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A new brain implant could slow Alzheimer’s progression
One patient retained the ability to dress herself, make a simple meal, and even change her plans depending on the weather.
Electrical brain stimulation has been shown to boost memory and enhance learning. Now, scientists have turned their sights on neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, found they could delay cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s by using deep brain stimulation. This could allow such patients to be independent for a longer period of time. Their results were published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Instead of trying to improve memory like most Alzheimer’s treatments do, this one focused on preserving cognitive and behavioral functions. Scientists selected three patients and surgically implanted a deep-brain-stimulation (DBS) device inside their brains, near the frontal lobe.
This is where executive function occurs, which includes such things as decision-making, attention, focus, learning, problem-solving, and judgement. Dr. Douglas Scharre was a co-author on this study. He’s the director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at the university’s Neurological Institute.
Dr. Scharre told Science Daily,
We have many memory aides, tools, and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer's patients with memory, but we don't have anything to help with improving their judgments, making good decisions, or increasing their ability to selectively focus attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions. These skills are necessary in performing daily tasks such as making the bed, choosing what to eat and having meaningful socializing with friends and family.
Those with mild Alzheimer’s find normal daily tasks like making the bed difficult. Credit: Getty Images.
The DBS device operates exactly like a pacemaker, but for the brain. It sends out electrical impulses at specifically calculated intervals. The electrodes implanted in the frontal lobe are attached through very fine wires to a pulse generator underneath the skin of the chest wall. This type of device is usually used to treat Parkinson’s disease. It’s been tried as a therapy for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), too.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how it works. They know it increases coherence between brain regions. But how does it do this? Does it help block out unnecessary signals that cause interference? Or does it instead increase the speed at which neurons communicate?
In this study, what Dr. Scharre and colleagues wanted to know is, if DBS could slow the degeneration of executive function in early stage Alzheimer’s and allow the patient to remain independent for longer. First, three participants were selected. They each had electrodes surgically implanted into a part on their frontal lobe known as the ventral striatum. Then these patients and 100 others who also had Alzheimer’s, were made to take part in a number of different tests which mimicked daily tasks, to see how well they could navigate them.
Illustration of a pacemaker. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
“The Alzheimer's subjects cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined more slowly than Alzheimer's patients in a matched comparison group not being treated with DBS,” Dr. Scharre said. “The pilot study found that DBS targeting frontal brain regions can reduce the overall performance decline typically seen in people with mild or early stage Alzheimer's.” This was a two year study. All subjects implanted with a DBS showed a slowed decline. But for one patient in particular, 85 year-old LaVonne Moore of Delaware, Ohio, the results were more significant.
Today, she can dress herself, make a simple meal, and even decide what she’ll do that day—alternating her plans depending on the weather, tasks impossible for most people with her level of Alzheimer’s. Researchers don’t know how long it’ll last. Her husband, 89 year-old Tom Moore said, "LaVonne has had Alzheimer's disease longer than anybody I know, and that sounds negative, but it's really a positive thing because it shows that we're doing something right."
Since it was such a small study, the results will have to be repeated. In future research, Dr. Scharre and colleagues plan to try the same technique using non-invasive brain stimulation. We’re in dire need of new treatment options. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 5 million Americans are living with the disease today.
That number is expected to balloon to 16 million by 2050. What’s more, it’s a very complicated disease. Truly managing Alzheimer’s may require hitting multiple targets at once, meaning a number of different treatments must be applied in concert. This technique could become an important part of such a strategy.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s, click here.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?