Chapter 16. None
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By MAIA SZALAVITZ Drug education is the only part of the middle school curriculum I remember — perhaps because it backfired so spectacularly. Before reaching today’s legal drinking age, I was shooting cocaine and heroin. I’ve since recovered from my addiction, and researchers now are trying to develop innovative prevention programs to help children at risk take a different road than I did. Developing a public antidrug program that really works has not been easy. Many of us grew up with antidrug programs like D.A.R.E. or the Nancy Reagan-inspired antidrug campaign “Just Say No.” But research shows those programs and others like them that depend on education and scare tactics were largely ineffective and did little to curb drug use by children at highest risk. But now a new antidrug program tested in Europe, Australia and Canada is showing promise. Called Preventure, the program, developed by Patricia Conrod, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, recognizes how a child’s temperament drives his or her risk for drug use — and that different traits create different pathways to addiction. Early trials show that personality testing can identify 90 percent of the highest risk children, targeting risky traits before they cause problems. Recognizing that most teenagers who try alcohol, cocaine, opioids or methamphetamine do not become addicted, they focus on what’s different about the minority who do. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22715 - Posted: 09.30.2016
Emily Underwood To human observers, bumblebees sipping nectar from flowers appear cheerful. It turns out that the insects may actually enjoy their work. A new study suggests that bees experience a “happy” buzz after receiving a sugary snack, although it’s probably not the same joy that humans experience chomping on a candy bar. Scientists can’t ask bees or other animals how they feel. Instead, researchers must look for signs of positive or negative emotions in an animal’s decision making or behavior, says Clint Perry, a neuroethologist at Queen Mary University of London. In one such study, for example, scientists shook bees vigorously in a machine for 60 seconds — hard enough to annoy, but not hard enough to cause injury — and found that stressed bees made more pessimistic decisions while foraging for food. The new study, published in the Sept. 30 Science, is the first to look for signs of positive bias in bee decision making, Perry says. His team trained 35 bees to navigate a small arena connected to a plastic tunnel. When the tunnel was marked with a blue flower, the bees learned that a tasty vial of sugar water awaited them at its end. When a green flower was present, there was no reward. Once the bees learned the difference, the scientists threw the bees a curveball: Rather than being blue or green, the flower had a confusing blue-green hue. Faced with the ambiguous blossom, the bees appeared to dither, meandering around for roughly 100 seconds before deciding whether to enter the tunnel. Some didn’t enter at all. But when the scientists gave half the bees a treat — a drop of concentrated sugar water — that group spent just 50 seconds circling the entrance before deciding to check it out. Overall, the two groups flew roughly the same distances at the same speeds, suggesting that the group that had gotten a treat first had not simply experienced a boost in energy from the sugar, but were in a more positive, optimistic state, Perry says. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
Jon Hamilton What rats can remember may help people who forget. Researchers are reporting evidence that rats possess "episodic memories," the kind of memories that allow us to go back in time and recall specific events. These memories are among the first to disappear in people who develop Alzheimer's disease. The finding, which appears Thursday in Current Biology, suggests that rats could offer a better way to test potential drugs for Alzheimer's. Right now, most of these drugs are tested in mice. "We need to have a way to study the exact type of memory that we think is impaired in Alzheimer's disease," says Bruce Lamb, a professor of medical and molecular genetics at Indiana University in Indianapolis. He was not involved in the study. The lack of an adequate animal model of Alzheimer's disease may be one reason drugs that seemed to work in mice have failed when given to people, Lamb says. Loss of episodic memories, especially recent ones, is a key sign of Alzheimer's, says Jonathon Crystal, an author of the study and director of the neuroscience program at Indiana University in Bloomington. "So if you visit your grandmother who has Alzheimer's, [she] isn't going to remember that you were visiting a couple of weeks ago and what you described about things that are going on in your life," he says. Crystal and a team of researchers thought rats might have some form of episodic memory. So they began doing studies that relied on the animals' remarkable ability to recognize a wide range of odors, like basil and banana and strawberry. © 2016 npr
Link ID: 22711 - Posted: 09.30.2016
By Carl Hart In early August the Drug Enforcement Administration declined to reclassify marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The drug is currently listed on Schedule I, meaning that it is viewed as having “no currently accepted medical use in treatment” and is therefore technically banned by federal law. The proposed change would have moved it to Schedule II, where it would join morphine, opium and codeine. That would make marijuana potentially available by prescription nationwide. Such a change would have been good for patients and scientists, and it would have represented a big step toward resolving the hypocritical mess that characterizes current law. Despite many people's assumptions to the contrary, the existing law does not ban scientific investigation into the harms and benefits of the drug. It's true that scientists studying marijuana must jump through multiple bureaucratic and regulatory hoops, and one of these just became a bit easier to navigate. Currently researchers who want to study the drug must get it from the University of Mississippi, which is the only university now permitted to grow marijuana plants for research purposes. When the DEA announced in August that it would not reschedule marijuana, it did say that it would let other institutions apply for permission to start growing the plants as well. That was a step in the right direction—but it's not enough. Despite the regulatory barriers, dozens of scientists—myself included—have been engaged in research on the harms and benefits of marijuana for decades, and the evidence shows that the drug has many helpful therapeutic uses. For example, it stimulates appetite in HIV-positive patients, which could be a lifesaver for someone suffering from AIDS wasting syndrome. It is also useful in the treatment of neuropathic pain, chronic pain, and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis. © 2016 Scientific American
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22710 - Posted: 09.30.2016
Rebecca Hersher A new study of violent behavior in more than 1,000 mammal species found the meerkat is the mammal most likely to be murdered by one of its own kind. The study, led by José María Gómez of the University of Grenada in Spain and published Wednesday in the journal Nature, analyzed more than 4 million deaths among 1,024 mammal species and compared them with findings in 600 studies of violence among humans from ancient times until today. The findings tell us two things: Some amount of violence between humans is attributable to our place on the evolutionary tree. Meerkats are surprisingly murderous. To be clear, the study's authors did not set out to prove (or disprove) a theory of meerkat violence; they were investigating what mammalian data might tell us about humans. But Ed Yong at The Atlantic organized the study's exhaustive list of mammals to make this helpful chart ranking animals by their murderousness. Some of the animals with reputations for docility are actually more dangerous to each other than creatures known for their aggression. Chinchillas kill each other more often than brown bears turn on their own kind. New Zealand sea lions are more murderous than actual lions. And, as you can see, about 20 percent of meerkat deaths are murders. Their violence has been documented; a 2006 study described in National Geographic documented meerkat mothers killing the offspring of other females to maintain dominance. © 2016 npr
Link ID: 22707 - Posted: 09.29.2016
By Clare Wilson IT HAS been blamed for brain shrinkage, impotence, divorce and paedophilia – and in April this year, Utah declared it a public health hazard. Warnings about pornography come not just from religious or conservative groups – former Playboy model and actor Pamela Anderson also recently cautioned against its “corrosive effects”. Yet survey after survey shows porn use is common among men and not exactly rare in women, so can it really be so dangerous? Or could it even have benefits? While there is research into the effects of porn, a great deal of it is contradictory. Even the same studies are interpreted differently by those on opposite sides of the debate. Some feel it is a menace to society, while others think that attitude belongs with 1980s hysteria over video nasties. Anti-porn campaigners chiefly argue that it is addictive and hijacks the brain’s normal reward pathways. Like heroin addicts who crave more of their drug to get the same high, users find they are no longer aroused by real sex and resort to increasingly harder-core material, or so the theory goes. Of course, there are other concerns over pornography, such as its depictions of violence, exploitation and sexual consent. But male addiction is an increasing focus of anti-porn campaigns. Campaigners say that an excess of porn prompts users to spurn their partners and seek out images of bestiality, rape scenes, and child abuse. Some schools in Scotland now warn that viewing adult images leads to impotence, coercion and abuse. “This kind of escalation is described over and over again,” says Gary Wilson, a retired biology lecturer and author of website and book Your Brain on Porn. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 22706 - Posted: 09.29.2016
By Edd Gent, A brain-inspired computing component provides the most faithful emulation yet of connections among neurons in the human brain, researchers say. The so-called memristor, an electrical component whose resistance relies on how much charge has passed through it in the past, mimics the way calcium ions behave at the junction between two neurons in the human brain, the study said. That junction is known as a synapse. The researchers said the new device could lead to significant advances in brain-inspired—or neuromorphic—computers, which could be much better at perceptual and learning tasks than traditional computers, as well as far more energy efficient. "In the past, people have used devices like transistors and capacitors to simulate synaptic dynamics, which can work, but those devices have very little resemblance to real biological systems. So it's not efficient to do it that way, and it results in a larger device area, larger energy consumption and less fidelity," said study leader Joshua Yang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. [10 Things You Didn't Know About the Brain] Previous research has suggested that the human brain has about 100 billion neurons and approximately 1 quadrillion (1 million billion) synapses. A brain-inspired computer would ideally be designed to mimic the brain's enormous computing power and efficiency, scientists have said. © 2016 Scientific American
By Allison Bond, Although neurologist Amie Hsia was hundreds of miles away from the emergency room team caring for her ailing aunt last February, she knew her symptoms and imaging pointed to a severe stroke. Hsia’s aunt needed treatment fast with a clot-busting medicine and a procedure known as an endovascular thrombectomy, which removes the clot and restores blood flow to oxygen-starved patches of the brain. The hospital caring for her wasn’t equipped to perform the surgery, however, so Hsia insisted she be transferred to a nearby hospital, where the clot was removed from her brain. Hsia’s aunt survived and is able to live independently, despite some remaining symptoms from the stroke. Still, the travel to another hospital cost her valuable time—and could have hurt her in the long run. That’s the implication of a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that the sooner patients with severe strokes receive a thrombectomy, the less disabled they tend to be three months later. The research indicates that the brain-saving benefits of thrombectomy are most pronounced within the first few hours after signs of a stroke begin, and that these effects decline with each passing hour. To some experts, the study is a call to rejigger the current method of determining where ambulances ought to take stroke patients, which is based solely on proximity. Instead, they say, patients with apparent severe strokes should be rushed to hospitals that perform thrombectomies. © 2016 Scientific America
Link ID: 22703 - Posted: 09.28.2016
By Nick Purdon, Leonardo Palleja, CBC News If you met Lisa James, chances are you'd never guess she injects herself with heroin twice a day. She's a devoted mom to her daughter Tia, 24, who has a rare neurological disorder that causes tumours to grow on her spine and brain. She comforts Tia when she's overcome with nausea. She's by her side when she visits doctors. "My relationship with my daughter is better than it's ever been," says James, 48. But James says it wasn't so long ago, her days were spent doing absolutely anything to score heroin. She used to steal hundreds of dollars' worth of meat from grocery stores and sell it on the streets. She even stole from Tia. "I took $500 out of her account and because of the lovely girl that she is, she never wanted to make me feel bad," James says. "If someone had told me I would do something so despicable — I never would have believed it." She says that all changed when she was accepted to the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where she's buzzed in every morning at 9 a.m. She sits down in a sterile room and injects a syringe full of free heroin into her arm. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22702 - Posted: 09.28.2016
Ramin Skibba. Physiologist Ivan Pavlov conditioned dogs to associate food with the sound of a buzzer, which left them salivating. Decades later, researchers discovered such training appears to block efforts to teach the animals to link other stimuli to the same reward. Dogs trained to expect food when a buzzer sounds can then be conditioned to salivate when they are exposed to the noise and a flash of light simultaneously. But light alone will not cue them to drool. This ‘blocking effect’ is well-known in psychology, but new research suggests that the concept might not be so simple. Psychologists in Belgium failed to replicate the effect in 15 independent experiments, they report this month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology1. “For a long time, you tend to think, ‘It’s me’ — I’m doing something wrong, or messing up the experiment,’” says lead author Tom Beckers, a psychologist at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium. But after his student, co-author Elisa Maes, also could not replicate the blocking effect, and the team failed again in experiments in other labs, Beckers realized that “it can’t just be us”. The scientists do not claim that the blocking effect is not real, or that previous observations of it are wrong. Instead, Beckers thinks that psychologists do not yet know enough about the precise conditions under which it applies. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited,
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22701 - Posted: 09.27.2016
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Ants, like people and rats, can become addicted to morphine. Scientists divided 90 ants into three groups. The first received a solution containing morphine and sugar, which was gradually reduced until the ants were receiving pure morphine. The second group of ants got a sugar solution gradually reduced to pure water, and the third ate just sugar. Then the researchers offered all three groups the choice of sugar or morphine. The ants that had been gradually deprived of sugar and those never exposed to morphine went right back to sugar. But about two-thirds of the ants given morphine chose it over sugar. Ants are the first nonmammal to display drug-seeking behavior, the researchers said. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22697 - Posted: 09.27.2016
The make-up of the bacteria found in human faeces may influence levels of dangerous fat in our bodies, say researchers from King's College London. Their analysis of stool samples in a study of more than 3,600 twins found evidence that some of this bacteria is inherited. What is contained in faeces bacteria could therefore partly explain why obesity passes down through families. The study is published in Genome Biology. The research team extracted information from study participants about the human faecal microbiome - the bacteria present in faeces samples - and compared these to six different measures of obesity, including body mass index (BMI) and different types of body fat. The researchers found the strongest links with visceral fat, where participants with a high diversity of bacteria in their faeces had lower levels of visceral fat. This type of body fat is bad news because it is stored in the stomach area around important organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines and is linked with higher risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Dr Michelle Beaumont, lead study author from the department of twin research and genetic epidemiology at King's College London, said although the study showed a clear link, it was not yet possible to explain why it existed. One theory is that a lack of variety in faecal bacteria could lead to the domination of high levels of gut microbes which are good at turning carbohydrates into fat. © 2016 BBC.
Link ID: 22694 - Posted: 09.26.2016
By GINA KOLATA You must lose weight, a doctor told Sarah Bramblette, advising a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet. But Ms. Bramblette had a basic question: How much do I weigh? The doctor’s scale went up to 350 pounds, and she was heavier than that. If she did not know the number, how would she know if the diet was working? The doctor had no answer. So Ms. Bramblette, 39, who lived in Ohio at the time, resorted to a solution that made her burn with shame. She drove to a nearby junkyard that had a scale that could weigh her. She was 502 pounds. One in three Americans is obese, a rate that has been steadily growing for more than two decades, but the health care system — in its attitudes, equipment and common practices — is ill prepared, and its practitioners are often unwilling, to treat the rising population of fat patients. The difficulties range from scales and scanners, like M.R.I. machines that are not built big enough for very heavy people, to surgeons who categorically refuse to give knee or hip replacements to the obese, to drug doses that have not been calibrated for obese patients. The situation is particularly thorny for the more than 15 million Americans who have extreme obesity — a body mass index of 40 or higher — and face a wide range of health concerns. Part of the problem, both patients and doctors say, is a reluctance to look beyond a fat person’s weight. Patty Nece, 58, of Alexandria, Va., went to an orthopedist because her hip was aching. She had lost nearly 70 pounds and, although she still had a way to go, was feeling good about herself. Until she saw the doctor. “He came to the door of the exam room, and I started to tell him my symptoms,” Ms. Nece said. “He said: ‘Let me cut to the chase. You need to lose weight.’” © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22693 - Posted: 09.26.2016
George Paxinos Many people today believe they possess a soul. While conceptions of the soul differ, many would describe it as an “invisible force that appears to animate us”. It’s often believed the soul can survive death and is intimately associated with a person’s memories, passions and values. Some argue the soul has no mass, takes no space and is localised nowhere. But as a neuroscientist and psychologist, I have no use for the soul. On the contrary, all functions attributable to this kind of soul can be explained by the workings of the brain. Psychology is the study of behaviour. To carry out their work of modifying behaviour, such as in treating addiction, phobia, anxiety and depression, psychologists do not need to assume people have souls. For the psychologists, it is not so much that souls do not exist, it is that there is no need for them. It is said psychology lost its soul in the 1930s. By this time, the discipline fully became a science, relying on experimentation and control rather than introspection. What is the soul? It is not only religious thinkers who have proposed that we possess a soul. Some of the most notable proponents have been philosophers, such as Plato (424-348 BCE) and René Descartes in the 17th century. Plato believed we do not learn new things but recall things we knew before birth. For this to be so, he concluded, we must have a soul. Centuries later, Descartes wrote his thesis Passions of the Soul, where he argued there was a distinction between the mind, which he described as a “thinking substance”, and the body, “the extended substance”. He wrote: © 2010–2016, The Conversation US, Inc.
Link ID: 22692 - Posted: 09.26.2016
By Michael Price A deadly disease known as African sleeping sickness has puzzled doctors for decades. It would disappear from villages without a trace, only to re-emerge weeks or months later with no known cause. Frustrated health officials wondered how sleeping sickness could persist when not a single villager or animal—the disease’s only carriers—tested positive for the insect-borne parasite that causes it. Now, scientists may have an answer at last: They’ve discovered the disease was hiding in plain sight this whole time, living in and even transmitting via human skin. African sleeping sickness, also known as African trypanosomiasis, is caused by a microscopic wormlike parasite spread exclusively by the tsetse fly. As such, it’s limited by the fly’s range to sub-Saharan Africa. Locals avoid places where the flies are numerous, but political unrest can displace residents and force them into the path of the disease. Once infected, people have anywhere from weeks to years before the parasite crashes into the brain, causing headaches, tremors, confusion, and paralysis. Those infected also suffer from a disrupted sleep cycle, bouts of random sleepiness and wakefulness that gives the disease its name. Without treatment—toxic drugs that keep patients bedridden for weeks—those infected nearly always slip into a coma and die. In the 1950s and 1960s, health officials got the number of reported cases down to a few thousand per year and were on track to eradicate it, says parasitologist Annette MacLeod of the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, who led the new discovery. But despite their best efforts, they could never get rid of the last few thousand cases. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Link ID: 22691 - Posted: 09.24.2016
By CONOR DOUGHERTY SAN FRANCISCO — Every now and again, when I’m feeling a little down, I go to Baseball-Reference.com and look up the San Francisco Giants’ box score from July 29, 2012. It’s an odd choice for a Giants fan. The Los Angeles Dodgers won, 4-0, completing a weekend sweep in which they outscored the Giants by 19-3 and tied them for the lead in the National League West. The Giants went on to win the World Series that year, but that’s not why I remember the July 29 game. I remember that afternoon because my mom, in the throes of Alzheimer’s, left the house she shared with my dad in the Noe Valley neighborhood, walked four or so miles and somehow ended up at AT&T Park. Then she went inside and watched her team. It took a while for me to believe this. When Mom told me she had gone to the park — my dad barely watches baseball, so the Giants have always been a thing between me and Mom — I assumed it was an old memory misplaced on a new day. But it turned out that Sunday game did overlap with the hours she had been out, and a month or so later my dad got a credit card bill with the charge for the ticket. I can’t tell you when Mom cheered or if she managed to find her seat. All I know is Clayton Kershaw struck out seven, the Giants had five hits, and even though I’ve committed these statistics to memory, I still like looking them up. On the chance that this hasn’t been clubbed into your head by now, the Giants have won the World Series in every even-numbered year this decade. And for reasons that I choose to see as cosmic, this run of baseball dominance has tracked my mom’s descent into Alzheimer’s. The disease doesn’t take people from you in a day or a week or a season. You get years of steady disappearance, with an indeterminate end. So for me and Mom and baseball, this decade has been a long goodbye. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22690 - Posted: 09.24.2016
By Dwayne Godwin, Jorge Cham The brain processes a wealth of visual information in parallel so that we perceive the world around us in the blink of an eye Dwayne Godwin is a neuroscientist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Jorge Cham draws the comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper at www.phdcomics.com. © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 22689 - Posted: 09.24.2016
By Virginia Morell There will never be a horse like Mr. Ed, the talking equine TV star. But scientists have discovered that the animals can learn to use another human tool for communicating: pointing to symbols. They join a short list of other species, including some primates, dolphins, and pigeons, with this talent. Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket. Horses could choose between a “no change” symbol or symbols for “blanket on” or “blanket off.” Previously, their owners made this decision for them. Horses are adept at learning and following signals people give them, and it took these equines an average of 10 days to learn to approach and touch the board and to understand the meaning of the symbols. All 23 horses learned the entire task within 14 days. They were then tested in various weather conditions to see whether they could use the board to tell their trainers about their blanket preferences. The scientists report online in Applied Animal Behaviour Science that the horses did not touch the symbols randomly, but made their choices based on the weather. If it was wet, cold, and windy, they touched the "blanket on" icon; horses that were already wearing a blanket nosed the “no change” image. But when the weather was sunny, the animals touched the "blanket off" symbol; those that weren’t blanketed pressed the “no change” icon. The study’s strong results show that the horses understood the consequences of their choices, say the scientists, who hope that other researchers will use their method to ask horses more questions. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Carl Zimmer Modern humans evolved in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. But how did our species go on to populate the rest of the globe? The question, one of the biggest in studies of human evolution, has intrigued scientists for decades. In a series of extraordinary genetic analyses published on Wednesday, researchers believe they have found an answer. In the journal Nature, three separate teams of geneticists survey DNA collected from cultures around the globe, many for the first time, and conclude that all non-Africans today trace their ancestry to a single population emerging from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago. “I think all three studies are basically saying the same thing,” said Joshua M. Akey of the University of Washington, who wrote a commentary accompanying the new work. “We know there were multiple dispersals out of Africa, but we can trace our ancestry back to a single one.” The three teams sequenced the genomes of 787 people, obtaining highly detailed scans of each. The genomes were drawn from people in hundreds of indigenous populations: Basques, African pygmies, Mayans, Bedouins, Sherpas and Cree Indians, to name just a few. The DNA of indigenous populations is essential to understanding human history, many geneticists believe. Yet until now scientists have sequenced entire genomes from very few people outside population centers like Europe and China. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22682 - Posted: 09.22.2016
By Andy Coghlan You made a choice and it didn’t turn out too well. How will your brain ensure you do better next time? It seems there’s a hub in the brain that doles out rewards and punishments to reinforce vital survival skills. “Imagine you go to a restaurant hoping to have a good dinner,” says Bo Li of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. “If the food exceeds your expectations, you will likely come back again, whereas you will avoid it in future if the food disappoints.” Li’s team has discovered that a part of the brain’s basal ganglia area, called the habenula-projecting globus pallidus (GPh), plays a crucial role in this process. They trained mice to associate specific sound cues either with a reward of a drink of water or a punishment of a puff of air in the face, and then surprised them by switching them around. When mice expecting a drink were instead punished with a puff of air, GPh neurons became particularly active. But when the mice were unexpectedly rewarded, the activity of these neurons was inhibited. Further experiments revealed that once activated GPh neurons enforce punishment in the brain, reducing levels of the reward chemical dopamine in regions of the brain that plan actions. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22681 - Posted: 09.22.2016