Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive, Brain News RoundUp

Brain Health NewsInteresting recent news:

1) A Paradigm Shift in Genetics (Philadelphia Inquirer)
4) Common Medications May Harm Memory in Older People (U.S. News & World Report)

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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