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The most constant thing about science is that it’s ever-advancing. Just as penicillin, in vitro fertilization, cloning and DNA mapping were major breakthroughs, new and exciting brain health discoveries are making the news in 2020.
Similar to Google Earth and the Human Genome Project, the Human Brain Project (HBP) aims to fully understand the human brain. A collaborative research project across Europe, this ten-year large scale study is bringing together the three major disciplines related to the brain: medicine, neuroscience and computing.
Unlike most other organs, understanding the physiology does not necessarily translate to understanding the individual responses and functionality. We all have generally the same structure... so why are some people so creative while others are so analytical? Does the brain of a genius actually have different characteristics from a person with sociopathic tendencies? Can understanding the brain on all three levels help diagnose or even prevent diseases or addictions? And what role does environment, life experiences, and even nature versus nurture have on influencing the brain?
Hopefully, understanding the biology of the brain will lead to breakthroughs in cognitive research and treatment as well as treatment of neurological and chemical disorders.
Just published in the January 1, 2020 edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine, a new brain scanning technique is turning what researchers thought they knew about Alzheimer’s disease on its head. The study was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, Weill Institute for Neurosciences, and focuses on one of the disease’s two primary hallmarks.
Amyloid protein plaques have long been the standard used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. But a new brain scan technique identifies where tau protein “tangles” have built up and can use this to predict with remarkable accuracy which regions of the brain would fall to shrinkage and sustain damage over the next year or two following a scan (taken at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s).
This precise identification of the affected regions allows doctors to predict how individuals will be affected, whether in memory or language, for example. Understanding individual disease progression may help patients and their loved ones better prepare for the progression.
Study author Renaud LaJoie notes, this project could lead to breakthrough drugs that target and treat tau tangles, thus providing new relief to Alzheimer’s patients.
Stem cell research and treatment has come a long way. More ways to safely harvest stem cells with less controversy are boosting these treatments. And a newly published study shows Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) have the potential to treat injuries and diseases affecting the central nervous system. Included among these conditions are Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and other neurological diseases and forms of dementia.
This study utilized MSCs collected from Wharton’s jelly, a cushioning substance found in the umbilical cord. (The cord tissue and cord blood can be collected after birth with no disruption to the birthing process or postnatal care or bonding.) The MSCs protected the neurons from oxidative stress and synaptic damage. This can result in less cell death and improved memory function, while reducing further memory impairment.
MSCs can be cryogenically stored, then used as needed accordingly. And stem cells from umbilical cords are not wholly for the use of the newborn. Rather, MSCs can potentially be a good enough match to be used by siblings, parents and possibly even further out relatives including aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.
In the same way that understanding blood types and the uniqueness of fingerprints have lead to so many more scientific advancements, these latest discoveries will surely be recognized as groundbreaking moments in brain health and understanding. To stay informed on more developments and breakthroughs, visit the BIPRI Brain Power Blog for weekly insights.
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