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Jenny Rood In 1999, a paper in Nature Medicine reported that mouse models of the fatal neurodegenerative disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis fared better with a simple treatment: a diet supplemented with creatine, a compound that helps regulate energy levels in the brain and muscles (5:347–50). That promising, albeit preliminary, result soon launched not one but three clinical trials, with a total of 386 patients in the US and Europe. Disappointingly, the trials revealed that creatine had no effect in people. It was a familiar outcome: more than 50 other clinical trials of potential amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) drugs, ranging from lithium to celecoxib (Celebrex), have failed. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS results from the degeneration and death of motor neurons, and affects approximately two to five of every 100,000 people worldwide. ALS’s devastating symptoms—including progressively worsening muscle weakness and spasming, and difficulties with speech, swallowing, and breathing, leading ultimately to paralysis and death—have led to an intense hunt for treatments to halt its progression. Unfortunately, the desire to give patients hope has often outstripped good scientific sense. “Many drugs that have gone into ALS clinical trials shouldn’t have, because the preclinical data package didn’t support it,” says Steve Perrin, CEO and CSO of the nonprofit ALS Therapy Development Institute (TDI) based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Only five of the 420 ALS therapy candidates that his center has retested in mouse and cellular models have shown a therapeutic effect. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 25469 - Posted: 09.20.2018

NIH-funded researchers delayed signs of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in rodents by injecting them with a second-generation drug designed to silence the gene, superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). The results, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggest the newer version of the drug may be effective at treating an inherited form of the disease caused by mutations in SOD1. Currently, the drug is being tested in an ALS clinical trial (NCT02623699). ALS destroys motor neurons responsible for activating muscles, causing patients to rapidly lose muscle strength and their ability to speak, swallow, move, and breathe. Most die within three to five years of symptom onset. Previous studies suggested that a gene therapy drug, called an antisense oligonucleotide, could be used to treat a form of ALS caused by mutations in the gene SOD1. These drugs turned off SOD1 by latching onto versions the gene encoded in messenger RNA (mRNA), tagging them for disposal and preventing SOD1 protein production. Using rats and mice genetically modified to carry normal or disease-mutant versions of human SOD1, a team of researchers led by Timothy M. Miller, M.D., Ph.D., Washington University, St. Louis, MO, discovered that newer versions of the drug may be more effective at treating ALS than the earlier one that had been tested in a phase 1 clinical trial. For instance, injections of the newer versions were more efficient at reducing normal, human SOD1 mRNA levels in rats and mice and they helped rats, genetically modified to carry a disease-causing mutation in SOD1, live much longer than previous versions of the drug. Injections of the new drugs also delayed the age at which mice carrying a disease-mutant SOD1 gene had trouble balancing on a rotating rod and appeared to prevent muscle weakness and loss of connections between nerves and muscles, suggesting it could treat the muscle activation problems caused by ALS. These and other results were the basis for a current phase 1 clinical trial testing the next generation drug in ALS patients (NCT02623699).

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 25261 - Posted: 07.27.2018

A new neck brace for people with motor neurone disease (MND) makes a "substantial difference" to their quality of life, a patient has said. The disease causes muscle wasting, eventually leaving people with the condition unable to support their head. MND patient Philip Brindle said the collar, designed in Sheffield, "opened up opportunities that I do not think I would have had otherwise". The device is now being used by 25 NHS Trusts, according to its designers. MND is a progressive and terminal disease that damages the function of nerves and leads to muscle wasting and mobility problems, among other symptoms. It affects up to 5,000 adults in the UK, according to charity the MND Association. Dr Brian Dickie, director of research development at the association, said the collar has been "preferred by the majority of people who tried it". Image caption Mr Brindle's MND has left him unable to hold his head up independently Mr Brindle, 72, from Chesterfield, said since he was diagnosed with MND in 2015 his head had begun to drop and he did not want to be seen in public. "I just do not have the strength to hold [my head] up anymore and that makes life extremely unpleasant," he said. "You can't read, you can't watch TV, you can't have a conversation with anyone and you can't eat or drink with your head in that position." Image caption The Head Up collar is made from the same material used in space suits The new collar was designed by researchers at the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, together with patients and clinicians at Sheffield Teaching Hospital. It has a soft fabric base, made from a material used by NASA to make space suits, on to which a series of shaped supports can be added to provide additional stability. © 2018 BBC

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 25033 - Posted: 05.30.2018

Aided by advanced stem cell technology and tissue chips, National Institutes of Health-funded researchers used stem cells originally derived from a person’s skin to recreate interactions between blood vessels and neurons that may occur early in the formation of the fetal human spinal cord. The results published in Stem Cell Reports suggest that the system can mimic critical parts of the human nervous system, raising the possibility that it may one day, be used to test personalized treatments of neurological disorders. Led by Samuel Sances, Ph.D., and Clive N. Svendsen, Ph.D., Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, Los Angeles, CA, the researchers first converted the stem cells into newborn spinal cord neurons or epithelial cells that line walls of brain blood vessels. In most experiments, each cell type was then injected into one of two chambers embedded side-by-side in thumb-sized, plastic tissue chips and allowed to grow. Six days after injections, the researchers found that the growing neurons exclusively filled their chambers while the growing blood vessel cells not only lined their chamber in a cobblestone pattern reminiscent of vessels in the body, but also snuck through the perforations in the chamber walls and contacted the neurons. This appeared to enhance maturation of both cell types, causing the neurons to fire more often and both cell types to be marked by some gene activity found in fetal spinal cord cells. Tissue chips are relatively new tools for medical research and since 2012 the NIH has funded several tissue-chip projects. Unlike traditional petri dish systems, tissue chips help researchers grow cells in more life-like environments. Using microprocessor manufacturing techniques, the chambers can be built to recreate the three-dimensional shapes of critical organ parts and the tight spaces that mimic the way viscous, bodily fluids normally flow around the cells.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 24915 - Posted: 04.28.2018

NIH-funded researchers at Stanford University used the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to rapidly identify genes in the human genome that might modify the severity of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) caused by mutations in a gene called C9orf72. The results of the search, published in Nature Genetics, uncovered a new set of genes that may hasten neuron death during the disease. Accounting for nearly 40 percent of inherited cases of ALS and 25 percent of inherited FTD cases, disease-causing mutations in C9orf72 insert extra sequences of DNA, called hexanucleotide repeats, into the gene. These repeats produce potentially toxic RNA and protein molecules that kill neurons resulting in problems with movement and eventually paralysis for ALS patients and language and decision-making problems for FTD patients. Led by Aaron D. Gitler, Ph.D., and Michael C. Bassik, Ph.D., the researchers used CRISPR to disable each gene, one-by-one, in a line of human leukemia cells and then tested whether the cells would survive exposure to toxic proteins derived from the hexanucleotide repeats, called DPRs. Any disabled genes that caused cells to live longer or die faster than normal were considered suspects in DPR toxicity. They confirmed that genes that control the movement of molecules in and out of a cell’s nucleus may be partners. They also identified several new players, including genes that modify chromosomes and that help cells assemble proteins passing through a maze-like structure called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). A second CRISPR search conducted on mouse brain cells confirmed the initial results. Disabling the top 200 genes identified in the leukemia cells helped neurons survive DPR exposure.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 24745 - Posted: 03.13.2018

By Katarina Zimmer | CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing can extend survival in a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disease, according to a study published yesterday (December 20) in Science Advances. “The treatment did not make the ALS mice normal and it is not yet a cure,” study coauthor David Schaffer, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, says in a press release. “But based upon what I think is a really strong proof of concept, CRISPR-Cas9 could be a therapeutic molecule for ALS.” ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects some 20,000 Americans and is characterized by the premature death of motor neurons in the brain stem and spinal cord. The disease causes progressive muscle deterioration and eventually results in paralysis and death. There are no available treatments to delay the muscle wasting and currently approved drugs can extend survival by a few months at most. Schaffer and his colleagues suspected that ALS could be treated through genome editing because some forms of the disease (around 20 percent of inherited forms and 2 percent of all cases) are caused by dominant mutations in a gene that encodes superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), an enzyme that helps protect cells against toxic free radicals. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 24454 - Posted: 12.22.2017

(Reuters) - Cytokinetics Inc will stop developing one of its treatments for ALS, which afflicts Stephen Hawking, after the drug failed in a late-stage trial, the company said on Tuesday, sending its shares tumbling about 35 percent. The drugmaker said two of the three doses it was testing failed to show a statistically significant difference compared to a placebo when measured by their ability to lower the lungs’ ‘slow vital capacity’, a measure of respiratory function. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal neuro-degenerative condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Deaths and disability in ALS patients are strongly related to respiratory failure, according to Cytokinetics. More than 6,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the United States every year, according to the ALS Association. ALS garnered international attention in 2014 with the “Ice Bucket Challenge”, which involved people pouring ice-cold water on themselves, posting a video on social media, and donating funds for research on the disease. After the failure of its drug tirasemtiv, Cytokinetics said it will focus on its other ALS treatment, CK-2127107, that it is developing in collaboration with Japan’s Astellas Pharma Inc. Cytokinetics’ chief executive, Robert Blum, said he believes that the limitations of tirasemtiv will be addressed in the development of CK-2127107. © 2017 Business Insider Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 24345 - Posted: 11.22.2017

By JANE E. BRODY A neighbor of mine was recently told he has a devastating neurological disorder that is usually fatal within a few years of diagnosis. Though a new drug was recently approved for the illness, treatments may only slow progression of the disease for a time or extend life for maybe two or three months. He is a man of about 60 I’ve long considered the quintessential Mr. Fix-it, able to repair everything from bicycles to bathtubs. Now he is facing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease — a disease that no one yet knows how to fix. I can only imagine what he is going through because he does not want to talk about it. However, many others similarly afflicted have openly addressed the challenges they faced, though it is usually up to friends and family to express them and advocate for more and better research and public understanding. A.L.S. attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movements, like chewing, walking, breathing, swallowing and talking. It is invariably progressive. Lacking nervous system stimulation, the muscles soon begin to weaken, twitch and waste away until individuals can no longer speak, eat, move or even breathe on their own. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that between 14,000 and 15,000 Americans have A.L.S., which makes it sound like a rare disease, but only because life expectancy is so short. A.L.S. occurs throughout the world, and it is probably far more common than generally thought. Over the course of a lifetime, one person in about 400 is likely to develop it, a risk not unlike that of multiple sclerosis. But with the rare exception of an outlier like the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, who has had A.L.S. for more than 50 years, it usually kills so quickly that many people do not know anyone living with this disease. Only one person in 10 with A.L.S. is likely to live for a decade or longer. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23675 - Posted: 05.29.2017

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23585 - Posted: 05.06.2017

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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23486 - Posted: 04.13.2017

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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23424 - Posted: 03.30.2017

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23396 - Posted: 03.23.2017

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23275 - Posted: 02.24.2017

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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23248 - Posted: 02.18.2017

By STEPH YIN Researchers have designed a system that lets a patient with late-stage Lou Gehrig’s disease type words using brain signals alone. The patient, Hanneke De Bruijne, a doctor of internal medicine from the Netherlands, received a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2008. The neurons controlling her voluntary muscles were dying, and eventually she developed a condition called locked-in syndrome. In this state, she is cognitively aware, but nearly all of her voluntary muscles, except for her eyes, are paralyzed, and she has lost the ability to speak. In 2015, a group of researchers offered an option to help her communicate. Their idea was to surgically implant a brain-computer interface, a system that picks up electrical signals in her brain and relays them to software she can use to type out words. “It’s like a remote control in the brain,” said Nick Ramsey, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands and one of the researchers leading the study. On Saturday, the research team reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that Ms. De Bruijne independently controlled the computer typing program seven months after surgery. Using the system, she is able to spell two or three words a minute. “This is the world’s first totally implanted brain-computer interface system that someone has used in her daily life with some success,” said Dr. Jonathan R. Wolpaw, the director of the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies in Albany. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 22859 - Posted: 11.12.2016

Richard Harris Researchers have launched an innovative medical experiment that's designed to provide quick answers while meeting the needs of patients, rather than drug companies. Traditional studies can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and can take many years. But patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease don't have the time to wait. This progressive muscle-wasting disease is usually fatal within a few years. Scientists in an active online patient community identified a potential treatment and have started to gather data from the participants virtually rather than requiring many in-person doctor's visits. How is that possible? In this case, doctors and patients alike got interested in an extraordinary ALS patient whose symptoms actually got better, which rarely occurs. He'd been taking a dietary supplement called lunasin, "and lo and behold six months later, [his] speech [was] back to normal, swallowing back to normal, doesn't use his feeding tube, [and he was] significantly stronger as measured by his therapists," said Richard Bedlack, a neurologist who runs the ALS clinic at Duke University. Of course, it could just be a coincidence that the man who got better happened to be taking these supplements. To find out, Bedlack teamed up to run a study with Paul Wicks, a neuropsychologist and vice president for innovation at a web-based patient organization called PatientsLikeMe. © 2016 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 22788 - Posted: 10.26.2016

Ian Sample and Nicky Woolf When Bill Gates pulled on a red and white-striped cord to upturn a bucket of iced water positioned delicately over his head, the most immediate thought for many was not, perhaps, of motor neurone disease. But the ice bucket challenge, the charity campaign that went viral in the summer of 2014 and left scores of notable persons from Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to George W. Bush and Anna Wintour shivering and drenched, has paid off in the most spectacular way. Dismissed by some at the time as “slacktivism” - an exercise that appears to do good while achieving very little - the ice bucket challenge raised more than $115m (£88m) for motor neurone disease in a single month. Now, scientists funded with the proceeds have discovered a gene variant associated with the condition. In the near term the NEK1 gene variant, described in the journal Nature Genetics this week, will help scientists understand how the incurable disorder, known also as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, takes hold. Once the mechanisms are more clearly elucidated, it may steer researchers on a path towards much-needed treatments. The work may never have happened were it not for the curious appeal of the frozen water drenchings. The research grants that scientists are awarded do not get close to the €4m the study required. Instead, Project MinE, which aims to unravel the genetic basis of the disease and ultimately find a cure, was funded by the ALS Association through ice bucket challenge donations. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 22487 - Posted: 07.28.2016