SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Scientists are set to release the first batch of data from a project designed to create the first map of the human brain.
The project could help shed light on why some people are naturally scientific, musical or artistic.
Some of the first images were shown at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.
I found out how researchers are developing new brain imaging techniques for the project by having my own brain scanned.
Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital are pushing brain imaging to its limit using a purpose built scanner. It is one of the most powerful scanners in the world.
The scanner's magnets need 22MW of electricity - enough to power a nuclear submarine.
The researchers invited me to have my brain scanned. I was asked if I wanted "the 10-minute job or the 45-minute 'full monty'" which would give one of the most detailed scans of the brain ever carried out. Only 50 such scans have ever been done.
I went for the full monty.
It was a pleasant experience enclosed in the scanner's vast twin magnets. Powerful and rapidly changing magnetic fields were looking to see tiny particles of water travelling along the larger nerve fibres.
By following the droplets, the scientists in the adjoining cubicle are able to trace the major connections within my brain.
Arcs of understanding
The result was a 3D computer image that revealed the important pathways of my brain in vivid colour. One of the lead researchers, Professor Van Wedeen, gave me a guided tour of the inside of my head.
He showed me the connection that helped me to see and another one that helped me understand speech. There were twin arcs that processed my emotions and a bundle that connected the left and right sides of my brain.
Prof Wedeen used visualisation software that enabled him to fly around and through these pathways - even to zoom in to see intricate details.
He and his team hope to learn how the human mind works and what happens when it goes wrong
"We have all these mental health problems and our method for understanding them has really not changed for over a hundred years," he said.
"We don't have imaging methods as we do for the heart to tell what's really going on. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could get in there and see these things and give people advice concerning what their risks are and how we could help them overcome those problems?"
The brain imaging technology is being developed for a US-led effort to map the human brain called the Human Connectome Project.
And just as with the Human Genome Project before it, the data will be publicly released to scientists as the scans are processed, with the first tranche of data from between 80 and a 100 people to be released in a few weeks' time.
The HCP is a five-year project funded by the National Institutes of Health. The aim the $40m programme is to map the entire human neural wiring system by scanning the brains of 1,200 Americans.
Researchers will also collect genetic and behavioural data from the subjects in order to build up a complete picture of the factors that influence the human psyche.
The brain's wiring diagram is not like that of an electronic device which is fixed. It is thought that changes occur after each experience, and so each person's brain map is different - an ever changing record of who we are and what we have done.
The HCP will be able to test the hypothesis that minds differ as connectomes differ, according to Dr Tim Behrens of Oxford University, UK.
"We're likely to learn a lot about human behaviour," he told BBC News.
"Some of the connections between different parts of the brain might be different for people with different characters and abilities, so for example there's one connection we already know about in people who like taking risks and (a different one) for people who like playing it safe.
"So we'll be able to tell the type of people who like skydiving and who would rather watch TV from their brain scans.
"It will be an amazing resource for the neuroscience community to help them in their work to understand how the brain works," he said.
Prof Steve Petersen, who works with the HCP at Washington University in St Louis, wants to identify the different parts of the brain involved with our ability to think about scientific problems, to concentrate and to hold information in our memory.
"The romance to me is that we are getting to our humanity," he said.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A new study identifies seven factors that can help emergency room doctors decide if a child needs a computed tomography (CT) scan following blunt trauma to the abdomen.
Because CT scans pose radiation hazards for youngsters, the findings may protect children who don’t need to be exposed to such tests after a traumatic injury.
“CT scans involve significant radiation risk, especially for children, who are more vulnerable than adults to radiation’s effects,” says principal investigator James Holmes, professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. “We have now identified a population of pediatric patients that does not typically benefit from a CT scan, which is an important step in reducing radiation exposure.”
Published online in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, the prospective study involved 12,000 children who arrived at US emergency departments in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) after blunt trauma to their torsos, such as those sustained in a car or bicycle crash, a fall, or an assault.
A variety of factors related to the children’s histories and clinical presentations were evaluated. Among these, seven were identified by statistical analysis to correlate with risk for involving a clinically important injury. The factors included evidence of trauma on the abdomen or chest (such as seat-belt marks), neurological changes, abdominal pain or tenderness, abnormal breath sounds, and vomiting.
Children who had none of the factors when evaluated in the emergency department had only a 0.1 percent chance of having an abdominal injury that required acute intervention. For the great majority of these cases, therefore, a CT scan would not likely provide additional useful information.
The risk of developing a future cancer from radiation exposure from a CT scan in this situation (when lacking all seven factors) outweighs the risk of having a significant medical problem from the abdominal injury, researchers say.
The prediction rule is intended only to help rule out the need for CT for children when none of the seven factors is present. However, the rule does not mandate a CT solely based on any one of the factors being present. If the prediction rule were used in that way, CT usage would actually increase over current levels.
Clinical judgment must play an important role in determining whether a CT is needed in each case, the researchers say. Extending the period of observation in the emergency department, and using findings from laboratory tests and ultrasonography, can also contribute to decision-making in cases of abdominal trauma.
According to Holmes, the prediction rule must be tested in another clinical trial designed specifically to evaluate its validity before being generally adopted. He expects that this will be carried out in the near future.
Another related ongoing study at UC Davis Medical Center is investigating the role of ultrasonography in the evaluation of abdominal trauma in children, and whether increasing its usage can lead to further reduction of the need for CT scans. This study also was conducted through PECARN.
Researchers from emergency departments in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. contributed to the study.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – For women about to embark on nine months of pregnancy or for cancer patients undergoing their first round chemotherapy, finding the perfect doctor is always crucial.
Having the right physician who makes a patient feel comfortable and safe can influence everything from patient satisfaction to even clinical outcomes.
While many studies have focused on how the patient benefits from the doctor-patient relationship, very few have focused on how the physician feels when he or she treats someone. As it turns out, the doctor is more in-tune with the patient experience than one might think.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School conducted a novel investigation into the minds of doctors, performing brain scans on physicians while they believed they were treating patients.
Walking a mile in patients’ shoes
Analysis of the scans revealed that doctors put themselves in their patients’ shoes – as their brains actually feel the pain their patients feel.
“Everyone studies the biology of the placebo effect in the patient,” lead author Ted Kaptchuk, director of the Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS) at Beth Israel and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told FoxNews.com. “We said, ‘Why don’t we change the camera, and turn it around and look at what happens inside the brains of physicians while they’re treating patients?’ … We know that physicians influence patients, so we wanted to know something about the biology that underlies that influence.”
Past research has found that certain areas of the brain are activated when a person experiences the placebo effect – when patients show improved health after being given medicine without any active ingredients. During this response, when a patient experiences pain relief, his or her right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) is activated, and when he or she experiences reward, the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) activates.
Through an extensive social and medical experiment, Kaptchuk and his colleagues tested this effect on group of 18 physicians from different medical specialties who had all received their degrees within the past decade. They developed a unique scenario in which the physicians would undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on their brains as they interacted and observed patients.
The first phase of the experiment involved conducting neuro-imaging of the physicians’ brains as they experienced pain first hand. The researchers introduced them to a pain-relieving electronic device, which was actually a “sham” machine, which simply administered “heat pain.” To make the researchers believe the device truly worked, they used the machine to administer the heat pain and then “treated” them with the machine to simulate pain relief; in reality they simply reduced the heat stimulation.
Once the doctor’s fMRI scans were finished, each physician was introduced to a patient and was asked to conduct a standardized clinical examination. This essentially mimicked a standard doctor’s appointment and help the individuals to establish a relationship – albeit small.
Finally, each doctor-patient pair was asked to enter a scanner room, where the patient was hooked up to the sham pain-relieving device from the earlier stage of the experiment. While hooked up to an fMRI, the doctors were given remote controls, which could either administer pain to their patient or relieve them of it. In reality, the patients – who were actually confederates of the research team – would grimace in order to pretend he or she was experiencing discomfort and then relax to simulate relief.
Through the use of mirrors, the physicians were able to see their patients’ faces as they believed the device administered pain or relieved it.
“During this, we looked at what was going on in the physician’s brain,” Kaptchuk said. “We saw that when the patient was in pain, the physician’s brain activated the regions that we had earlier imaged in the physician of their pain networks. Meaning when the patient was in pain, the physician felt pain. They shared the pain.”
As the researchers noted in the first phase of the experiment, the physicians activated the right VLPFC region when they believed they were treating their patients.
According to Kaptchuk, this is the first experiment of its kind to show a physical underpinning to the doctor-patient relationship. He hopes this will eventually provide the medical community with clues as to how they can better match doctors and patients.
“It highlights that what was once in intangible in terms of discussing health care – well we can actually see a biology to it,” Kapthcuk said. “We think that’s a way of putting increased value in it. We like the molecules, we like the actually physiology of things besides just how patients feel and doctors feel. And this is a way of saying there is a biology and we need to pay more attention… to the doctor-patient relationship.”-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Brain scans can identify the neural structures associated with poor reading skills in young children, and could lead to an early warning system for struggling students.
If a seven-year-old is breezing through the Harry Potter books, studies indicate that he or she will be a strong reader later in life. Conversely, if a seven-year-old is struggling with The Cat in the Hat, that child will most likely struggle with reading going forward.
The researchers scanned the brain anatomy of 39 children once a year for three consecutive years. The students then took standardized tests to gauge their cognitive, language, and reading skills.
In each case, the rate of development (measured by fractional anisotropy, or FA) in the white matter regions of the brain, which are associated with reading, accurately predicted their test scores.
Specifically, children with above-average reading skills exhibit an FA value in two types of nerve bundles—the left hemisphere arcuate fasciculus and the left hemisphere inferior longitudinal fasciculus—that is initially low, but increases over time. Children with lower reading skills initially have a high FA, but it declines over time.
The findings, which are published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could eventually influence reading lessons for pre-elementary children. Previous studies have shown that a child’s reading skills at age seven can accurately predict reading skills 10 years down the road. A child who is struggling at seven will most likely be a poor reader at age 17.
“By the time kids reach elementary school, we’re not great at finding ways of helping them catch up,” says Jason D. Yeatman, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Stanford and the lead author on the study.
The good news: Early screening could reveal which students are at risk; at an early age, the brain is plastic, and genes, environment, and experiences can affect FA values.
“Once we have an accurate model relating the maturation of the brain’s reading circuitry to children’s acquisition of reading skills, and once we understand which factors are beneficial, I really think it will be possible to develop early intervention protocols for children who are poor readers, and tailor individualized lesson plans to emphasize good development,” Yeatman says. “Over the next five to 10 years, that’s what we’re really hoping to do.”— www.shafaqna.com/English