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.
September 4, 2009
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Potential future therapeutic options…
Dabigatran versus Warfarin: Dabigatran (PRADAX®, Boehringer-Ingelheim) was compared with warfarin (a commonly used anti-coagulant) in a large scale study for the treatment of patients with atrial fibrillations. The trial demonstrated that the group of patients taking the higher dose of Dabigatran had significantly reduced risk of stroke compared to patients on warfarin but with similar risk of hemorrhaging. With a lower dose of Dabigatran, they achieved protection from strokes that was similar to that afforded patients using warfarin but with a significantly reduced risk of major bleeding. Dabigatran is the first alternative therapy option to warfarin treatment showing efficacy and improved safety to patients. The global study was headquartered out of Hamilton at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Science Centre and appears in this week’s The New England Journal of Medicine.
Drug combo for Bell Palsy: Combinatorial therapy may be a better treatment method to improve the facial paralysis symptom of Bell Palsy patients. In the study lead by Dr. John de Almeida at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, they compared the standard treatment with corticosteroids alone versus corticosteroids supplemented with antiviral drugs. It is thought that a herpes infection is likely the cause of the disorder. As the patients appeared to have experienced a slight incremental benefit from the combo therapy, the researchers will continue their study to provide a definitive answer. The report was published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Key finds from studying protein structure:
- The RAF family of proteins is an integral component of the RAS signaling module involved in cell growth, differentiation and survival. This new structural study on BRAF revealed that its catalytic function is regulated by a “side-to-side” dimerization mode. Interestingly, a mutation found in oncogenic versions of BRAF is located in this dimerization interface and promotes aberrant activation. Surely, the side-to-side dimer interface of BRAF will be a potential target for therapeutic intervention against BRAF-dependent tumorigenesis. This exciting research was lead by a collaborative effort between Dr. Frank Sicheri at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto and Dr. Marc Therrien at Université de Montréal and published in the early edition of Nature.
- New insight into how bacteria can steal iron from its host was revealed through structural studies of the bacteria’s transferrin receptor. The bacterial transferrin receptor binds to the host’s iron containing transferrin protein, extracts the iron and transports it across the membrane. When they mutated a critical residue at the interface of this interaction, binding was completely abolished. Perhaps these results from Dr. Anthony Schryvers’ research team at the University of Calgary will lead to future directions for antimicrobial therapeutics. The study was published in the recent edition of Molecular Cell.
Nervous system development in today’s issue of Cell…
- Researchers revealed how the neural-specific SR-related protein of 100 kDa (nSR100) is responsible for facilitating alternative transcript splicing specifically in the nervous system. nSR100 is required for neural cell differentiation and contributes to the greater complexity of the vertebrate nervous system. The research was lead by Dr. Benjamin Blencowe at the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research.