Medical researchers looking for what might cause the long-term brain damage seen in athletes playing contact sports have uncovered an unexpected possibility—the players’ own immune systems.
Investigating a group of 67 football players, the researchers from the University of Rochester and the Cleveland Clinic found that jarring head hits create openings in the gate that normally forms a barrier between the blood and brain.
“All we can tell right now is that brain proteins that aren’t supposed to get in the blood are there,” says Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who coauthored a study in the journal PLOS ONE. “That’s bad because that causes antibodies that don’t recognize the protein to attack it like it’s a bacteria or virus.”
Is there a way to predict who is most likely to commit a crime in the future, and if so, what should the authorities do about it? In work that seems like science fiction, researchers have found that brain scans could help detect which convicts might get arrested for new crimes once they leave prison.
Forecasting crimes before they happen might seem to echo the film “Minority Report,” where sci-fi advances enable police to capture would-be criminals before they carry out the acts they get arrested for. However, “I wouldn’t draw the parallel at all with our work,” cautions neuroscientist Kent Kiehl at the nonprofit Mind Research Network and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “We’re not saying anything is predetermined. This is just a slightly different way of judging risks.”
Convicts often reoffend after leaving prison — one study found that more than four in 10 inmates nationwide return to state prison within three years of their release, a massive problem the Pew Center on the States called “the revolving door of America’s prisons.”
Brain disorders affect more than 30 percent of the world’s population. In the U.S. alone, one in four families contends with the devastating impacts of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, depression, stroke or any of the other numerous ways our most complex organ can go awry.
President Obama’s recent announcement to create the BRAIN initiative—backed by a proposed $100 million in funds—acknowledges the severity of these problems and seeks to find solutions for them through an enhanced understanding of the brain. The U.S. is not alone in these endeavors. The European Union announced its own €800 million ($1.04 billion) Human Brain Project earlier this year.
Israel, too, is doing its part to better understand the human brain in order to combat conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to epilepsy to brain trauma. At a gathering in San Francisco last week, neurophysiologist and neurosurgeon Alon Friedman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev described some of the most promising research pursuits underway at the collaborative Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience. With the upsurge in research efforts and interest, he predicts that 2013 will kick off “the decade of the brain.”
For more than a quarter of a century, researchers have known that deep brain stimulation (DBS)—the delivery of tiny amounts of electricity to targeted areas of the organ—is a proven way to improve some neurological symptoms or movement disorders. The procedure involves the implantation of electrodes deep inside the brain that are connected via a wire to an implantable pulse generator.
Now, researchers in Toronto have used the circuit-based treatment on patients with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa for the first time.
In a small sample study published in the journal Lancet this month, researchers at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and Toronto’s University Health Network have shown that DBS can help patients with chronic, severe and treatment-resistant anorexia.