Mystery of human brain.


On Brain Awareness Week we can be thankful for remarkable research developments, but we still don’t really have a grasp on how the pattern of electrical and chemical signals results in such amazing things as consciousness, intelligence, and creativity

But what about your brain? When was the last time you sat in a quiet, darkened room with no distractions and allowed your brain to think about itself? Maybe you never have.

Despite some remarkable advances, the brain remains largely a mystery.  We know it is made up of about 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons, connected like wires in a giant telephone exchange.  We know messages pass down them like electrical signals, and jump from one neuron to the next by release of neurotransmitter chemicals.  We even know where many of the different brain functions, such as memory, sight, and smell, reside. But what we don’t really have a grasp on is the link between the micro and the macro: how the pattern of electrical and chemical signals results in such amazing things as consciousness, intelligence, and creativity.

Much of our knowledge comes from studying brain function when things go wrong. One of the most famous cases was an American railroad worker Phineas Gage, who, more than 150 years ago, was cramming gunpowder into a rock with an iron bar when it exploded. The bar was fired up into his left cheek and out of the top of his head, landing like a javelin 25 yards away. Amazingly, Gage survived the injury, but he was not the same person; his personality had changed. Previously he was quiet and respectful, and had actually been the foreman. Afterwards, according to his doctor he was “fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity… with the animal passion of a strong man.” This loss of inhibitions releasing his animal passions was caused by damage to the frontal lobe of his brain.

Frontal lobe disinhibition is relatively common, but rarer brain conditions can give us even more intriguing insights. For example, I have one patient who was suddenly unable to read, even though his vision seemed normal. He could even write normally, but bizarrely couldn’t read the words he had just written. This condition, known as alexia without agraphia, is caused by a tiny stroke, a blockage in blood supply, damaging the corpus callosum, a collection of neurons that connect the two halves of the brain. So although he could see the words and process the images in his visual cortex, his brain could not send this information to the language areas on the left side of the brain where it is interpreted and “read”. Thankfully he improved over a few days.

During Brain Awareness Week, it might be a good time to stop and think about your brain, if you rarely do. The week celebrates and international campaign started in 1995 to raise awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Over the last twenty years there have been some remarkable developments. We have completely new drugs for inflammatory conditions like multiple sclerosis; we are better at treating brain infections, such as meningitis and encephalitis; management of brain tumours and strokes has come on in leaps and bounds. But there are still enormous gaps. We have barely had an impact on the degenerative diseases, like motor neuron disease and dementia. In these conditions neurons just wither away and die, but we do not understand the basic triggers and disease mechanisms fully.

The death from dementia of the writer Terry Pratchett last week highlighted the huge remaining challenges in this area. He spent his last few years thinking a lot about his brain and its shrinking cortex. He even tried an experimental light treatment to slow the decay, but to no avail. Another author who spent time pondering his brain was Roald Dahl. He was fascinated by the impact of disease on this organ, believing that his own creative abilities were unleashed by a tremendous bash on the head in a plane crash. He also had the unique claim of helping develop a neurosurgical device – a valve to treat his son Theo’s hydrocephalus, or water on the brain.

You may not have Pratchett’s creative talents, or Dahl’s inventive genius, but spend a little time this week alone with your brain. Let it know you cherish its extraordinary abilities. And if you are one of those people who attack it now and again with tobacco or excess alcohol, maybe for Brain Awareness Week just give it a break.

The Truth About Long Hair


This information about hair has been hidden from the public since the Vietnam War. Our culture leads people to believe that hair style is a matter of personal preference, that hair style is a matter of fashion and/or convenience, and that how people wear their hair is simply a cosmetic issue. Back in the Vietnam war, however, an entirely different picture emerged, one that has been carefully covered up and hidden from public view. In the early nineties, Sally [name changed to protect privacy] was married to a licensed psychologist who worked at a VA medical hospital. He worked with combat veterans with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most of them had served in Vietnam. Sally said, “I remember clearly an evening when my husband came back to our apartment on Doctor’s Circle carrying a thick official looking folder in his hands. Inside were hundreds of pages of certain studies commissioned by the government. He was in shock from the contents.

What he read in those documents completely changed his life. From that moment on my conservative, middle-of-the-road husband grew his hair and beard and never cut them again. What is more, the VA Medical Center let him do it, and other very conservative men in the staff followed his example. As I read the documents, I learned why. It seems that during the Vietnam War, special forces in the war department had sent undercover experts to comb American Indian Reservations looking for talented scouts, for tough young men trained to move stealthily through rough terrain. They were especially looking for men with outstanding, almost supernatural tracking abilities. Before being approached, these carefully selected men were extensively documented as experts in tracking and survival. With the usual enticements, the well-proven smooth phrases used to enroll new recruits, some of these Indian trackers were then enlisted. Once enlisted, an amazing thing happened.

Whatever talents and skills they had possessed on the reservation seemed to mysteriously disappear, as recruit after recruit failed to perform as expected in the field. Serious causalities and failures of performance led the government to contract expensive testing of these recruits, and this is what was found. When questioned about their failure to perform as expected, the older recruits replied consistently that when they received their required military haircuts, they could no longer ‘sense’ the enemy, they could no longer access a ‘sixth sense,’ their ‘intuition’ no longer was reliable, they couldn’t ‘read’ subtle signs as well or access subtle extrasensory information. So the testing institute recruited more Indian trackers, let them keep their long hair, and tested them in multiple areas. Then they would pair two men together who had received the same scores on all the tests. They would let one man in the pair keep his hair long, and gave the other man a military haircut. Then the two men retook the tests.

Time after time the man with long hair kept making high scores. Time after time, the man with the short hair failed the tests in which he had previously scored high scores. Here is a Typical Test The recruit is sleeping out in the woods. An armed ‘enemy’ approaches the sleeping man. The long haired man is awakened out of his sleep by a strong sense of danger and gets away long before the enemy is close, long before any sounds from the approaching enemy are audible. In another version of this test, the long haired man senses an approach and somehow intuits that the enemy will perform a physical attack. He follows his ‘sixth sense’ and stays still, pretending to be sleeping, but quickly grabs the attacker and ‘kills’ him as the attacker reaches down to strangle him. This same man, after having passed these and other tests, then received a military haircut and consistently failed these tests, and many other tests that he had previously passed. So the document recommended that all Indian trackers be exempt from military haircuts. In fact, it required that trackers keep their hair long.

The mammalian body has evolved over millions of years. Survival skills of human and animal at times seem almost supernatural. Science is constantly coming up with more discoveries about the amazing abilities of man and animal to survive. Each part of the body has highly sensitive work to perform for the survival and well being of the body as a whole.The body has a reason for every part of itself. Hair is an extension of the nervous system, it can be correctly seen as exteriorized nerves, a type of highly evolved ‘feelers’ or ‘antennae’ that transmit vast amounts of important information to the brain stem, the limbic system, and the neocortex. Not only does hair in people, including facial hair in men, provide an information highway reaching the brain, hair also emits energy, the electromagnetic energy emitted by the brain into the outer environment. This has been seen in Kirlian photography when a person is photographed with long hair and then rephotographed after the hair is cut.

When hair is cut, receiving and sending transmissions to and from the environment are greatly hampered. This results in numbing out. Cutting of hair is a contributing factor to unawareness of environmental distress in local ecosystems. It is also a contributing factor to insensitivity in relationships of all kinds. It contributes to sexual frustration. Conclusion In searching for solutions for the distress in our world, it may be time for us to consider that many of our most basic assumptions about reality are in error. It may be that a major part of the solution is looking at us in the face each morning when we see ourselves in the mirror. The story of Samson and Delilah in the Bible has a lot of encoded truth to tell us. When Delilah cut Samson’s hair, the once undefeatable Samson was defeated.

The Role of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor in Neurodegeneration and Cognitive DeclineExploring Interactions With Biomarkers of Alzheimer DiseaseVascular Endothelial Growth Factor in NeurodegenerationVascular Endothelial Growth Factor in Neurodegeneration


Importance  A subset of older adults present post mortem with Alzheimer disease (AD) pathologic features but without any significant clinical manifestation of dementia. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has been implicated in staving off AD-related neurodegeneration.

Objective  To evaluate whether VEGF levels are associated with brain aging outcomes (hippocampal volume and cognition) and to further evaluate whether VEGF modifies relations between AD biomarkers and brain aging outcomes.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Biomarker analysis using neuroimaging and neuropsychological outcomes from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. This prospective longitudinal study across North America included individuals with normal cognition (n = 90), mild cognitive impairment (n = 130), and AD (n = 59) and began in October 2004, with follow-up ongoing.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Cerebrospinal fluid VEGF was cross-sectionally related to brain aging outcomes (hippocampal volume, episodic memory, and executive function) using a general linear model and longitudinally using mixed-effects regression. Alzheimer disease biomarker (cerebrospinal fluid β-amyloid 42 and total tau)–by–VEGF interactions evaluated the effect of VEGF on brain aging outcomes in the presence of enhanced AD biomarkers.

Results  Vascular endothelial growth factor was associated with baseline hippocampal volume (t277 = 2.62; P = .009), longitudinal hippocampal atrophy (t858 = 2.48; P = .01), and longitudinal decline in memory (t1629 = 4.09; P < .001) and executive function (t1616 = 3.00; P = .003). Vascular endothelial growth factor interacted with tau in predicting longitudinal hippocampal atrophy (t845 = 4.17; P < .001), memory decline (t1610 = 2.49; P = .01), and executive function decline (t1597 = 3.71; P < .001). Vascular endothelial growth factor interacted with β-amyloid 42 in predicting longitudinal memory decline (t1618 = −2.53; P = .01).

Conclusions and Relevance  Elevated cerebrospinal fluid VEGF was associated with more optimal brain aging in vivo. The neuroprotective effect appeared strongest in the presence of enhanced AD biomarkers, suggesting that VEGF may be particularly beneficial in individuals showing early hallmarks of the AD cascade. Future work should evaluate the interaction between VEGF expression in vitro and pathologic burden to address potential mechanisms.

What Mathematics Reveals About the Secret of Lasting Relationships and the Myth of Compromise | Brain Pickings


Why 37% is the magic number, what alien civilizations have to do with your soul mate, and how to master the “negativity threshold” ideal for Happily Ever After.

In his sublime definition of love, playwright Tom Stoppard painted the grand achievement of our emotional lives as “knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face.” But only in fairy tales and Hollywood movies does the mask slip off to reveal a perfect other. So how do we learn to discern between a love that is imperfect, as all meaningful real relationships are, and one that is insufficient, the price of which is repeated disappointment and inevitable heartbreak? Making this distinction is one of the greatest and most difficult arts of the human experience — and, it turns out, it can be greatly enhanced with a little bit of science.

That’s what mathematician Hannah Fry suggests in The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation (public library) — a slim but potent volume from TED Books, featuring gorgeous illustrations by German artist Christine Rösch. From the odds of finding your soul mate to how game theory reveals the best strategy for picking up a stranger in a bar to the equation that explains the conversation patterns of lasting relationships, Fry combines a humanist’s sensitivity to this universal longing with a scientist’s rigor to shed light, with neither sap nor cynicism, on the complex dynamics of romance and the besotting beauty of math itself.

She writes in the introduction:

Mathematics is ultimately the study of patterns — predicting phenomena from the weather to the growth of cities, revealing everything from the laws of the universe to the behavior of subatomic particles… Love — [like] most of life — is full of patterns: from the number of sexual partners we have in our lifetime to how we choose who to message on an internet dating website. These patterns twist and turn and warp and evolve just as love does, and are all patterns which mathematics is uniquely placed to describe.

[…]

Mathematics is the language of nature. It is the foundation stone upon which every major scientific and technological achievement of the modern era has been built. It is alive, and it is thriving.

In the first chapter, Fry explores the mathematical odds of finding your ideal mate — with far more heartening results than more jaundiced estimations have yielded. She points to a famous 2010 paper by mathematician and longtime singleton Peter Backus, who calculated that there are more intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations than eligible women for him on earth. Backus enlisted a formula known as the Drake equation — named after its creator, Frank Drake — which breaks down the question of how many possible alien civilizations there are into sub-estimates based on components like the average rate of star formation in our galaxy, the number of those stars with orbiting planets, the fraction of those planets capable of supporting life, and so forth. Fry explains:

Drake exploited a trick well known to scientists of breaking down the estimation by making lots of little educated guesses rather than one big one. The result of this trick is an estimate likely to be surprisingly close to the true answer, because the errors in each calculation tend to balance each other out along the way.

Scientists’ current estimate is that our galaxy contains around 10,000 intelligent alien civilizations — something we owe in large part to astronomer Jill Tarter’s decades-long dedication. Returning to Backus’s calculation, which yielded 26 eligible women on all of Earth, Fry notes that “being able to estimate quantities that you have no hope of verifying is an important skill for any scientist” — a technique known as a Fermi estimation, which is used in everything from job interviews to quantum mechanics — but suggests that his criteria might have been unreasonably stringent. (Backus based his formula, for instance, on the assumption that he’d find only 10% of the women he meets agreeable and only 5% attractive.)

In fact, this “price of admission” problem is also at the heart of a chapter probing the question of how you know your partner is “The One.” Fry writes:

As any mathematically minded person will tell you, it’s a fine balance between having the patience to wait for the right person and the foresight to cash in before all the good ones are taken.

Indeed, some such mathematically minded people have applied an area of mathematics known as “optimal stopping theory” to derive an actual equation that tells you precisely how many potential mates to reject before finding the perfect partner and helps you discern when it’s time to actually stop your looking and settle down with that person (P):

Fry explains:

It tells you that if you are destined to date ten people in your lifetime, you have the highest probability of finding The One when you reject your first four lovers (where you’d find them 39.87 percent of the time). If you are destined to date twenty people, you should reject the first eight (where Mister or Miz Right would be waiting for you 38.42 percent of the time). And, if you are destined to date an infinite number of partners, you should reject the first 37 percent, giving you just over a one in three chance of success.

[…]

Say you start dating when you are fifteen years old and would ideally like to settle down by the time you’re forty. In the first 37 percent of your dating window (until just after your twenty-fourth birthday), you should reject everyone; use this time to get a feel for the market and a realistic expectation of what you can expect in a life partner. Once this rejection phase has passed, pick the next person who comes along who is better than everyone who you have met before. Following this strategy will definitely give you the best possible chance of finding the number one partner on your imaginary list.

This formula, it turns out, is a cross-purpose antidote to FOMO, applicable to various situations when you need to know when to stop looking for a better option:

Have three months to find somewhere to live? Reject everything in the first month and then pick the next house that comes along that is your favorite so far. Hiring an assistant? Reject the first 37 percent of candidates and then give the job to the next one who you prefer above all others. In fact, the search for an assistant is the most famous formulation of this theory, and the method is often known as the “secretary problem.”

But the most interesting and pause-giving chapter is the final one, which brings modern lucidity to the fairy-tale myth that “happily ever after” ensues unabated after you’ve identified “The One,” stopped your search, and settled down him or her. Most of us don’t need a scientist to tell us that “happily ever after” is not a destination or a final outcome but a journey and an active process in any healthy relationship. Fry, however, offers some enormously heartening and assuring empirical findings, based on a fascinating collaboration between mathematicians and psychologists, confirming this life-tested and often hard-earned intuitive understanding.

Fry examines what psychologists studying longtime couples have found about the key to successful relationships:

Every relationship will have conflict, but most psychologists now agree that the way couples argue can differ substantially, and can work as a useful predictor of longer-term happiness within a couple.

In relationships where both partners consider themselves as happy, bad behavior is dismissed as unusual: “He’s under a lot of stress at the moment,” or “No wonder she’s grumpy, she hasn’t had a lot of sleep lately.” Couples in this enviable state will have a deep-seated positive view of their partner, which is only reinforced by any positive behavior: “These flowers are lovely. He’s always so nice to me,” or “She’s just such a nice person, no wonder she did that.”

In negative relationships, however, the situation is reversed. Bad behavior is considered the norm: “He’s always like that,” or “Yet again. She’s just showing how selfish she is.” Instead, it’s the positive behavior that is considered unusual: “He’s only showing off because he got a pay raise at work. It won’t last,” or “Typical. She’s doing this because she wants something.

She cites the work of psychologist John Gottman, who studies why marriages succeed or fail. He spent decades observing how couples interact, coding and measuring everything from their skin conductivity to their facial expressions, and eventually developed the Specific Affect Coding System — a method of scoring how positive or negative the exchanges are. But it wasn’t until Gottman met mathematician James Murray and integrated his mathematical models into the system that he began to crack the code of why these toxic negativity spirals develop. (Curiously, these equations have also been used to understand what happens between two countries during war — a fact on which Fry remarks that “an arguing couple spiraling into negativity and teetering on the brink of divorce is actually mathematically equivalent to the beginning of a nuclear war.”)

Fry presents the elegant formulae the researchers developed for explaining these patterns of human behavior. (Although the symbols stand for “wife” and “husband,” Fry notes that Murray’s models don’t factor in any stereotypes and are thus equally applicable to relationships across all orientations and gender identities.)

She breaks down the equations:

The left-hand side of the equation is simply how positive or negative the wife will be in the next thing that she says. Her reaction will depend on her mood in general (w), her mood when she’s with her husband (rwWt), and, crucially, the influence that her husband’s actions will have on her (IHM). The Ht in parentheses at the end of the equation is mathematical shorthand for saying that this influence depends on what the husband has just done.

The equations for the husband follow the same pattern: h,rHHt, and IHM are his mood when he’s on his own, his mood when he’s with his wife, and the influence his wife has on his next reaction, respectively.

The researchers then plotted the effects the two partners have on each other — empirical evidence for Leo Buscaglia’s timelessly beautiful notion that love is a “dynamic interaction”:

In this version of the graph, the dotted line indicates that the husband is having a positive impact on his wife. If it dips below zero, the wife is more likely to be negative in her next turn in the conversation.

What all of this translates into is actually strikingly similar to Lewis Carroll’s advice on resolving conflict in correspondence. “If your friend makes a severe remark, either leave it unnoticed, or make your reply distinctly less severe,” Carroll counseled, adding “and if he makes a friendly remark, tending towards ‘making up’ the little difference that has arisen between you, let your reply be distinctly more friendly.” Carroll was a man of great psychological prescience in many ways, and this particular insight is paralleled by Gottman and Murray’s findings, which Fry summarizes elegantly:

Imagine that the husband does something that is a little bit positive: He could agree with her last point, or inject a little humor into their conversation. This action will have a small positive impact on the wife and make her more likely to respond with something positive, too… [But] if the husband is a little bit negative — like interrupting her while she is speaking — he will have a fixed and negative impact on his partner. It’s worth noting that the magnitude of this negative influence is bigger than the equivalent positive jump if he’s just a tiny bit positive. Gottman and his team deliberately built in this asymmetry after observing it in couples in their study.

And here is the crucial finding — T- is the point known as a negativity threshold,at which the husband’s negative effect becomes so great that it renders the wife unwilling to diffuse the situation with positivity and she instead responds with more negativity. This is how the negativity spirals are set off. But the most revelatory part is what this suggests about the myth of compromise.

As Fry points out, it makes sense to suppose that the best strategy is to aim for a high negativity threshold — “a relationship where you give your partner room to be themselves and only bring up an issue if it becomes a really big deal.” And yet the researchers found the opposite was true:

The most successful relationships are the ones with a really low negativity threshold. In those relationships, couples allow each other to complain, and work together to constantly repair the tiny issues between them. In such a case, couples don’t bottle up their feelings, and little things don’t end up being blown completely out of proportion.

She adds the important caveat that a healthy relationship isn’t merely one in which both partners are comfortable complaining but also one in which the language of those complaints doesn’t cast the complainer as a victim of the other person’s behavior.

In the remainder of The Mathematics of Love, Fry goes on to explore everything from the falsehoods behind the standard ideals of beauty to the science of why continually risking rejection is a sounder strategy for success in love (as in life) than waiting for a guaranteed outcome before trying, illustrating how math’s power to abstract reality invites greater understanding of our most concrete human complexities and our deepest yearnings.

 

Magic mushrooms ‘less harmful than thought’ and should be reclassified, says leading psychiatrist .


Large trials of the drugs are ‘almost impossible’ due to ‘bureaucratic obstacles’, says psychiatrist Dr James Rucker

Promising medical research into psychedelics ground to a halt as long ago as 1967, when they were made illegal amid widespread concern about their psychological and social harms.

However, writing in the BMJ, psychiatrist Dr James Rucker, said that no evidence had ever shown the drugs to be habit-forming. There is also little evidence of harm when used in controlled settings, and a wealth of studies indicating that they have uses in the treatment of common psychiatric disorders, he said.

A drawing by Beatles star John Lennon called ‘Strong’, believed to be executed by Lennon while under the influence of LSD

A drawing by Beatles star John Lennon called ‘Strong’, believed to be executed by Lennon while under the influence of LSD (Getty)
Researchers are beginning to look again at how LSD and psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms – might be of benefit in the treatment of addiction, for obsessive compulsive disorder and even, according to one small Swiss study, to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in terminally ill patients.

However, larger trials are “almost impossible”, Dr Rucker argues, because of the “practical, financial, and bureaucratic obstacles” imposed by the drugs’ legal status.

In the UK, magic mushrooms and LSD are class A and schedule 1 drugs. Institutions that wish to conduct research require a licence of £5,000 to hold the drugs, and only four hospitals in the UK possess one.

The small number of manufacturers willing to produce the drugs must also comply with international regulations, leading to hefty charges for researchers wishing to acquire the drugs, with one manufacturer quoting a cost of £100,000 for 1g of psilocybin, according to Dr Rucker, of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience.

Doses of LSD, in the form of stamps, seized by French Customs authorities in 2008 (Getty)
“These restrictions, and the accompanying bureaucracy, mean that the cost of clinical research using psychedelics is five to 10 times that of research into less restricted (but more harmful) drugs such as heroin – with no prospect that the benefits can be translated into wider practice,” he writes.

National and international bodies should reclassify psychedelics as a schedule 2 drugs, he argues, “to enable a comprehensive, evidence based assessment of their therapeutic potential”.

In the UK, drugs regulations are the responsibility of the Home Office, which takes advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

A former chairman of the council, Professor David Nutt, who was dismissed after saying that LSD and ecstasy are less harmful than alcohol, is currently conducting research into psychedelics’ effects on the brain. His team at Imperial College London are the first in the world to conduct brain scans on people under the influence of LSD.

An outspoken critic of the restrictions around studies of psychedelics, Professor Nutt has compared the repression of such research to the censorship of Galileo and the banning of the telescope. Amid difficulty securing funding, his team recently announced they would have to crowd-fund the next stages of their research.

Minister for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Victims Mike Penning said: “Drugs are illegal where scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health.

“Psychedelic drugs destroy lives, cause misery to families and communities, and this Government has no intention of decriminalising them.

“We have a clear licensing regime, supported by legislation, which allows legitimate research to take place in a secure environment while ensuring that harmful drugs are not misused and do not get into the hands of criminals.”

Collaborative research team solves cancer-cell mutation mystery


Breakthrough has implications for better targeted cancer treatment protocols

More than 500,000 people in the United States die each year of cancer-related causes. Now, emerging research has identified the mechanism behind one of the most common mutations that help cancer cells replicate limitlessly.

Approximately 85 percent of cancer cells obtain their limitless replicative potential through the reactivation of a specific protein called telomerase (TERT). Recent cancer research has shown that highly recurrent mutations in the promoter of the TERT gene are the most common genetic mutations in many cancers, including adult glioblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma.

TERT stabilizes chromosomes by elongating the protective element at the end of each chromosome in a cell. Scientists have discovered that cells harboring these mutations aberrantly increase TERT expression, effectively making them immortal.

Jun Song

Jun Song

Now, a collaborative team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at the University of California, San Francisco, has uncovered the mechanisms by which these common mutations result in elevated TERT expression. The team’s findings, published May 14 in Science, have exciting implications for new, more precise and personalized cancer treatments with fewer side effects compared with current treatments.

By integrating computational and experimental analyses, the researchers identified that the mechanism of increased TERT expression in tumor tissue relies on a specific transcription factor that selectively binds the mutated sequences. A transcription factor is a protein that binds specific DNA sequences and regulates how its target genes are expressed (in this case the gene that expresses TERT). Thus, the TERT mutations act as a new binding site for the transcription factor that controls TERT expression. The newly identified transcription factor does not recognize the normal TERT promoter sequence, and thus, does not regulate TERT in healthy tissue.

Sua Myong

Sua Myong

The researchers at Illinois include H. Tomas Rube, Alex Kreig, Sua Myong, and Jun S. Song, and the UCSF collaborators include Robert J. A. Bell, Andrew Mancini, Shaun F. Fouse, Raman P. Nagarajan, Serah Choi, Chibo Hong, Daniel He, Melike Pekmezci, John K. Wiencke, Margaret R. Wrensch, Susan M. Chang, Kyle M. Walsh, and Joseph F. Costello. The first author, Robert Bell, is a graduate student at UCSF co-mentored by Dr. Song and Dr. Costello.

The team’s work further showed that the same transcription factor recognizes and binds the mutant TERT promoter in tumor cells from four different cancer types, underscoring that this is a common mechanism of TERT reactivation.

The identified transcription factor and its regulators have great potential for the development of new precision therapeutic interventions in cancers that harbor the TERT mutations. A treatment that would inhibit TERT in a targeted cancer-cell-specific manner would bypass the toxicities associated with current treatments that inadvertently also target TERT in normal healthy cells.

Based on these new findings, the team is now conducting a variety of experiments designed to test whether inhibiting the transcription factor activity would not only turn down TERT expression, but might also result in selective cancer cell death.

This project was enhanced by the complementary analysis conducted by three research groups located across the country. Joseph F. Costello’s laboratory at UCSF is linked to the UCSF Medical Center and the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, which allowed for access to human tumor samples that generated the cell cultures and produced relevant models. Jun Song’s group at Illinois provided advanced computational analysis of the genomic data and predictions that narrowed in on possible mechanisms behind the previously identified mutation. Finally, through single-molecule analysis, Su-A Myong’s lab at Illinois provided verification that the proposed mechanism operated in the suggested matter.

Energy-saving lightbulbs can prevent good sleep .


Replacing filament bulbs with energy saving lighting could impact sleep because they produce more blue light, a professor has warned

Your Business: Bright ideas from entrepreneurs

Following the introduction of the new Ofgem rules through the Retail Market Review, E.ON said its discounts are now calculated in a different way

Professor Debra Skene of the University of Surrey said that, where possible, householders should try dimming the lights in the hours before bedtime so that the body can prepare itself for sleep.

But she said that it was more difficult now that so many overheard incandescent tungsten lights had been replaced with energy-saving bulbs.

Speaking at the Hay Festival Prof Skene said: “It’s about how much light gets to your eyes and the brighter it is the longer you have it on for and the more blue that is in that light.

“If it is a light that has a lot of blue LED lights you will have more of an effect. If you want to reduce the effect on staying awake at night and to try and sleep you should turn down the intensity, you should’t be looking at it for too long and you should try and have light around you in the room that’s less blue.

“So in fact those old tungsten lights that they are trying to get rid of, for energy reasons, it wasn’t for biological reasons because they are very good non-body stimulating lights.

“You can get all kinds of things now which can reduce the lighting on your computer screens. With that knowledge you can adjust your own lighting environment.”

Nearly six in ten people in Britain now get seven hours of less sleep a night putting them at risk of cancer, diabetes and heart attacks.

The number of sleep deprived Brits rose by 50 per cent last year as people increasingly use smartphones and computers before bed.

Blue light is present in morning light so energy-saving bulbs as well as blue light from computer screens, or smartphones use can trick the body into thinking it is still daytime, speeding up the metabolism and making sleep difficult.

The number of poeple with sleep problems has been steadily growing

The number of sleep deprived Brits rose by 50 per cent last year as people increasingly use smartphones and computers before bed.

Prof Skene said the move towards a 24 hour culture where one in five people now works shifts was creating a health timebomb.

“With this 24 hour society we really are living against our clocks and this has health consequences that we are only just beginning to understand,” she said.

“Shift work is a risk factor for some of the major disease like breast cancer, prostate cancer metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

“If we can understand the mechanisms behind these changes then we would have the opportunity to develop treatments minimising the effect of shift work on our bodies.”

Prof Skene suggested that people who prefer the morning , known as ‘larks’ could be encouraged to work earlier in the day that ‘owls’ who are likely to be more suited for nightshifts,

Some scientists already believe they have found the part of the brain which can reset the body clock and hope to develop drugs which could switch off the ill effects of shift work or jet lag.

BPA May Break Down into Fat in Human Body.


A new study suggests the long-held industry assumption that bisphenol-A breaks down safely in the human body is incorrect. Instead, researchers say, the body transforms the ubiquitous chemical additive into a compound that might spur obesity.

obese man

The study is the first to find that people’s bodies metabolize bisphenol-A (BPA) — a chemical found in most people and used in polycarbonate plastic, food cans and paper receipts — into something that impacts our cells and may make us fat.
The research, from Health Canada, challenges an untested assumption that our liver metabolizes BPA into a form that doesn’t impact our health.

“This shows we can’t just say things like ‘because it’s a metabolite, it means it’s not active’,” said Laura Vandenberg, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was not involved in the study. “You have to do a study.”

People are exposed to BPA throughout the day, mostly through diet, as it can leach from canned goods and plastic storage containers into food, but also through dust and water.

Within about 6 hours of exposure, our liver metabolizes about half the concentration. Most of that — about 80 to 90 percent — is converted into a metabolite called BPA-Glucuronide, which is eventually excreted.

The Health Canada researchers treated both mouse and human cells with BPA-Glucuronide. The treated cells had a “significant increase in lipid accumulation,” according to the study results. BPA-Glucuronide is “not an inactive metabolite as previously believed but is in fact biologically active,” the Health Canada authors wrote in the study published this week in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Not all cells will accumulate lipids, said Thomas Zoeller, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who was not involved in the study. Testing whether or not cells accumulate lipids is “a very simple way of demonstrating that cells are becoming fat cells,” he said.

“Hopefully this [study] stops us from making assumptions about endocrine disrupting chemicals in general,” he said.

The liver is our body’s filter, but it doesn’t always neutralize harmful compounds. “Metabolism’s purpose isn’t necessarily a cleaning process. The liver just takes nasty things and turns them into a form we can get out of our body,” Vandenberg said.
BPA already has been linked to obesity in both human and animal studies. The associations are especially prevalent for children exposed while they’re developing.

Researchers believe BPA does so by mimicking estrogen hormones, but its metabolite doesn’t appear to do so. In figuring out why metabolized BPA appears to spur fat cells, Zoeller said, it’s possible that BPA-Glucuronide is “hitting certain receptors in cells”.

Health Canada researchers were only looking at this one possible health outcome. “There could be other [health] impacts,” Zoeller said.

In recent studies BPA-Glucuronide has been found in human blood and urine at higher concentration than just plain BPA.

Industry representatives, however, argue the doses used were much higher than what would be found in people.

Steve Hentges, a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, said the concentrations used in which the researchers saw increased fat cells were “thousands of times higher than the concentrations of BPA-Glucuronide that could be present in human blood from consumer exposure to BPA.

“There were no statistically significant observations at lower BPA-G concentrations, all of which are higher than human blood concentrations,” he said in the emailed response.

Zoeller agreed the dose was high but said “the concentration is much less important than the fact that here is a group testing an assumption that’s uniformly been made.” Vandenberg said the range is not that far off from what has been found in some people’s blood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the Health Canada study but couldn’t comment before Environmental Health News’ deadline, said spokesperson Marianna Naum in an email.

The agency continues to study BPA and states on its website that federal research models “showed that BPA is rapidly metabolized and eliminated through feces and urine.”
Health Canada, which was not able to provide interviews for this article, has maintained a similar stance to the U.S. FDA, stating on its website that it “has concluded that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and infants.”

However, the fact that Health Canada even conducted such a study is a big deal, Vandenberg said.

“Health Canada is a regulatory body and this is pretty forward thinking science,” she said. “Hopefully this is a bell that can ring for scientists working for other regulatory agencies.”

Alberta creationist Edgar Nernberg uncovers what experts say is the most important fossil finds in decades


Experts believe fossils found in Canada are 60m years old

Quite frankly, there is no better way of saying this than in the words used by a columnist from the Alberta Sun.

And so, as Michael Platt pointed out, if God works in mysterious ways, he or she also has a mischievous sense of irony.

This week, it emerged that what is being touted as Canada’s most important discovery of fossils was made by a man who is one of the country’s leading proponent of Creationism and who rejects evolution.

Reports said the fossils were found in a neighbourhood of Evanston, Alberta, during some building work carried out by Edgar Nernberg.

When Mr Nernberg is not operating a mechanical digger, he sits on the board of the Big Valley Creationist Museum, a organisation that promotes the view that evolution is wrong and that the world was created by God, as described in the bible.

Reports said that the five fossilised fish were found in a block of sandstone. The formation from which the sandstone come is estimated to be 60 million years old. Complete fossils from this time period are said to be extremely rare.

“It’s really uncommon, and these are complete fossil fish – and it’s not very often we come across complete fossils in the Calgary area,” said Darla Zelenitsky, a palaeontologist and professor of geoscience at the University of Calgary.

“I only know of a couple of occurrences in the past few decades.”

Percutaneous Dilatational Tracheostomy With a Double-Lumen Endotracheal Tube: A Comparison of Feasibility, Gas Exchange, and Airway Pressures


OBJECTIVE:  Gas exchange and airway pressures are markedly altered during percutaneous dilatational tracheostomy (PDT). A double-lumen endotracheal tube (DLET) has been developed for better airway management during PDT. The current study prospectively evaluated the in vivo feasibility, gas exchange, and airway pressures during PDT with DLET compared with a conventional endotracheal tube (ETT).

METHODS:  According to eligibility criteria, patients were divided into a case group (those receiving PDT with DLET) and a control group (those receiving PDT with a conventional ETT). The Ciaglia single-dilator technique was used for PDT in both groups. The primary end point of this study was the feasibility of tracheostomy with DLET. The secondary end points were a comparison of gas exchange, airway pressures, minute volume, and tidal volume before, during, and after PDT performed with DLET and conventional ETT.

RESULTS:  Ten patients meeting the inclusion criteria were assigned to each group. PDTs were performed without difficulties in nine patients in the DLET group and 10 patients in the conventional ETT group. During PDT, gas exchange, airway pressures, and minute ventilation remained more stable in the DLET group and were significantly different from those in the conventional ETT group.

CONCLUSIONS:  PDT with DLET can be performed safely without difficulties limiting the technique. Furthermore, during PDT, the use of the DLET resulted in more stable gas exchange, airway pressures, and ventilation than PDT with a conventional ETT.