Chapter 11. Motor Control and Plasticity

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By DENISE GRADY A new drug for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, was approved on Friday by the Food and Drug Administration. The drug, called Radicava or edaravone, slowed the progression of the degenerative disease in a six-month study in Japan. It must be given by intravenous infusion and will cost $145,524 a year, according to its manufacturer, MT Pharma America, a subsidiary of the Japanese company Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation. Radicava is only the second drug ever approved to treat A.L.S. The first, riluzole, was approved by the F.D.A. more than 20 years ago. Riluzole can increase survival by two or three months. There is no information yet about whether Radicava has any effect on survival. In the study in Japan, 137 patients were picked at random to receive either Radicava or a placebo. At the end of six months, the condition of those taking the drug declined less than those receiving placebos. Dr. Neil A. Shneider, director of the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Center at Columbia University Medical Center, said, “The effect is modest but significant.” He added, “I’m very happy, frankly, that there is a second drug approved for A.L.S.” The disease kills nerve cells that control voluntary muscles, so patients gradually weaken and become paralyzed. Most die within three to five years, usually from respiratory failure. About 12,000 to 15,000 people in the United States have A.L.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Shneider predicted that patients would be eager to try the new drug. He said several of his patients were already receiving it because they had obtained it themselves from Japan. If more want it, he will prescribe it, he said. “It’s very safe,” he said. But he was uncertain about whether he would actually recommend it, because the method of administration is difficult. Patients have to have an intravenous line inserted and left in place indefinitely, which poses an infection risk. The first round of treatment requires a one-hour infusion every day for 14 days, followed by 14 days off. After that, the infusions are given daily for 10 out of 14 days, with 14 days off. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease ; Trophic Factors
Link ID: 23585 - Posted: 05.06.2017

By Andy Coghlan Using a virus to reprogram cells in the brain could be a radical way to treat Parkinson’s disease. People with Parkinson’s have difficulty controlling their movements due to the death of neurons that make dopamine, a brain signalling chemical. Transplants of fetal cells have shown promise for replacing these dead neurons in people with the disease, and a trial is currently under way. But the transplant tissue comes from aborted pregnancies, meaning it is in short supply, and some people may find this ethically difficult. Recipients of these cells have to take immunosuppressant drugs too. Ernest Arenas, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and his team have found a new way to replace lost dopamine-making neurons. They injected a virus into the brains of mice whose dopamine neurons had been destroyed. This virus had been engineered to carry four genes for reprogramming astrocytes – the brain’s support cells – into dopamine neurons. Five weeks later, the team saw improvements in how the mice moved. “They walked better and their gait showed less asymmetry than controls,” says Arenas. This is the first study to show that reprogramming cells in the living brain can lead to such improvements, he says. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 23488 - Posted: 04.14.2017

In two studies of mice, researchers showed that a drug, engineered to combat the gene that causes spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2), might also be used to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Both studies were published in the journal Nature with funding from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health. “Our results provide hope that we may one day be able to treat these devastating disorders,” said Stefan M. Pulst, M.D., Dr. Med., University of Utah, professor and chair of neurology and a senior author of one the studies. In 1996, Dr. Pulst and other researchers discovered that mutations in the ataxin 2 gene cause spinocerebellar ataxia type 2, a fatal inherited disorder that primarily damages a part of the brain called the cerebellum, causing patients to have problems with balance, coordination, walking and eye movements. For this study his team found that they could reduce problems associated with SCA2 by injecting mouse brains with a drug programmed to silence the ataxin 2 gene. In the accompanying study, researchers showed that injections of the same type of drug into the brains of mice prevented early death and neurological problems associated with ALS, a paralyzing and often fatal disorder. “Surprisingly, the ataxin 2 gene may act as a master key to unlocking treatments for ALS and other neurological disorders,” said Aaron Gitler, Ph.D., Stanford University, associate professor and senior author of the second study. In 2010, Dr. Gitler and colleagues discovered a link between ataxin 2 mutations and ALS.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease ; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23486 - Posted: 04.13.2017

By Knvul Sheikh For the past five decades pharmaceutical drugs like levodopa have been the gold standard for treating Parkinson’s disease. These medications alleviate motor symptoms of the disease, but none of them can cure it. Patients with Parkinson’s continue to lose dopamine neurons critical to the motor control centers of the brain. Eventually the drugs become ineffective and patients’ tremors get worse. They experience a loss of balance and a debilitating stiffness takes over their legs. To replace the lost dopamine neurons, scientists have begun investigating stem cell therapy as a potential treatment or even a cure. But embryonic cells and adult stem cells have proved difficult to harness and transplant into the brain. Now a study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm shows it is possible to coax the brain’s own astrocytes—cells that typically support and nurture neurons—into producing a new generation of dopamine neurons. The reprogrammed cells display several of the properties and functions of native dopamine neurons and could alter the course of Parkinson’s, according to the researchers. “You can directly reprogram a cell that is already inside the brain and change the function in such a way that you can improve neurological symptoms,” says senior author Ernest Arenas, a professor of medical biochemistry at Karolinska. Previously, scientists had to nudge specialized cells like neurons into becoming pluripotent cells before they could develop a different kind of specialized cell, he says. It was like having to erase all the written instructions for how a cell should develop and what job it should do and then rewriting them all over again. But Arenas and his team found a way to convert the instructions into a different set of commands without erasing them. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Parkinsons; Glia
Link ID: 23475 - Posted: 04.11.2017

By Paul Taylor One of the bummers of getting older, as most baby boomers can attest, is that the list of stuff you don’t do as well as you once did keeps getting longer. Bennett Beach, 67, can measure his decline with a stopwatch. Three hours, 27 minutes, 56 seconds: That’s the difference between his best time in the Boston Marathon (2:27:26) and his worst (5:55:22). On April 17, he’ll be running the famous race once again. If he completes the course in less than six hours, he will have officially finished his 50th consecutive Boston Marathon. No one has ever done that. Nor, as far as he knows, will any of his 32,000 fellow racers be coping, as he is, with the rare and debilitating neurological movement disorder known as task-specific dystonia. Whenever he strides, Beach’s left leg gets hijacked by erratic signals from his brain. His walk is nearly normal, but for the past 15 years he has been running with a severe limp. His pursuit of the milestone has been fueled in roughly equal measure by antithetical parts — an Ahab-grade obsession mixed with an older-but-wiser acceptance of his body’s limits. “If someone had told me 30 years ago I’d be struggling to finish this race in six hours, I’d have said, ‘Spare me.’ Now I’m grateful.” Beach is a marathoner by demeanor: quiet, unassuming, self-effacing, iron-willed. And by body type: 5-foot-7, 125 pounds. He played all sports as a kid, distinguishing himself at none: “I just didn’t have the size or strength.” As a senior in prep school, he happened upon a radio broadcast of the Boston Marathon. “It was 30 degrees, it was sleeting, and these guys were out there running 26 miles,” he remembers. “Just the sort of bizarre, crazy thing I was drawn to. I already knew I’d be in Boston the next year, so I decided I’d give it a shot.” © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 23471 - Posted: 04.10.2017

By Erik Stokstad A year after a deadly and highly contagious wildlife disease surfaced in Norway, the country is taking action. Chronic wasting disease (CWD), caused by misfolded proteins called prions, has already ravaged deer and elk in North America, costing rural economies millions in lost revenue from hunting. Its presence in Norway’s reindeer and moose—the first cases in Europe—is “a very serious situation for the environment and for our culture and traditions,” says Bjørnar Ytrehus, a veterinary researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Trondheim. Last week, Norway’s minister of agriculture and food gave the green light for hunters to kill off the entire herd in which three infected individuals were found, about 2000 reindeer, or nearly 6% of the country’s wild population. “We have to take action now,” says Karen Johanne Baalsrud, director of plant and animal health at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority in Oslo. The deer’s habitat will be quarantined for at least 5 years to prevent reinfection. The odds of a successful eradication, experts say, will depend largely on how long CWD has been present in Norway. CWD, discovered in 1967, has been found in 24 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, and it has been spread in part by shipments of infected animals. Many species of cervids are susceptible, including elk, moose, and several kinds of deer. Infected animals typically begin showing symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, and drooling 2 to 3 years after infection and then die within months. In Wyoming, where CWD has been endemic for decades, up to 40% of some herds are infected, and white-tailed deer populations are declining by 10% a year. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Prions
Link ID: 23443 - Posted: 04.04.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Hepatitis infection may increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease, though the reasons for the link remain unknown. British investigators used records of 100,390 patients hospitalized with various forms of hepatitis or H.I.V. from 1999 to 2011. They compared Parkinson’s incidence in these patients with incidence in more than six million people admitted for medical or surgical conditions like cataracts, knee replacement or varicose veins. The study, in Neurology, found that people with hepatitis B had a 76 percent higher risk of having Parkinson’s, and people with hepatitis C a 51 percent higher risk, than the control group. Those with other forms of hepatitis or H.I.V. had no increased risk. The study was restricted to hospitalized patients, and the authors did not have detailed information about the severity and treatment of the diseases. “We can’t be sure what is underlying this association,” said the lead author, Dr. Julia Pakpoor, a researcher at the University of Oxford. “It could be the treatment for the hepatitis, or it could be that Parkinson’s and hepatitis have common risk factors we haven’t identified.” A different kind of study would be needed, she said, to determine possible mechanisms that might be involved. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 23430 - Posted: 03.31.2017

Workplace exposure to electromagentic fields is linked to a higher risk of developing the most common form of motor neurone disease. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that ravages the body’s nerve cells, leaving people unable to control their bodies. People can die as soon as two years after first experiencing symptoms. “Several previous studies have found that electrical workers are at increased risk of ALS,” says Neil Pearce, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We don’t know why the risk is higher, but the two most likely explanations involve either electrical shocks, or ongoing exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields.” Now an analysis of data from more than 58,000 men and 6,500 women suggests it is the latter. Roel Vermeulen, at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and his team found that people whose jobs exposed them to high levels of very low frequency magnetic fields were twice as likely to develop ALS as people who have never had this kind of occupational exposure. Jobs with relatively highe extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields levels include electric line installers, welders, sewing-machine operators, and aircraft pilots, says Vermuelen. “These are essentially jobs where workers are placed in close proximity to appliances that use a lot of electricity.” © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 23424 - Posted: 03.30.2017

Sarah Boseley Health editor A man who was paralysed from below the neck after crashing his bike into a truck can once again drink a cup of coffee and eat mashed potato with a fork, after a world-first procedure to allow him to control his hand with the power of thought. Bill Kochevar, 53, has had electrical implants in the motor cortex of his brain and sensors inserted in his forearm, which allow the muscles of his arm and hand to be stimulated in response to signals from his brain, decoded by computer. After eight years, he is able to drink and feed himself without assistance. “I think about what I want to do and the system does it for me,” Kochevar told the Guardian. “It’s not a lot of thinking about it. When I want to do something, my brain does what it does.” The experimental technology, pioneered by the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is the first in the world to restore brain-controlled reaching and grasping in a person with complete paralysis. For now, the process is relatively slow, but the scientists behind the breakthrough say this is proof of concept and that they hope to streamline the technology until it becomes a routine treatment for people with paralysis. In the future, they say, it will also be wireless and the electrical arrays and sensors will all be implanted under the skin and invisible.

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 23423 - Posted: 03.29.2017

By DENISE GRADY Dr. Lewis P. Rowland, a neurologist who made fundamental discoveries in nerve and muscle diseases and clashed with government investigators during the McCarthy era, died on March 16 in Manhattan. He was 91. The cause was a stroke, his son Steven said. Dr. Rowland, the chairman of Columbia University’s neurology department for 25 years, died at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Rowland was a prolific researcher and writer, with nearly 500 published scientific articles that focused on devastating neuromuscular diseases, including muscular dystrophy, myasthenia gravis and many rare syndromes. He took a special interest in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, which causes degeneration of nerves in the brain and spinal cord, leading to weakness, paralysis and death. Dr. Rowland led research teams that delineated a number of uncommon diseases that had been poorly understood. They also found that in a subgroup of A.L.S. patients, the disease was linked to lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Other studies led to the discovery that a gene defect causes an unusual form of dementia in some patients with A.L.S. In myasthenia gravis, Dr. Rowland and his colleagues documented its high death rate and helped identify treatments that prolonged survival. In the 1970s, long before the tools existed to study DNA’s role in neurological diseases like A.L.S., Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Dr. Rowland predicted correctly that genetics would be the key to understanding them. One of his accomplishments at Columbia was the expansion in 1982 of an intensive care unit that added beds for patients who were severely ill with neurological disorders. Before then, it was often difficult to find I.C.U. space for them. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease ; Muscles
Link ID: 23399 - Posted: 03.24.2017

A study in Neurology suggests that analyzing levels of the protein p75ECD in urine samples from people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may help monitor disease progression as well as determine the effectiveness of therapies. The study was supported by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), both part of the National Institutes of Health. Mary-Louise Rogers, Ph.D., senior research fellow at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and Michael Benatar, M.D., Ph.D, professor of neurology at the University of Miami, and their teams, discovered that levels of urinary p75 ECD increased gradually in patients with ALS as their disease progressed over a 2-year study period. “It was encouraging to see changes in p75ECD over the course of the study, because it suggests an objective new method for tracking the progression of this aggressive disease,” said Amelie Gubitz, Ph.D., program director at NINDS. “In addition, it indicates the possibility of assessing whether levels of that protein decrease while patients try future treatments, to tell us whether the therapies are having any beneficial effects.” Further analysis of the samples from 54 patients revealed that those who began the study with lower levels of urinary p75ECD survived longer than did patients who had higher levels of the protein initially, suggesting that it could be a prognostic marker of the disease and may inform patients about their illness. Dr. Benatar and his team noted that this may be useful in selecting participants for clinical trials and in improving study design.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 23396 - Posted: 03.23.2017

By Timothy Revell A smartphone app that uses deep learning lets people with Parkinson’s disease test their symptoms at home in just 4 minutes. The app could help people monitor the disease’s progression more closely, and uncover how lifestyle factors may affect their symptoms. “There’s very little understanding as to how Parkinson’s arises, and patients say that every day the condition is different,” says George Roussos at Birkbeck, University of London. People report symptom changes related to everything from exercise to socialising to diet, but it’s not yet possible to build a solid picture of how these factors interact. “To understand these differences, we need to monitor the condition regularly, in a quick and easy way, over a long period of time,” says Roussos. People with Parkinson’s usually only see a specialist once or twice a year. This makes it hard to track the disease progression in an individual in detail, and means that side effects of medication such as deterioration of mood can go unnoticed. With their Android app, called CloudUPDRS, Roussos and his colleagues want to make it easier to track symptoms and flag potential problems earlier. Similar to how a clinician would conduct a Parkinson’s severity test, the app includes both self-assessment questions and physical tests using a smartphone’s sensors. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 23313 - Posted: 03.04.2017

By Matt Reynolds If you’re happy and you know it, clap someone else’s hands. A muscle stimulation system aims to evoke empathy by triggering involuntary hand gestures in one person in response to mood changes in another. “If you’re moving in the same way as another person you might understand that person better,” says Max Pfeiffer at the University of Hannover in Germany. Pfeiffer and his team wired up four people to an EEG machine that measured changes in the electrical activity in their brain as they watched film clips intended to provoke three emotional responses: amusement, anger and sadness. These people were the “emotion senders”. Each sender was paired with an “emotion recipient” who wore electrodes on their arms that stimulated their muscles and caused their arms and hands to move when the mood of their partner changed. The gestures they made were based on American Sign Language for amusement, anger and sadness. To express amusement, volunteers had their muscles stimulated to raise one arm, to express anger they raised an arm and made a claw gesture, and to express sadness they slowly slid an arm down their chest. These resemble natural movements associated with the feelings, so the team hypothesised that they would evoke the relevant emotion. Asked to rate how well the gestures corresponded to the emotions, the volunteers largely matched the gestures to the correct mood. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 23302 - Posted: 03.02.2017

By KATHRYN SHATTUCK After his short film screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, a euphoric Simon Fitzmaurice was walking the snowy streets of Park City, Utah, when his foot began to hurt. Back home in Ireland that summer, by then dealing with a pronounced limp, he received a shattering diagnosis: motor neuron disease, or M.N.D. (more commonly known in the United States as A.L.S., or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a neurological disorder that causes increasing muscle weakness and eventual paralysis and is, in most cases, fatal. The doctor gave Mr. Fitzmaurice, then 33, three or four years to live. That might have been the end of any normal existence. But Mr. Fitzmaurice, by his own measure a “bit of a stubborn bastard,” was determined to leave his wife, Ruth, and their two young sons — with a third on the way — a legacy other than self-pity. The result is Mr. Fitzmaurice’s first feature film, and perhaps his salvation — “My Name Is Emily.” The movie, which opened in limited release in the United States on Feb. 17, stars Evanna Lynch, the airy Luna Lovegood of “Harry Potter” fame, as a teenage outlier in both her Dublin foster home and high school who goes on the lam with her only friend (George Webster) to free her father (Michael Smiley) from a mental hospital. The film — with gorgeous scenes of Ms. Lynch plunged, nymphlike, into a cerulean sea or riding shotgun through the emerald countryside in a canary-yellow vintage Renault — won for best cinematography when it debuted at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2015. “I am not trying to prove anything,” Mr. Fitzmaurice wrote in an email, before quickly reconsidering. “Actually, I am trying to prove something. I remember thinking, ‘I must do this to show my children to never give up.’” Mr. Fitzmaurice was writing with his hands when he began the script for “My Name Is Emily.” By the time he was finished, he was writing with his eyes. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 23275 - Posted: 02.24.2017

Laurel Hamers Clusters of a toxic bacterial protein have a surprising structure, differing from similar clumps associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in humans, scientists report in the Feb. 24 Science. These clusters, called amyloids, are defined in part by their structure: straight regions of protein chains called beta strands, folded accordion-style into flat beta sheets, which then stack up to form a fiber. That definition might now need to be broadened. “All the amyloids that have been structurally looked at so far have certain characteristics,” says Matthew Chapman, a biologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who wasn’t part of the work. “This is the odd amyloid out right now.” In the human brain, misfolded proteins can form amyloids that trigger neurodegenerative diseases. But amyloids aren’t always a sign of something gone wrong — some bacteria make amyloids to help defend their turf. In Staphylococcus aureus, for example, the PSMα3 protein assembles into amyloids that help the bacteria kill other cells. Previous research suggested that PSMα3 clusters were like any other amyloid. But researchers using X-ray crystallography found that instead of straight beta strands, the PSMα3 fiber was made up of curly structures called alpha helices that resemble an old-fashioned phone cord. The helices still formed a familiar fiber shape just like the beta strands did, but the sheets making up that fiber were rippled instead of flat. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 23274 - Posted: 02.24.2017

Daqing Li and Ying Li In 1969 Geoffrey Raisman, who has died aged 77, introduced the term “plasticity” to describe the ability of damaged nerve tissue to form new synaptic connections. He discovered that damaged nerves in the central nervous system (CNS) could be repaired and developed the theory that white matter (nerve fibres and supporting cells) is like a pathway – when it is disrupted by injury, such as spinal cord injury, growth of the regenerating fibres is blocked. In 1985 he described how olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) “open doors” for newly formed nerve fibres in the nose to enter the CNS. Believing that reconstruction of the damaged pathway is essential to repair of the injured CNS and using the unique door-opening capability of OECs, in 1997, together with colleagues, Geoffrey showed that transplantation of OECs into the damaged spinal cord in experimental models repairs the damaged pathway and results in the regeneration of severed nerve fibres and the restoration of lost functions. The study led to a joint clinical trial with Pawel Tabakow and his team at Wroclaw Medical University, Poland. In 2014 the first patient with a complete severance of the thoracic spinal cord received transplantation of his own OECs. The operation enabled the patient, Darek Fidyka, to gain significant neurological recovery of sensation and voluntary movement. He can now get out of his wheelchair and ride a tricycle. The wider application of OECs has also been investigated. In 2012, with his team at University College London, collaborating with the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Southwest hospital, at the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China, Geoffrey described the protective effect of OECs in an experimental glaucoma model. The discovery has led to a plan to translate this research to clinical application which, it is hoped, will help many sufferers regain sight.

Keyword: Regeneration; Glia
Link ID: 23266 - Posted: 02.22.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Three people with paralysis have learned to type by thought alone using a brain implant – at the fastest speeds recorded using such a system. Two have motor neurone disease, also known as ALS – a degenerative disorder that destroys neurons associated with movement – while the other has a spinal cord injury. All three have weakness or paralysis in all of their limbs. There is a chance that those with ALS will eventually lose the ability to speak, too, says Jaimie Henderson, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University Medical Center in California. People who have lost the ability to talk may be offered devices that allow them to select letters on a screen using head, cheek or eye movements. This is how Stephen Hawking communicates, for example. But brain-machine interfaces are also being developed in the hope that they may one day be a more intuitive way of communicating. These involve reading brain activity, either externally or via an implant embedded in the brain, and turning it into a signal that can be used to direct something in the environment. At the moment, these devices are a little slow. Henderson and his colleagues wanted to make a device that was quicker and easier to use than those currently in trials. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease ; Robotics
Link ID: 23264 - Posted: 02.22.2017

Many people think of fish and seafood as being healthy. However, new research suggests eating certain species that tend to have high levels of mercury may be linked to a greater risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Questions remain about the possible impact of mercury in fish, according to a preliminary study released Monday that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 69th annual meeting in Boston in April. Fish and seafood consumption as a regular part of the diet was not associated with ALS, the study said. "For most people, eating fish is part of a healthy diet," said study author Elijah Stommel of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and a fellow of the academy. In addition, the authors said their study does not negate the fact that eating fish provides many health benefits. Instead, it suggests people may want to choose species that are known to have a lower mercury content, and avoid consuming fish caught in waters where there is mercury contamination. The researchers stressed that more research is needed before fish consumption guidelines for neurodegenerative illness can be made. While the exact cause of ALS is not known, some previous studies have suggested the neurotoxic metal to be a risk factor for ALS, a progressive neurological disease. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease ; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 23257 - Posted: 02.21.2017

By Timothy Revell It can be difficult to communicate when you can only move your eyes, as is often the case for people with ALS (also known as motor neurone disease). Microsoft researchers have developed an app to make talking with your eyes easier, called GazeSpeak. GazeSpeak runs on a smartphone and uses artificial intelligence to convert eye movements into speech, so a conversation partner can understand what is being said in real time. The app runs on the listener’s device. They point their smartphone at the speaker as if they are taking a photo. A sticker on the back of the phone, visible to the speaker, shows a grid with letters grouped into four boxes corresponding to looking left, right, up and down. As the speaker gives different eye signals, GazeSpeak registers them as letters. “For example, to say the word ‘task’ they first look down to select the group containing ‘t’, then up to select the group containing ‘a’, and so on,” says Xiaoyi Zhang, who developed GazeSpeak whilst he was an intern at Microsoft. GazeSpeak selects the appropriate letter from each group by predicting the word the speaker wants to say based on the most common English words, similar to predictive text messaging. The speaker indicates they have finished a word by winking or looking straight ahead for two seconds. The system also takes into account added lists of words, like names or places that the speaker is likely to use. The top four word predictions are shown onscreen, and the top one is read aloud. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease ; Robotics
Link ID: 23248 - Posted: 02.18.2017

Sarah Jane Tribble In response to outrage from patients and lawmakers, Marathon Pharmaceuticals has delayed the launch of an $89,000 drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The company had announced the annual list price for Emflaza, which is a steroid, after the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Thursday. Emflaza is approved as an orphan drug, which means it is intended to treat a rare disease. Duchenne is an inherited disorder that causes muscles to become weak. There is no cure for the condition, which mainly affects boys, but some drugs, including Emflaza, are used to lessen symptoms. For years, many American patients have imported deflazacort, the generic version of Emflaza, for about $1,200 a year. But because the medicine wasn't approved in the U.S., the cost of the medicine wasn't typically covered by insurers. That contrast in price between became a flash point Monday as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent a letter to Marathon on Monday morning demanding answers about the $89,000 price for a drug that isn't new. It has been used routinely by Duchenne patients in the U.S. since at least 2005. "We believe Marathon is abusing our nation's 'orphan drug' program, which grants companies seven years of market exclusivity to encourage research into new treatments for rare diseases — not to provide companies like Marathon with lucrative market exclusivity rights for drugs that have been available for decades," Sanders and Cummings wrote. Marathon said FDA approval would help more patients get the drug. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 23234 - Posted: 02.15.2017