Monday, February 28, 2011

Inflammation Identified as New Therapeutic Target Years After Stroke

Download image
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 1, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A breakthrough in stroke research identifying the potential reversibility of chronic neurologic disability in stroke survivors has published today. In the February 1, 2011 issue of the journal CNS Drugs the first human results of a new method of targeting chronic brain inflammation years after stroke are reported. Rapid improvement in impaired motor function, gait, hand function, sensory deficits, spatial perception, speech, cognition and behavior were noted among the first three consecutive patients treated. All patients demonstrated improvement beginning within 10 minutes of drug administration(1).
The study utilized a new method of delivery of etanercept, a potent biotechnology anti-inflammatory therapeutic. Etanercept has been a breakthrough for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. It works by neutralizing tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a cytokine that initiates and amplifies inflammation. The therapeutic potential of etanercept in Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, sciatica, and other neuroinflammatory disorders has attracted increasing attention(1).
Previous research had produced evidence of chronic brain inflammation following stroke. The CNS Drugs results provide, for the first time, proof-of-concept that targeting chronic brain inflammation is a viable therapeutic approach in humans years after stroke. The medical need is massive; in the United States alone approximately 795,000 individuals suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.  This calculates to a stroke happening every 40 seconds. At present, these patients lack treatment options to reverse the chronic disability that often results and many require full time care.
These new results provide a new direction for stroke research. In their most recent consensus statement, "Stroke: Working Towards a Prioritized World Agenda", leading stroke researchers recognized the need to "scan the scientific landscape to embrace new ideas and approaches ...[and] think outside the box ... could advances in the understanding of ... inflammation dramatically change our thinking about stroke pathogenesis?"
"The possibility of a leap in our understanding of brain dysfunction caused by stroke by exploring inflammatory pathways was anticipated by the forward-thinking stroke research community," said Edward Tobinick MD, the author of the study and inventor of the etanercept delivery method. "There is potential to address enormous unmet medical need."
1. "Rapid Improvement in Chronic Stroke Deficits after Perispinal Etanercept: Three Consecutive Cases". CNS Drugs 2011; 25 (2): 145-155. A video documenting the rapid effect of treatment accompanies the article at

Read More....

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pitt to test brain implants in paralyzed patients

Pitt to test brain implants in paralyzed patients
Thursday, February 17, 2011
The University of Pittsburgh will become one of the few places in the world to test brain implants in paralyzed patients in hopes of training them to move prosthetic arms with their thoughts.
The experimental work, involving two different kinds of electrode implants in the brain, is designed to interpret patients' brain signals, route them through a computer, and then control the movement of a prosthetic arm and hand, with a movable wrist and fingers.
If the research is successful, it could lead to implants that would allow patients to stimulate and control their own paralyzed arms, said Michael Boninger, director of the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute and a senior scientist on both projects.
The patients have not yet been chosen, Dr. Boninger said, but will probably be people with quadriplegia whose paralyses were caused by accidents.
The experiments build on the world-renowned work of Andrew Schwartz, a Pitt neurobiology professor, who has implanted electrodes in monkeys that have allowed them to control increasingly sophisticated prosthetic arms.
The projects are getting nearly $7 million over the next three years from the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The smaller of the two experiments will put an array of 16 electrodes on the surface of the brain in three patients for a month to test the concept of using brain-wave readings to move a cursor on a computer screen and then manipulate a prosthetic arm.
The other experiment will implant two sets of 100 electrodes each in the motor cortex of three paralyzed patients, Dr. Schwartz said in an interview Wednesday. The first patient, who will get the implants this summer, will have two small pedestals on the surface of the skull, from which wires will relay brain signals to a computer and then to a prosthetic arm.
One pedestal will channel signals from electrodes placed in an area that controls the arm, and the other from electrodes that control the wrist and hand.
The first patient's implants are scheduled to stay in place for a year. In 2012, a second patient would get implants that would also allow the patient to sense the movement of the arm and hand through a feedback circuit to the brain, he said.
A third patient in 2013 would get implants that would transmit signals wirelessly to control two prosthetic arms. Dr. Schwartz said.
In both projects, the patients start by observing the prosthetic arm's movements while the electrodes monitor signals from the motor control portions of their brains. Computer software can then use those patterns of signals to move the arm in the direction that the patient wants.
The longer project involving the implanted electrodes is being led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., which oversaw development of the prosthetic arms and accompanying technology.
Other participants include Blackrock Microsystems in Utah, which makes the brain electrodes, and the California Institute of Technology, which is scheduled to try a different kind of brain implant in a patient in the future.
From a practical standpoint, Dr. Schwartz said, "we want to make this [prosthetic] arm perform as close to a real arm and hand as we can. When you ask these [paralyzed] subjects what they really want, they say they want to be able to use their hands to feed themselves and maintain themselves and do their buttons and zippers."
At a deeper level, he said, the researchers are learning how the brain carries out its plans. "We're trying to understand how the brain learns by watching the neurons fire, and that is very exciting."

Read more:

Body and Brain Connection review

Review: Namaco Bandai’s Kinect title for the Xbox 360, Body and Brain Connection, is a great idea for the family that can help create real physical and mental benefits, but suffers from a lack of variety.

Let’s be honest, the Kinect is never going to have the same types of titles that the games using controllers have. There just isn’t the same level of depth that can be utilized when you can only mimic movement and all commands are done through time based highlighting of certain areas on the TV. If you want to select something, you hold your hand over the proper icon and wait until the bar fills up and the selection registers. You will never be able to pull off a satisfying 11-hit combo that finishes with a pile driver, nor will you ever be able to effectively use cover while under fire when you don’t have the ability to walk in the direction of your choice. It just isn’t going to happen.
Instead, clever developers are not trying to recreate the standard gaming experience without hands, they are coming up with new ideas that could only work on the Kinect, and adapting popular genres that wouldn’t typically appeal to the hardcore gamers. It is a push towards the casual gaming market, as well as move to specifically target the party game crowd. And that is exactly what Namaco Bandai has done with its new title Body and Brain Connection.
The game is designed to help people by offering simple mini-games that will help to exercise your brain and keeping you physically active. Body and Brain is also a game that parents should be able to quickly get behind. In fact, it is an easy fit for the home.  If your kid likes video games, why not get them a video game designed by a “renowned neuroscientist” that can actually help them learn? The game sells itself like it is actually good for you, and it very well may be.
The idea of taking a game from the “brain training” genre is a natural fit for the Kinect.  Adding physical movements to puzzles only further expands on what can be done.  In fact, calling it a game is almost a misnomer because at its core, Body and Brain is a tool, albeit a fun one.  When you first begin the “training”, it is fun and interesting.  The more you play, the more difficult the problems become, and so the more benefit you reap from it.  But behind the good idea that is Body and Brain Connection, lies the ugly specter of repetition. Even the most enticing mini-game can grow old quickly, and while Body and Brian is an impressive title at times, it could soon wear thin on all but the most resolute of players.

How It Works
With each category, the challenges offer puzzles and problems that typically require physical actions to solve. For example in the math sections, one of the first games you will play involves simple arithmetic. The problem is displayed above, and the answer is on one of two soccer balls displayed at your avatar’s feet. Once you have the answer, you then kick the corresponding ball into the net. Another puzzle has you watching the hands on a clock before they disappear. You follow the pattern and move your arms into the proper position where the hands should be before the timer runs out. Another game features arrows displayed in various places, and you must ignore where those arrows are, and instead you move your arms in the direction that the arrows are pointing as quickly as possible.
Once you have completed the game, you can go back and replay it on a harder level of difficulty.  The arithmetic becomes algebra, the clock hands begin to move multiple spaces and disappear earlier, and the arrows appear in positions designed to try to fool you.  As you complete each game, you are awarded a grade which you can accept or attempt to approve upon.
You track your progress primarily through the “age of your brain”.  When you pop in the game for the first time, the game will run you through a few simple, time based problems. From that it will award you an age, and with each better score, and with each faster time, the age of your brain improves. Each day you will also find a new set of challenges which are offered based on previous results, in order to help you improve upon specific areas that you need help with.
The game claims to have been designed with the help of neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, one of the original people behind the brain-training genre, which is growing in America and is huge in Japan. The idea is that the games will help to train you mentally, while the physical nature is also beneficial to you.
The science behind it is no doubt sound, and the idea of using a video game to improve yourself is alluring. There is also a multiplayer which can make for some fun party games among people that enjoy brain-teaser based games. In that sense, Body and Brain is going right where the Kinect wants to—towards casual gamers. 
The idea behind this game is both fun and appealing. Play a video game and get smarter—sounds good, right? But there is also the boredom factor that will soon descend upon players of any age as you quickly burn through the existing games and puzzles. There is always the potential of more games via DLC in the future, but that is a possibility not a certainty, and even if it were guaranteed the retail package is still a bit underwhelming.
All in all, Body and Brain Connection is a great idea that will keep gamers of all ages–from kids looking to learn to adults hoping for a bit of light stimulus—entertained for a while. It is something of a Catch-22. Many that play this game every now and then will probably find it interesting and a fun distraction, but to really benefit from it you must use it constantly, which will almost certainly chase people away once the tedium begins.
The concept of this title is impressive, and hopefully more games are on the way that can turn the Xbox 360 and the Kinect into something more than just a gaming system. Body and Brain is a tool that can be used to show real and practical benefits to the lives of gamers (at least to a small degree).
Body and Brain Connection is a good game/tool for those looking for something unique to do with their Kinect, and for people that enjoy brain teasers and puzzles which could offer real life benefits to the gamer. Odds are most won’t be able to continue to play the game for too long without getting bored, but in small doses, the game is solid. If you are a Kinect owner that is looking for something worthwhile to add to your collection, then Body and Brain Connection might be the game for you.
Read More....

Brain Scientists Create Illusion of Third Human Arm

The human brain can be tricked into believing it has three arms, Swedish scientists said Thursday, giving hope to the advancement of prosthetic limbs for paralyzed stroke victims.
Scientists from the Karolinska Institute were able to convince 154 healthy volunteers that they owned multiple limbs -- to such an extent that participants broke out in a sweat when their fake limbs were threatened with a knife.
During the experiment, participants had a realistic prosthetic arm placed next to their right arm, and researchers stroked the real hand and fake hand with two small brushes in the same place. By synchronizing the strokes, the volunteers’ brains were tricked into feeling that the false arm was part of the body.
"A conflict arises in the brain concerning which of the right hands belongs to the participant's body," said researcher Dr. Arvid Guterstam. "What one could expect is that only one of the hands is experienced as one's own, presumably the real arm. But what we found, surprisingly, is that the brain solves this conflict by accepting both right hands as part of the body image, and the subjects experience having an extra third arm."
The scientists threatened either the prosthetic hand or the real hand with a kitchen knife while measuring the amount of sweating from the palm. They found results the participants had the same stress response when the prosthetic hand was threatened as when the real hand was in danger.
"It may be possible in the future to offer a stroke patient, who has become paralyzed on one side of the body, a prosthetic arm that can be used and experienced as his own, while the paralyzed arm remains within the patient's body image," said Dr. Henrik Ehrsson, who led the study.