Chapter 5. The Sensorimotor System

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By Concepción de León Pat Quinn, who helped raise $220 million to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., by promoting the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014, died on Sunday, seven years after he learned he had the disease. He was 37. His death, at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y., was confirmed by the A.L.S. Association and in a post on his official Facebook page. Mr. Quinn did not create the challenge, in which people dumped buckets of ice water on their heads while pledging to donate money to fight A.L.S. But he and his friend Pete Frates, who also had A.L.S., are credited with amplifying it and helping to make it a sensation in the summer and fall of 2014, raising tens of millions of dollars for research and, perhaps nearly as important, wider awareness of the disease. “Pat changed the trajectory of the fight against A.L.S. forever,” Calaneet Balas, the president and chief executive of the A.L.S. Association, said in a statement on Sunday. “He inspired millions to get involved and care about people who are living with A.L.S.” A.L.S., also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that attacks the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movements and leads to full paralysis. People with the disease typically live three to five years from the time of diagnosis, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Shortly after Mr. Quinn learned he had A.L.S. in 2013, he created Quinn for the Win, a Facebook group, to raise awareness of the disease and to raise money to fight for a cure. Mr. Frates created his own page, Team Frate Train, with the same goal. In July 2014, Mr. Quinn and Mr. Frates saw another A.L.S. patient, Anthony Senerchia, do the Ice Bucket Challenge online. They created their own ice-bucket videos and shared the challenge with their followers. (Mr. Frates died last year at age 34.) In Her Words: Where women rule the headlines. From there, the campaign spread wildly, with Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James and scores of other celebrities participating and donating to the cause. The challenge raised $115 million for the A.L.S. Association and $220 million around the world for A.L.S. research in the span of just six weeks, the A.L.S. Association said. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 27596 - Posted: 11.30.2020

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. It started to drizzle just moments after the 24-year-old man crossed the finish line of the 2017 New York City Marathon. It was his first marathon, and he felt both elated and exhausted as the medal given for completing the brutal race was draped around his neck. A goody bag containing an energy drink was put in his left hand. It felt strangely heavy. His whole body ached and trembled with fatigue, but somehow that left arm felt even more tired. Unconcerned, he switched the bag to his right hand and went in search of his partner. Recovery took longer than he expected. It was a day and a half before his legs were strong enough for him to walk down stairs facing forward, rather than the sideways shuffle that his tired muscles insisted on. But by the end of the week he felt mostly normal. Only that left shoulder remained tired, sore and stiff. He went to a nearby walk-in clinic just south of City Hall. The nurse practitioner who examined him thought he had a rotator-cuff injury. She recommended a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen, physical therapy and time. The ibuprofen didn’t help much; neither did the physical therapy. That weekend he headed to the gym — his first workout since the race. He did his usual set of reps on his right biceps and triceps. But when he transferred the 25-pound dumbbell to his left hand, it seemed heavier. He struggled through two curls, but on the third the muscles in his arm turned wobbly. He grabbed the weight with his right hand and lowered it to the ground. By the time he got home, straightening his aching arm was excruciating, as if the muscles were too short to allow a full extension. That scared him. And it only got worse. The next day his whole arm was achy and tight. He couldn’t even work on his computer. Thinking back, the young runner questioned the assumption — shared by both him and the nurse practitioner — that the injury had occurred during the race. Now he suspected it started weeks earlier. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 27587 - Posted: 11.21.2020

Linda Geddes Many of the side-effects attributed to statins could be down to the “nocebo effect”, which occurs when someone expects to experience negative symptoms – even if the drug is a placebo – a study suggests. Statins are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK, taken by nearly eight million people to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Yet, despite their effectiveness, up to a fifth of people stop taking them because of side-effects, such as fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain and nausea. Clinical studies have suggested, however, the incidence of side-effects is far lower. Researchers led by Frances Wood and Dr James Howard at Imperial College London recruited 60 patients who had been on statins, but stopped taking them owing to adverse effects. They were persuaded to resume treatment, and given four bottles containing atorvastatin, four bottles containing identical-looking placebo pills and four empty bottles, to be taken in a randomly prescribed order over the course of a year – including four months taking no pills. Each day, they recorded any side-effects on a smartphone, ranking their intensity from zero to 100. The researchers found 90% of symptoms experienced by the patients were present when they took placebo tablets. Also, 24 patients stopped taking tablets for at least one month of the trial, citing intolerable side-effects – amounting to 71 stoppages in total. Of these, 31 occurred during placebo months and 40 were during statin months. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Attention
Link ID: 27582 - Posted: 11.16.2020

By Elisabeth Egan Two years ago, Michael J. Fox had surgery to remove a benign tumor on his spinal cord. The actor and activist, who had been living with Parkinson’s disease for nearly three decades, had to learn to walk all over again. Four months later, he fell in the kitchen of his Upper East Side home and fractured his arm so badly that it had to be stabilized with 19 pins and a plate. Mired in grueling, back-to-back recoveries, he started to wonder if he had oversold the idea of hope in his first three memoirs, “Lucky Man,” “Always Looking Up” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future.” “I had this kind of crisis of conscience,” Fox said during a video interview last month from his Manhattan office, where pictures of Tracy Pollan, his wife of 31 years, and his dog, Gus, hung behind him. “I thought, what have I been telling people? I tell people it’s all going to be OK — and it might suck!” His solution was to channel that honesty into a fourth memoir, “No Time Like the Future,” which Flatiron is publishing on Nov. 17. For an example of his new outlook, consider his perspective on traveling by wheelchair. “It can be a frustrating and isolating experience, allowing someone else to determine the direction I’m going and the rate of speed I can travel. The pusher is in charge,” Fox writes. “From the point of view of the occupant of the chair, it’s a world of asses and elbows. No one can hear me. To compensate, I raise my voice and suddenly feel like Joan Crawford in ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,’ barking out orders.” He continues: “Generally the person in control is a stranger, an airport or hotel employee. I’m sure that if we could look each other in the eye, we’d recognize our mutual humanity. But often in the wheelchair, I’m luggage. I’m not expected to say much. Just sit still.” Later, he adds, “No one listens to luggage.” Before the spinal surgery, Fox was working on a book about golf. “Then life happened,” he said. “I started thinking about what it meant to be able to move and express myself physically, to have that taken away. And then dealing with the surrender it takes to lie down and say, ‘Cut me open.’ I don’t know what that’s like for anybody else, but I can figure out what it’s like for me and write it down.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 27580 - Posted: 11.14.2020

By Giorgia Guglielmi, Spectrum A small clinical trial of a gene therapy for Angelman syndrome—a rare genetic condition related to autism—is on hold after two participants temporarily lost the ability to walk. The safety issue is important to resolve, experts say, given that the therapy otherwise appears to be effective, and the trial could guide treatment strategies for similar brain conditions. Biopharmaceutical company Ultragenyx in Novato, California, in collaboration with Florida-based biotech startup GeneTx, launched the trial in February to assess the safety of a therapy for Angelman syndrome, a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by intellectual disability, balance and motor problems, seizures, sleep problems and, in some cases, autism. Angelman syndrome results from the mutation or absence of a gene called UBE3A. People inherit two copies of UBE3A. Typically, only the maternal copy is active in neurons and the paternal copy is silent. But in people with Angelman syndrome, the maternal copy is mutated or missing, so their brain cells express no active UBE3A protein. The drug developed by Ultragenyx and GeneTx, called GTX-102, is a short snippet of RNA called an antisense oligonucleotide that activates the paternal copy of UBE3A and aims to restore the protein to typical levels. Three other companies—Roche, Biogen, and Ionis—are pursuing similar therapies for the syndrome. On 26 October, Ultragenyx and GeneTx reported that the clinical trial had enrolled five individuals with Angelman syndrome, aged 5 to 15. The plan had been to administer to each participant a dose of GTX-102 once a month over four months. Researchers injected the drug directly into the nutrient-rich solution that envelops the brain and spinal cord through a site in the lower back. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 27572 - Posted: 11.07.2020

By Gretchen Reynolds Roiled by concerns about the pandemic and politics? Lifting weights might help, according to a timely new study of anxiety and resistance training. The study, which involved healthy young adults, barbells and lunges, indicates that regular weight training substantially reduces anxiety, a finding with particular relevance during these unsettling, bumpy days. We already have plenty of evidence that exercise helps stave off depression and other mental ills, and that exercise can elevate feelings of happiness and contentment. But most past studies of exercise and moods have looked at the effects of aerobic exercise, like running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. Scientists only recently have begun to investigate whether and how weight training might also affect mental health. A 2018 review of studies, for instance, concluded that adults who lift weights are less likely to develop depression than those who never lift. In another study, women with clinical anxiety disorders reported fewer symptoms after taking up either aerobic or weight training. But many of these studies involved frequent and complicated sessions of resistance exercise performed under the eyes of researchers, which is not how most of us are likely to work out. They also often focused on somewhat narrow groups, such as men or women with a diagnosed mental health condition like depression or an anxiety disorder, limiting their applicability. So for the new study, which was published in October in Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland and other institutions decided to see if a simple version of weight training could have benefits for mood in people who already were in generally good mental health. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 27568 - Posted: 11.07.2020

By Carolyn Wilke Fish fins aren’t just for swimming. They’re feelers, too. The fins of round gobies can detect textures with a sensitivity similar to that of the pads on monkeys’ fingers, researchers report November 3 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Compared with landlubbers, little is known about aquatic animals’ sense of touch. And for fish, “we used to only think of fins as motor structures,” says Adam Hardy, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago. “But it’s really becoming increasingly clear that fins play important sensory roles.” Studying those sensory roles can hint at ways to mimic nature for robotics and provide a window into the evolution of touch. The newfound parallels between primates and fish suggest that limbs that sense physical forces emerged early, before splits in the vertebrate evolutionary tree led to animals with fins, arms and legs, says Melina Hale, a neurobiologist and biomechanist also at the University of Chicago. “These capabilities arose incredibly early and maybe set the stage for what we can do with our hands now and what fish can do with their fins in terms of touch.” Hardy and Hale measured the activity of nerves in the fins of bottom-dwelling round gobies (Neogobius melanostomus) to get a sense of what fish learn about texture from their fins. In the wild, round gobies brush against the bottom surface and rest there on their large pectoral fins. “They’re really well suited to testing these sorts of questions,” Hardy says. Working with fins from six euthanized gobies, the researchers recorded electrical spikes from their nerves as a bumpy plastic ring attached to a motor rolled lightly above each fin. A salt solution keeps the nerves functioning as they would if the nerves were in a live fish, Hardy says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Evolution
Link ID: 27564 - Posted: 11.04.2020

By Sam Roberts Chris Pendergast, a Long Island teacher who defied the odds by surviving 27 years with Lou Gehrig’s disease, leading marathon “rides for life” for hundreds of miles from his motorized wheelchair to publicize the plight of fellow patients and raise $10 million for research, died on Oct. 14 at his home in Miller Place, N.Y. He was 71. His wife, Christine Pendergast, said the cause was complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the medical term for the disease that ended the career of Gehrig, the Yankee first baseman who, after playing in 2,130 consecutive games, proclaimed himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Gehrig died two years later, shortly before his 38th birthday. Mr. Pendergast was a 44-year-old teacher of gifted students at Dickinson Avenue elementary school in East Northport, on Long Island, when his eyes and hands began twitching and he started getting muscle spasms. On Oct. 13, 1993, he received the diagnosis: He had A.L.S., a degenerative disease, which diminishes muscle function and eventually the ability to breathe. The prognosis: He had three to five years to live. But Mr. Pendergast proved to be indomitable. He recast himself as the disease’s self-described squeaky wheel — “Since there’s no surviving constituency for A.L.S., there’s no squeaky wheel,” he told The New York Times in 2008. He founded the A.L.S. Ride for Life in 1997. The following year it mounted a 350-mile, two-week cavalcade from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Washington, with Mr. Pendergast leading it from his wheelchair. Subsequent annual rides went from Long Island’s East End to Manhattan with a small group of fellow patients. “We are dying men riding for life,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 2000. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 27557 - Posted: 10.31.2020

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. The 61-year-old woman put on her reading glasses to try to decipher the tiny black squiggles on the back of the package of instant pudding. Was it two cups of milk? Or three? The glasses didn’t seem to help. The fuzzy, faded marks refused to become letters. The right side of her head throbbed — as it had for weeks. The constant aggravation of the headache made everything harder, and it certainly wasn’t helping her read this label. She rubbed her forehead, then brought her hand down to cover her right eye. The box disappeared into darkness. She could see only the upper-left corner of the instructions. Everything else was black. She quickly moved her hand to cover her left eye. The tiny letters sprang into focus. She moved back to the right: blackness. Over to the left: light and letters. That scared her. For the past few months, she’d had one of the worst headaches she had ever experienced in her lifetime of headaches. One that wouldn’t go away no matter how much ibuprofen she took. One that persisted through all the different medications she was given for her migraines. Was this terrible headache now affecting her vision? The neurologists she saw over the years always asked her about visual changes. She’d never had them, until now. “Should I take you to the hospital?” her husband asked anxiously when she told him about her nearly sightless left eye. “This could be serious.” She thought for a moment. No, tomorrow was Monday; her neurologist’s office would be open, and the doctor would see her right away. She was always reliable that way. The patient had bad headaches for most of her adult life. They were always on the right side. They were always throbbing. They could last for days, or weeks, or sometimes months. Loud noises were always bothersome. With really bad headaches, her eye would water and her nose would run, just on that side. Bending over was agony. For the past few weeks, her headache had been so severe that if she dropped something on the floor, she had to leave it there. When she bent down, the pounding was excruciating. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Vision
Link ID: 27553 - Posted: 10.28.2020

By Perri Klass, M.D. In a new report on pediatric pain in the British medical journal The Lancet, a commission of experts, including scientists, doctors, psychologists, parents and patients, challenged those who take care of children to end what they described as the common undertreatment of pain in children, starting at birth. Isabel Jordan, of Squamish, British Columbia, took part as a parent partner, along with her son Zachary, 19, who has a genetic condition, and lives with chronic pain. “Pain matters with every child and at every intersection with the health care system,” she said. But for her son, “it didn’t matter with many providers, doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, and that made for worse outcomes.” “The professionals had a wealth of knowledge and experience, but what they lacked was the knowledge of what was really impacting patients in day-to-day life, they didn’t know how impactful poorly managed procedural pain was to patients,” especially children like her son who have ongoing medical issues, Ms. Jordan said. “He’s got a rare disease and has had a lifetime of chronic pain and also procedure pain.” Although we often pride ourselves, in pediatrics, on taking a kinder and gentler approach to our patients, pain experts feel that children’s pain is often taken for granted, and that simple and reliable strategies to mitigate it are disregarded; such as, for example, the 2015 World Health Organization recommendations that infants should be held by parents and perhaps breastfed during immunizations, and that distraction techniques should be used with older children. Christopher Eccleston, a professor of pain science and medical psychology at the University of Bath, where he directs the Centre for Pain Research, was the lead author on the report. He became interested in pediatric pain through working with adults with chronic pain, he said, and realizing that many of them had pain going back into adolescence, which had not been treated. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 27548 - Posted: 10.26.2020

By Pam Belluck A potential therapy for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal neurological disorder, may allow patients to live several months longer than they otherwise would have, according to a study published Friday. The two-drug combination, dreamed up by two college students, is one of several potential treatments raising the hopes of patients with A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The paralytic condition steals people’s ability to walk, speak, eat and ultimately breathe, typically causing death within two to five years. There are only two approved A.L.S. medications, neither tremendously effective. But advocacy efforts by patients and organizations, along with the Ice Bucket Challenge, a highly successful fundraising campaign, have galvanized research into more than 20 therapies that are currently in clinical trials. The two-drug combination, called AMX0035, was conceived seven years ago by Joshua Cohen and Justin Klee, then a junior and senior at Brown University, with the goal of preventing the destruction of neurons that occurs in many brain disorders. It is a combination of an existing supplement and a medication for a pediatric urea disorder. Last month, a study of 137 patients reported that AMX0035 slowed progression of A.L.S. paralysis by about 25 percent more than a placebo. Measuring patients using a scale of physical function, researchers found that those receiving a placebo declined in 18 weeks to a level that patients receiving the treatment didn’t reach until 24 weeks, according to the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Sabrina Paganoni. But because that trial was conducted for only 24 weeks, it left unanswered a crucial question of whether the treatment extended survival for the patients receiving the therapy. After that study ended, 98 of the participants, who had not been told whether they had received placebo or therapy, were given the option of taking the therapy for up to 30 months, a format called an open-label extension study. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 27533 - Posted: 10.19.2020

By Gunjan Sinha Light therapy can help lift moods, heal wounds, and boost the immune system. Can it improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, too? A first-of-its-kind trial scheduled to launch this fall in France aims to find out. In seven patients, a fiber optic cable implanted in their brain will deliver pulses of near-infrared (NIR) light directly to the substantia nigra, a region deep in the brain that degenerates in Parkinson’s disease. The team, led by neurosurgeon Alim- Louis Benabid of the Clinatec Institute—a partnership between several government-funded research institutes and industry—hopes the light will protect cells there from dying. The study is one of several set to explore how Parkinson’s patients might benefit from light. “I am so excited,” says neuropsychologist Dawn Bowers of the University of Florida College of Medicine, who is recruiting patients for a trial in which NIR will be beamed into the skull instead of delivered with an implant. Small tests in people with Parkinson’s and animal models of the disease have already suggested benefits, but some mainstream Parkinson’s researchers are skeptical. No one has shown exactly how light might protect the key neurons—or why it should have any effect at all on cells buried deep in the brain that never see the light of day. Much or all of the encouraging hints seen so far in people may be the result of the placebo effect, skeptics say. Because there are no biomarkers that correlate well with changes in Parkinson’s symptoms, “we are reliant on observing behavior,” says neurobiologist David Sulzer of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, an editor of the journal npj Parkinson’s Disease. “It’s not easy to guard against placebo effects.” © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 27482 - Posted: 09.19.2020

By Laura J. Snyder I’m an inveterate storyteller,” confesses the celebrated neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks at the start of Oliver Sacks: His Own Life. “I tell many stories, some comic, some tragic.” Tales of both types abound in this elegiac yet lighthearted film based on director Ric Burns’s interviews with Sacks and his friends, colleagues, family members, and patients in the months before and after the physician’s death in 2015 at the age of 82. The result is a vivid portrait of an ebullient, provocative, brilliant man who transformed the practice of medicine and spearheaded the neurodiversity movement. Born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family in northwest London in 1933, Sacks was the youngest of four sons. He was an outsider: one of only three Jews at his elite prep school; a gay adolescent at a time when gay sex was illegal; an introverted, dreamy, chemistry-obsessed boy in a family of accomplished physicians. His father was a general practitioner who made house calls, and his mother was one of the first female surgeons in England. His two eldest brothers were already studying medicine when he was in high school. Sacks dutifully followed his expected career path and was drawn to neurology when his third brother, Michael, developed schizophrenia. But after completing medical training, Sacks fled the homophobic confines of his nation and family—his mother had called him “an abomination.” Paul Theroux tells Burns that Sacks’s “great luck” was ending up in Los Angeles in 1960, where he found ample “guys, weights, drugs, and hospitals.” © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 27477 - Posted: 09.19.2020

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. The pain woke the 52-year-old physician from a dead sleep. It was as if all the muscles in his right leg, from those in the buttock down his thigh to the very bottom of his calf, were on fire. He shifted slightly to see if he could find a more comfortable position. There was a jag of pain, and he almost cried out. He glanced at the clock: 4 a.m. In just three hours he would have to get up. He had a full day of patients to see. Massage didn’t help. He couldn’t get comfortable lying flat, so finally he moved to the living room, to a recliner. Only then, and only by lying completely still, did he manage to get the pain to abate. He drifted off, but never for long. The searing pain in his leg and buttock slowly eased, and by the time his alarm went off, he could stand and walk — though his muscles still ached and he had to baby his right leg, causing a limp. Between patients, he arranged to see his own doctor. He’d had pain off and on in his buttocks, one side or the other, for more than a year. The pain was in the middle of each cheek and was worse when he was sitting and at the end of the day. Walking to and from his car on the way home was brutal. And then, as mysteriously as it came, it would disappear — only to come back a week or two later. When he first told his doctor about his pain, the exam didn’t show much. He was a little tender at the bottom of the bones you sit on, called the ischia. His doctor thought it was ischial bursitis. Between the tips of the ischia and the largest muscles of the buttocks, there are little pads called bursae. Sometimes these pads become inflamed. The man’s doctor recommended stretching exercises for the muscles around the bursae. He did them regularly, though he wasn’t sure they helped. The pain he had that night, though, was different, and a whole lot worse. Again, his doctor couldn’t find much. Maybe it was a kind of nerve pain, like sciatica, the patient suggested. The doctor agreed and ordered an M.R.I. to look for a pinched nerve. The result was normal. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 27474 - Posted: 09.16.2020

By Gretchen Reynolds Exercise makes it easier to bounce back from too much stress, according to a fascinating new study with mice. It finds that regular exercise increases the levels of a chemical in the animals’ brains that helps them remain psychologically resilient and plucky, even when their lives seem suddenly strange, intimidating and filled with threats. The study involved mice, but it is likely to have implications for our species, too, as we face the stress and discombobulation of the ongoing pandemic and today’s political and social disruptions. Stress can, of course, be our ally. Emergencies and perils require immediate responses, and stress results in a fast, helpful flood of hormones and other chemicals that prime our bodies to act. “If a tiger jumps out at you, you should run,” says David Weinshenker, a professor of human genetics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and the senior author of the new study. The stress response, in that situation, is appropriate and valuable. But if, afterward, we “jump at every little noise” and shrink from shadows, we are overreacting to the original stress, Dr. Weinshenker continues. Our response has become maladaptive, because we no longer react with appropriate dread to dreadful things but with twitchy anxiety to the quotidian. We lack stress resilience. In interesting past research, scientists have shown that exercise seems to build and amplify stress resilience. Rats that run on wheels for several weeks, for instance, and then experience stress through light shocks to their paws, respond later to unfamiliar — but safe — terrain with less trepidation than sedentary rats that also experience shocks. But the physiological underpinnings of the animals’ relative buoyancy after exercise remain somewhat mysterious. And, rats are just one species. Finding similar relationships between physical activity and resilience in other animals would bolster the possibility that a similar link exists in people. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 27461 - Posted: 09.09.2020

By Amanda Loudin Last summer while out on a bike ride, 35-year-old Andrew Bernstein of Boulder, Colo., was hit by a van that knocked him off the road and kept on going. A passing driver spotted Bernstein lying, unmoving, in a ditch and called 911. Bernstein’s injuries were life threatening. After multiple surgeries, 10 weeks recovering in the hospital and more than three weeks in inpatient rehab, Bernstein has spent the better part of every week since then working with a number of practitioners to help him progress to where he is today — in a wheelchair and walking with the assistance of a full-length leg brace and crutches. But almost all of that effort came to a complete halt when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and all of his physical therapy facilities either closed or dramatically reduced their patient contact. “I typically worked with a variety of therapists nine or 10 times a week at four different facilities,” Andrew Bernstein says. He was given a home-based plan but “the disruptions to my therapies was challenging. It was frustrating to do without supervision, because my condition changes from one week to the next, something my therapists might notice even if I don’t.”“I typically worked with a variety of therapists nine or 10 times a week at four different facilities,” Andrew Bernstein says. He was given a home-based plan but “the disruptions to my therapies was challenging. It was frustrating to do without supervision, because my condition changes from one week to the next, something my therapists might notice even if I don’t.”

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 27460 - Posted: 09.09.2020

By Tanya Lewis During Musk’s demonstration, he strolled near a pen containing several pigs, some of which had Neuralink implants. One animal, named Gertrude, had hers for two months. The device’s electrodes were situated in a part of Gertrude’s cortex that connected to neurons in her snout. And for the purposes of the demo, her brain signals were converted to audible bleeps that became more frequent as she sniffed around the pen and enjoyed some tasty treats. Musk also showed off a pig whose implant had been successfully removed to show that the surgery was reversible. Some of the other displayed pigs had multiple implants. Neuralink implantable device Neuralink implantable device, v0.9. Credit: Neuralink Neuralink, which was founded by Musk and a team of engineers and scientists in 2016, unveiled an earlier, wired version of its implant technology in 2019. It had several modules: the electrodes were connected to a USB port in the skull, which was intended to be wired to an external battery and a radio transmitter that were located behind the ear. The latest version consists of a single integrated implant that fits in a hole in the skull and relays data through the skin via a Bluetooth radio. The wireless design makes it seem much more practical for human use but limits the bandwidth of data that can be sent, compared with state-of-the-art brain-computer interfaces. The company’s goal, Musk said in the demo, is to “solve important spine and brain problems with a seamlessly implanted device”—a far cry from his previously stated, much more fantastic aim of allowing humans to merge with artificial intelligence. This time Musk seemed more circumspect about the device’s applications. As before, he insisted the demonstration was purely intended as a recruiting event to attract potential staff. Neuralink’s efforts build on decades of work from researchers in the field of brain-computer interfaces. Although technically impressive, this wireless brain implant is not the first to be tested in pigs or other large mammals.] © 2020 Scientific American,

Keyword: Robotics; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 27457 - Posted: 09.07.2020

By Pam Belluck Seven years ago, Joshua Cohen, then a junior at Brown University majoring in biomedical engineering, was captivated by the question of why people develop brain disorders. “How does a neuron die?” he wondered. After poring over scientific studies, he sketched out his ideas for a way to treat them. “I was sitting in my dorm room and I had kind of written out the research on these crazy-looking diagrams,” he recalled. A study published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the experimental treatment he and another Brown student, Justin Klee, conceived might hold promise for slowing progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the ruthless disease that robs people of their ability to move, speak, eat and ultimately breathe. More than 50 clinical trials over 25 years have failed to find effective treatments for A.L.S., also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, which often causes death within two to five years. But now, scientific advances and an influx of funding are driving clinical trials for many potential therapies, generating hope and intense discussion among patients, doctors and researchers. The new study reported that a two-drug combination slowed progression of A.L.S. paralysis by about six weeks over about six months, approximately 25 percent more than a placebo. On average, patients on a placebo declined in 18 weeks to a level that patients receiving the treatment didn’t reach until 24 weeks, said the principal investigator, Dr. Sabrina Paganoni, a neuromuscular medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Healey & AMG Center for A.L.S. “It’s such a terrible disease and as you can imagine, for the folks who have it or the family members, it’s just desperation that something’s going to work,” said Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “Any kind of slowing of progression for a patient with A.L.S. might be valuable even though it’s not a big effect.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 27455 - Posted: 09.05.2020

Ian Sample Science editor Brain scans of cosmonauts have revealed the first clear evidence of how the organ adapts to the weird and often sickness-inducing challenge of moving around in space. Analysis of scans taken from 11 cosmonauts, who spent about six months each in orbit, found increases in white and grey matter in three brain regions that are intimately involved in physical movement. The changes reflect the “neuroplasticity” of the brain whereby neural tissue, in this case the cells that govern movement or motor activity, reconfigures itself to cope with the fresh demands of life in orbit. “With the techniques we used, we can clearly see there are microstructural changes in three major areas of the brain that are involved in motor processing,” said Steven Jillings, a neuroscientist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. Visitors to the International Space Station face a dramatic shock to the system for a whole host of reasons, but one of the most striking is weightlessness. While the space station and its occupants are firmly in the grip of gravity – they are constantly falling around the planet – the body must recalibrate its senses to cope with the extreme environment. Images of the cosmonauts’ brains, taken before and after missions lasting on average 171 days, and again seven months later, confirmed that the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain redistributes itself in orbit, pushing the brain up towards the top of the skull. This also expands fluid-filled cavities called ventricles, which may be linked to a loss of sharpness in the cosmonauts’ vision, a condition called spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome or Sans. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27453 - Posted: 09.05.2020

By Gillian R. Brassil and Jeré Longman A restrictive Idaho law — temporarily blocked by a federal judge Monday night — has amplified a charged debate about who should be allowed to compete in women’s sports, as transgender athletes have become increasingly accepted on the playing field while still facing strong resistance from some competitors and lawmakers. While scientific and societal views of sex and gender identity have changed significantly in recent decades, a vexing question persists regarding athletes who transition from male to female: how to balance inclusivity, competitive fairness and safety. There are no uniform guidelines — in fact the existing rules that govern sports often conflict — to determine the eligibility of transgender women and girls (policy battles have so far primarily centered on regulating women’s sports). And there is scant research on elite transgender athletes to guide sports officials as they attempt to provide equitable access to sports while reconciling any residual physiological advantages that may carry on from puberty. Dr. Eric Vilain, a geneticist specializing in sexual development who has advised the N.C.A.A. and the International Olympic Committee on policies for transgender athletes, said that sports leaders were confronted with “two almost irreconcilable positions” in setting eligibility standards — one relying on an athlete’s declared gender and the other on biological litmus tests. Politics, too, have entered the debate in a divided United States. While transgender people have broadly been more accepted across the country, the Trump administration and some states have sought to roll back protections for transgender people in health care, the military and other areas of civil rights, fueling a rise in hate crimes, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In March, Idaho became the first state to bar transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27426 - Posted: 08.20.2020