoid any stigma. And since some sol­diers and Marines fear that seek­ing treat­ment will pre­vent their rede­ploy­ment, the study rec­om­mends that fitness-for-duty reports not rely on deci­sions to seek men­tal health care. ”

Com­ment: we hope the grow­ing aware­ness of the prob­lem and increased fund­ing will result in more solid assess­ments and treat­ment pro­grams to ben­e­fit both sol­diers and, as often is the case, civil soci­ety at large.

4) Com­mon Med­ica­tions May Harm Mem­ory in Older Peo­ple (U.S. News & World Report)

- “What we found is being on these drugs does worsen your cog­ni­tive per­for­mance,” said Dr. Jack Tsao, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­ogy at Uni­formed Ser­vices Uni­ver­sity in Bethesda, Md., who led the study of the effect of the med­ica­tions on older adults who were, on aver­age, 75. “In the course of a few years, there is a small slip­page. It’s a minor effect.”

- Med­ica­tions for blad­der prob­lems and Parkinson’s appear to have the worst effect on mem­ory, he said.

- “Tak­ing the drugs doesn’t increase your risk of get­ting Alzheimer’s. There was no change in the pro­gres­sion over­all to the diag­no­sis of Alzheimer’s,” Tsao stressed. How­ever, there was a decline in cog­ni­tive abilities.

Com­ment: we are happy to see a grow­ing num­ber of clin­i­cal tri­als add cog­ni­tive assess­ments to iden­tify poten­tial effects as early as pos­si­ble. This is not man­dated by the FDA, but very valu­able from a safety point of view.

5) Men More Likely to Develop Cog­ni­tive Prob­lems (Forbes)

- “These find­ings are in con­trast to stud­ies which have found more women than men [or an equal pro­por­tion] have demen­tia, and sug­gest there’s a delayed pro­gres­sion to demen­tia in men,” study author Rose­bud Roberts, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in a pre­pared state­ment. “Alter­nately, women may develop demen­tia at a faster rate than men.”

Com­ment: these were sur­pris­ing results. The good news for men-that higher prob­a­bil­ity of cog­ni­tive prob­lems (mem­ory loss…) doesn’t trans­late into higher inci­dence of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. In any case, fac­tors other than gen­der (like edu­ca­tion level, occu­pa­tion, leisure activ­i­ties, age) are morepre­dic­tive of poten­tial problems.

Have a nice weekend

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