September 18, 2009
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Some “brainy” research this week…
Curiosity Driven <=> Intelligence: There is new evidence that “fostering curiosity should also foster intelligence and vice versa.” Researchers have discovered what they believe is the region of the brain, the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus, that is responsible for generating curiosity. They also identified that the interaction between the neuronal calcium sensor-1 protein (NCS-1) with the dopamine type-2 receptors (D2R) is what triggers the curiosity-like behaviour. In the investigation lead by Dr. John Roder at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, they modestly overexpressed NCS-1 in the dentate gyrus region of mice and observed an exploratory type behaviour, interpreted as curiosity driven. Researchers also noted improvements in intelligence as demonstrated by the performance of the mice in spatial memory tests. Conversely, these phenotypes were reversed when the mice were treated with a drug that inhibits NCS-1 from binding to D2R. This study appears in the latest edition of Neuron. So go ahead and let your mind go free…
Dream on: Here’s how you can enjoy your nice dream twice as long – have your doctor perform deep brain stimulations (DBS) on you! When scientists specifically stimulated an area of the brain responsible for the deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in parkinsonian patients undergoing a surgical procedure, they observed an extended period of brain wave activity consistent with REM sleep. This is the “dreaming sleep” that we enjoy and provides the refreshing recharge we all need. Sleep specialist Dr. Brian Murray was the lead investigator in the study conducted at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and published in Annals of Neurology: “This finding is significant for patients as it confirms, in principle, that we can selectively adjust different stages of sleep and this may make a big difference to sleep quality as well as other affected neurological functions and brain health.” Now we just need a longer day to accommodate the extra sleep!
Helping the vision impaired to see: evSpex, is an innovative sunglass-type device that can help those who are nearly blind to see via a digital image captured on a high resolution camera and played on a small LCD screen projected onto the user’s eyes. The key feature is that the image is first processed and customized to the user before it is presented to the part of the vision that is most functional, maximizing “vision.” The device includes features such as zoom and recording capabilities that can be played back instantly in case the viewer missed something. Many people with different types of visual impairments will be able to benefit greatly from this technology.
evSpex was developed by eSight Corp in Ottawa with help from Dr. Réjean Munger, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
July 31, 2009
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My first post… a two week round-up.
New direction for treating obesity: A study headed by Dr. Hans-Michael Dosch’s group at The Hostpital for Sick Children in Toronto demonstrated that killer T cells in visceral fat are activated to destroy fat cells and control insulin resistance. With increasing weight gain, however, the killer T cells become overwhelmed as fat cells grow and inflammatory T cells move in. Although these studies were performed in mice, it appears that humans also have a similar system in place. The good news is that treatment with an anti-CD3 drug can give the immune system a boost and help reduce inflammatory T cells. Even better news is that this drug is already in clinical use to protect against organ rejection, which means clinical trials to combat obesity may start as early as next year. The article was published on-line this week in Nature Medicine.
Cool headed Toucan. After decades of speculation over the purpose of the toucan’s over-sized beak – from sexual ornament to feeding purposes – researchers at Brock University in Ontario, in collaboration with scientists in Brazil, published an article in Science showing that the toucan’s beak acts as a highly efficient cooling unit. They have the greatest beak-to-body size ratio and use this large surface area as a heat exchanger (akin to elephants’ ears) to regulate body temperature by modifying blood flow. If only we had a ‘heat wave’ problem this summer…
Setback in Huntington’s Disease research. A decade long study concluding with disappointing results was reported in PNAS this week. Researchers at Laval University and University of South Florida analyzed the brains of HD patients who had undergone neural transplantations about ten years ago as a potential treatment. Although there were mild clinical benefits, the grafts were short-lived and also had undergone disease-like degeneration.
Barcoding Nemo. As part of the International Barcode of Life Project to identify all plants and animals based on signature DNA sequences, spear-headed by Paul Herbert at the University of Guelph, the ornamental fish was added to the list. Accurate identification of ornamental fish is important for establishing regulations, conservation practices and tracking origins. The DNA barcode reference for these fish is based on the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene where 98% of the fish have distinct barcode clusters. The article was published in PLoS One last week.
Funny etiology: two curious New York high schoolers initiated the project and recruited the Guelph lab, sparking headlines last summer when they discovered that some sushi restaurants were mislabeling cheaper fish as more expensive types.
Other DNA barcoding projects include other fish, butterflies, and birds. To find out more, visit the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding or the International Barcode of Life Project (iBOL).
One of our trends in 2009 series is following the increasing innovative activity in India and China, which has the potential to reshape WTO debates around IP protection.
Yesterday, FierceBiotech picked up a Reuters report that AstraZeneca will be funding five years’ work in neuroscience R&D at India’s Jubilant Organosys. Jubilant was… well … very happy about the deal, which could lead to up to $200 million in milestone payments. Jubilant also works with Eli Lilly on drug discovery and partnered drug development. Interestingly, the article juxtaposes Jubilant’s R&D deal with its Monday FDA approval for a generic product.