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

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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