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March 28, 2007, 10:08 PM CT

Child's play is serious study of cause and effect

Child's play is serious study of cause and effect
It's not child's play to Laura E. Schulz, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, to figure out what child's play is all about.

Schulz spoke March 21 at an MIT Museum Soap Box event, "Twisting the Lion's Tail: Exploratory Play and Children's Causal Learning".

Soap Box is a series of salon-style, early-evening conversations with researchers and engineers in the news, a public forum for debate about ideas and issues in science and technology.

The theory of cause and effect is fundamental to our understanding of the world. However, despite almost universal agreement that children learn about cause and effect through exploratory play, little is known about how children's play might support accurate causal learning, Schulz said.

"One of the deep mysteries of cognitive science is how we predict the future and how we explain the past and intervene in the present," she said. Causal reasoning even pervades our emotional lives when we speculate about why someone has a certain expression on her face or why a friend or colleague said what he did.

Causation in a nutshell: If you change this, all else being equal, something else changes. From earliest infancy and across all species, action and effect are correlated. Anyone who owns a pet knows that an animal quickly learns that opening a certain food container means dinner is on the way.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 28, 2007, 10:02 PM CT

Possible Genetic Trigger For Schizophrenia

Possible Genetic Trigger For Schizophrenia
A study led by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may have identified a molecular mechanism involved in the development of schizophrenia.

In studying the postmortem brain tissue of adults who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, the scientists observed that levels of certain gene-regulating molecules called microRNAs were lower among schizophrenia patients than in persons who were free of psychiatric illness.

"In a number of genetic diseases, such as Huntington's disease or cystic fibrosis, the basis is a gene mutation that leads to a malformed protein. But with other complex inherited disorders such as schizophrenia, a number of cancers, and diabetes we find not mutated proteins, but correctly formed proteins in incorrect amounts," said study lead author and UNC professor of psychiatry Dr. Diana Perkins.

The research appears this week in the online edition of the journal Genome Biology. "To our knowledge this study is the first to associate altered expression of microRNAs with schizophrenia," the authors stated.

Since the 1950s, researchers have known that the genetic code stored in DNA is first transcribed into messenger RNA (mRNA) which is then the template from which the body's protein building blocks are made. MicroRNAs are a newly discovered class of mRNA that does not carry the code for a protein. Instead, these tiny strands of RNA act by binding to matching pieces of the protein coding mRNA, thus preventing the translation of mRNA to protein. When a cell needs certain proteins, the microRNAs may disconnect, thus allowing protein expression to resume.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 10:00 PM CT

A Remedy For What Ails Medicine

A Remedy For What Ails Medicine
Today men and women attend medical school in equal numbers. But for most women who go on to academic medicine, that's also where the numbers stop adding up. Just twelve percent of women faculty members are promoted to full professor, compared with one-third of male faculty. Furthermore, in the nation's 125 medical schools, on average there are only thirty-five women full professors compared with 188 male full professors per school. Finally, women hold only eight percent of clinical science department chairs and eight percent of deanships.

Against this backdrop, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health have called "for an urgent broad national effort" to maximize the potential of women faculty in medicine and the biomedical sciences.

Five leading medical schools, Brandeis University and the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), are spearheading this effort. They have launched a landmark five-year study to explore and address the dramatic under-representation of women and minority faculty in leadership and senior positions in academic medicine. The National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine, (also known as "CChange" for cultural change) is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation of New York.........

Posted by: Janet      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 9:58 PM CT

Factors Associated With Successful Weight Loss

Factors Associated With Successful Weight Loss
Participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity and limiting time in front of the television are some of the keys to successful weight loss in teens, as per scientists at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Research published in a recent issue of Obesity identified common factors among teens, ages 16 to 18, who successfully lost weight:
  • Overweight teens who lost weight participated in significantly more moderate to vigorous physical activity than those who maintained the same weight or gained. Females who lost weight averaged 7.6 hours a week, and males 11.7 a week.
  • Female adolescents who lost weight were more likely to participate in weight training and strengthening exercises.
  • Teens who lost weight spent significantly less time in front of the television in comparison to those who gained weight.


"Today, nearly 31 percent of adolescents in the United States are considered overweight," said Kerri Boutelle, Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "It is clear that exercising, staying active, and limiting sedentary activity is essential to teens successfully losing weight".

As per the study, successful weight loss for overweight teens averaged 14 percent reduction of their body weight for females and 12 percent reduction for males within a year. The average weight loss met the 10 percent goal recommended for adults to experience the medical benefits of weight loss.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 9:56 PM CT

Higher Trans Fat And Risk Of Heart Disease

Higher Trans Fat And Risk Of Heart Disease
High consumption of trans fat, found mainly in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and widely used by the food industry, has been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). New York and Philadelphia have passed measures eliminating its use in restaurants, and other cities are considering similar bans. A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) provides the strongest association to date between trans fat and heart disease. It observed that women in the U.S. with the highest levels of trans fat in their blood had three times the risk of CHD as those with the lowest levels. The study was published online on March 26, 2007, and will appear in the April 10, 2007 print issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

"The strength of this study is that the amount of trans fatty acid levels was measured in blood samples from the study population. Because humans cannot synthesize trans fatty acids, the amount of trans fat in red blood cells is an excellent biomarker of trans fat intake," said senior author Frank Hu, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH.

Clinical trials have shown that trans fatty acids increase LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol, making them the only class of fatty acids, which includes saturated fat, to have this dual effect. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is considered a "good" cholesterol; LDL (low-density lipoprotein) a "bad" cholesterol.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 9:51 PM CT

Gene Test After Heart Transplant

Gene Test After Heart Transplant
New research suggests a genomic test may provide detailed information on how well a transplanted heart is performing. The gene expression profiling (GEP) test, known as the Allomap® test, is currently used to detect the absence of heart transplant rejection instead of routine invasive heart muscle biopsies, but has now been shown to correlate with oxygen saturation levels, the pressure in the heart before pumping, and the electrical properties of the transplanted heart. These measures are crucial to understanding how well the transplanted heart is functioning.

The research will be presented on Tues., March 27, at the American College of Cardiology's 56th Annual Scientific Session in New Orleans by Martin Cadeiras, M.D., postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Mario Deng, M.D., director of cardiac transplantation research and associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. The presentation is based on preliminary data on 80 patients who received the GEP test. Physicians hope to confirm these results in future studies.

"Understanding how the GEP score differentiates heart transplant function may provide a valuable tool to help tailor therapies to meet the specific needs of each heart transplant patient," said Dr. Deng.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 9:42 PM CT

Ring-around-the-cell

Ring-around-the-cell
Breaking down bone is a tough job. Yet, our bones undergo remodeling every day of our lives, as old material is cleared away so that new bone can form. In diseases such as osteoporosis, an imbalance in this process is responsible for the characteristic bone loss. New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, which recently appeared in the online journal PLoS ONE, has revealed in unprecedented detail how the roving cells whose job is to digest bone seal off their work area as they get down to business.

The cells, called osteoclasts, have some unique features not seen in any other cell type. Osteoclasts move around the bone until they reach a site where they sense that their services are required, at which point they undergo a transformation called polarization. The polarized osteoclast sticks itself tightly to the bone, while an impermeable ring forms around the cell perimeter. This ring functions to keep the bone-eating acids and enzymes produced between the cell and the bone confined to the demolition site.

How does this ring form? To solve the mystery, Prof. Benjamin Geiger, Dean of Biology, and Prof. Lia Addadi of the Structural Biology Department, together with doctoral students Chen Luxenburg and Dafna Geblinger, and with the assistance of Dr. Eugenia Klein (electron microscopy unit) and Prof. Dorit Hanein and Karen Anderson of the Burnham Institute, San Diego, applied two different observation methods to samples of stripped-down, polarized osteoclasts: electron microscope imaging that allowed them to see fine details of the ring structure, and a light microscope method in which specific features glow. Because each method captures different information at a different scale, combining them was tricky, but the two together gave a much more extensive picture than either alone.........

Posted by: Scott      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 9:02 PM CT

One membrane, many frequencies

One membrane, many frequencies
Modern hearing aids, though quite sophisticated, still do not faithfully reproduce sound as hearing people perceive it. New findings at the Weizmann Institute of Science shed light on a crucial mechanism for discerning different sound frequencies and thus may have implications for the design of better hearing aids.

Research by Dr. Itay Rousso of the Weizmann Institutes Structural Biology Department, which recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that a thin structure in the inner ear called the tectorial membrane responds to different frequencies. This membrane communicates between the outer hair cells (which amplify sound in the form of mechanical vibrations) and the inner hair cells (which convert these mechanical vibrations to electrical signals and pass them on to the brain via the auditory nerve). If certain genes for this membrane are missing or damaged, total deafness ensues.

Rousso and research student Rachel Gueta, together with scientists at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, wanted to explore the mechanical properties of the tectorial membrane. Using an atomic force microscope, which probes surfaces with a fine microscopic needle, they tested the resistance of the gel-like membrane at various points to assess precisely how rigid or flexible it was. To their surprise, the researchers observed that the level of rigidity varies significantly along the length of the membrane: One end of the membrane can be up to ten times more rigid than the other.........

Posted by: Sue      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 8:59 PM CT

It's only a game of chance

It's only a game of chance
The validity of a leading theory that has held a glimmer of hope for unraveling the intricacies of the brain has just been called into question. Dr. Ilan Lampl of the Weizmann Institute of Science's Neurobiology Department has produced convincing evidence to the contrary. His findings recently appeared in the journal Neuron.

Cells in the central nervous system tend to communicate with each other via a wave of electrical signals that travel along neurons. The question is: How does the brain translate this information to allow us to perceive and understand the world before us?

It is widely believed that these electrical signals generate spiked patterns that encode different types of cognitive information. As per the theory, the brain is able to discriminate between, say, a chair and a table because each of them will generate a distinct sequence of patterns within the neural system that the brain then interprets. Upon repeated presentation of that object, its pattern is reproduced in a precise and controlled manner. Prior experiments had demonstrated repeating patterns lasting up to one second in duration.

But when Lampl and colleagues recorded the activity of neurons in the brain region known as the cortex in anaesthetized rats and analyzed the data, they found no difference in the number of patterns produced or the time it takes for various patterns to repeat themselves, compared with data that was randomized. They therefore concluded that the patterns observed could not be due to the deterministically controlled mechanisms posited in the theory, but occur purely by chance.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


March 27, 2007, 8:57 PM CT

Pulsing Light Silences Overactive Neurons

Pulsing Light Silences Overactive Neurons
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have invented a way to reversibly silence brain cells using pulses of yellow light, offering the prospect of controlling the haywire neuron activity that occurs in diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.

Such diseases often must be treated by removing neurons that fire incorrectly. The new MIT research could lead to the development of optical brain prosthetics to control neurons, eliminating the need for irreversible surgery.

"In the future, controlling the activity patterns of neurons may enable very specific therapys for neurological and psychiatric diseases, with few or no side effects," said Edward Boyden, assistant professor in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences and leader of the Media Lab's new Neuroengineering and Neuromedia Group.

Boyden and Media Lab research affiliate Xue Han published their results in the March 21 issue of the online journal Public Library of Science ONE (PLOS One).

The work takes advantage of a gene called halorhodopsin found in a bacterium that grows in extremely salty water, such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah. In the bacterium, Natronomas pharaonis, the gene codes for a protein that serves as a light-activated chloride pump, which helps the bacterium make energy.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source



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Did you know?
Studies in monkeys and women suggest that unlike traditional estrogen therapy, a diet high in the natural plant estrogens found in soy does not increase the risk of uterine cancer in postmenopausal women, according to Mark Cline, D.V.M., Ph.D., an associate professor of comparative medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

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