May 02

DARPA working on brain implants to re-store, erase and implant memory.


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DARPA working on brain implants to help restore memory (RT, May 2, 2014):

Memory loss could soon be a thing of the past. US military researchers say they’re developing a new brain implant that could restore mental faculties. This could bring a new lease of life to millions around the world, but raises ethical concerns.

The project is being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA), and could help soldiers who have suffered brain injuries during service, or millions of sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease. The program is expected to take around four years to complete and is part of a $100 million program by US President Barak Obama to gain a better understanding of the human brain, according to AFP.

“If you have been injured in the line of duty and you can’t remember your family, we want to be able to restore those kinds of functions,” DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez said this week at a conference in Washington DC, convened by the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas.

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Feb 21
nap-boosts-brain-learning-power
Sleep is important for assimilating new information

A nap during the day doesn’t just beat tiredness, but actually improves the brain’s ability to absorb new information, claim US scientists.

Volunteers who slept for 90 minutes during the day did better at cognitive tests than those who were kept awake.

The results were presented at a conference in California.

A UK-based expert said it was hard to separate the pure “memory boosting” effects of sleep from those of simply being less tired.

Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap
Dr Matthew Walker, UC Berkeley

The wealth of study into the science of sleep in recent years has so far failed to come up with conclusive evidence as to the value of a quick “siesta” during the day.

The latest study, from the University of California at Berkeley, suggests that the brain may need sleep to process short-term memories, creating “space” for new facts to be learned.

In their experiment, 39 healthy adults were given a hard learning task in the morning – with broadly similar results, before half of them were sent for their siesta.

When the tests were repeated, the nappers outperformed those who had carried on without sleep.

Checks on brain electrical activity suggested that this process might be happening in a sleep phase between deep sleep, and dreaming sleep, called stage 2 non-rapid eye movement sleep, when fact-based memories are moved from “temporary storage” in the brain’s hippocampus to another area called the pre-frontal cortex.

Brain ‘inbox’

Dr Matthew Walker, who led the study, reported at the AAAS conference in San Diego, said: “Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap.

“It’s as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full, and, until you sleep and clear out all those fact e-mails, you’re not going to receive any more mail.

“It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder.” Continue reading »

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Feb 22

Fresh neurons arise in the adult brain every day. New research suggests that the cells ultimately help with learning complex tasks—and the more they are challenged, the more they flourish

Recent work, albeit mostly in rats, indicates that learning enhances the survival of new neurons in the adult brain. And the more engaging and challenging the problem, the greater the number of neurons that stick around. These neurons are then presumably available to aid in situations that tax the mind. It seems, then, that a mental workout can buff up the brain, much as physical exercise builds up the body.

The findings may be particularly interesting to intellectual couch potatoes whose brains could benefit from a few cerebral sit-ups. More important, though, the results lend some support to the notion that people who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or who have other forms of dementia might slow their cognitive decline by keeping their minds actively engaged.

It’s a New Neuron!

In the 1990s scientists rocked the field of neurobiology with the startling news that the mature mammalian brain is capable of sprouting new neurons. Biologists had long believed that this talent for neurogenesis was reserved for young, developing minds and was lost with age. But in the early part of the decade Elizabeth Gould, then at the Rockefeller University, demonstrated that new cells arise in the adult brain—particularly in a region called the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory. Similar reports soon followed in species from mice to marmosets, and by 1998 neuroscientists in the U.S. and Sweden had shown that neurogenesis also occurs in humans [see “New Nerve Cells for the Adult Brain,” by Gerd Kempermann and Fred H. Gage; Scientific American, May 1999].

In rodents, studies of neurogenesis generally involve injecting the animals with a drug called BrdU (bromodeoxyuridine), which marks newly formed cells, making them stand out when viewed under a microscope. Those studies indicate that in rats, between 5,000 and 10,000 new neurons arise in the hippocampus every day. (Although the human hippocampus also welcomes new neurons, we do not know how many.)

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Jul 27

At a recent conference for some of the area’s leading neurologists, San Francisco physicist Norbert Schuff captured his colleagues’ attention when he presented colorful brain images of U.S. soldiers who had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The yellow areas, Schuff explained during his presentation at the city’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center, showed where the hippocampus, which plays major roles in short-term memory and emotions, had atrophied. The red swatches marked hyperfusion – increased blood flow – in the prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for conflict resolution and decision-making. Compared with a soldier without the affliction, the PTSD brain had lost 5 to 10 percent of its gray matter volume, indicating yet more neuron damage.

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