Tag Archives: thinking
Sept. 7, 2012 — In what scientists call the biggest breakthrough in genetics since the unraveling of the human genome, a massive research effort now shows how the genome works.
The human genome contains 3 billion letters of code containing a person’s complete genetic makeup.
The biggest surprise is that most of the DNA in the genome — which had been called “junk DNA” because it didn’t seem to do anything — turns out to play a crucial role. While only 2% of the genome encodes actual genes, at least 80% of the genome contains millions of “switches” that not only turn genes on and off, but also tell them what to do and when to do it.
Eleven years ago, the Human Genome Project discovered the blueprint carried by every cell in the body. The new ENCODE project now has opened the toolbox each cell uses to follow its individual part of the blueprint. The effort is the work of more than 400 researchers who performed more than 1,600 experiments.
The genome, with its 3-billion-letter code, reads from beginning to end like a book. But in real life, the genome isn’t read like a book. The ENCODE data shows it’s an intricate dance, with each step carefully choreographed.
‘Science for This Century’
Ewan Birney, PhD, associate director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, was one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project. He also helped lead the ENCODE project.
“The ENCODE data is just amazing. It shows how complex the human genome is,” Birney said at a news conference. “This is the science for this century. We are going to be working out how we make humans, starting out from a simple instruction manual.”
“We think this will lead to changes in medicine and therapeutic treatment of disease,” Michael Snyder, PhD, director of Stanford University’s Center of Genomics and Personalized Medicine, said the conference.
Eric D. Green, MD, PhD, director of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), notes that most known disease-causing DNA mutations are in the small part of the genome that encodes genes.
“Most of these known mutations cause rare diseases,” Green said. “But for the great majority of diseases, it’s changes in the switches themselves. Diseases that are more common probably involve multiple DNA variants outside the genes. Common diseases like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes are probably caused by things sitting in these switches.”
The ENCODE data is being published this week in more than 30 journal articles, including an overview article and other papers in the journal Nature. Nature is making all the data available through its web site and is creating online information “threads,” so people interested in one part of the research can follow the data across all of the papers.
A New Start
While ENCODE has assembled a huge mountain of data, the job is far from done. Scientists still have to work out what the various “switches” do and how they do it, both by themselves and in different combinations.
The first discoveries to come from the work likely will be new ways of diagnosing disease based on an individual patient’s genome. Next will come new ways to treat disease.
“Particularly exciting is that clinical researchers already are beating our doors down,” Green says. “We are in striking distance of really benefiting disease research with this new knowledge.”
MONDAY Sept. 3, 2012 — As the childhood obesity epidemic continues in the United States, more kids are developing an array of heart risk factors linked to obesity known as the “metabolic syndrome.”
Now, a study suggests that these obesity-linked changes may be affecting kids’ minds as well as their bodies.
The new study finds that adolescents with these conditions — which include abdominal obesity, unhealthy cholesterol/trigylceride levels and high blood pressure — are more likely to perform more poorly on tests of mental ability compared to their healthy peers.
MRI scans also showed certain worrisome differences in brain structure among children with the metabolic syndrome, the researchers said.
According to study lead author Dr. Antonio Convit, until recently it’s been thought that “the bad things that can happen among kids with metabolic syndrome are 20 years in the future. But, this work demonstrates that these health issues are having a deleterious impact on a kid’s brain now. Today.”
Convit is a professor of psychiatry and medicine at the NYU Langone School of Medicine. He and his team published the findings online Sept. 3 and in the October print issue of Pediatrics.
The finding stems from U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded research that involved roughly 110 teens. A little under half of them had been diagnosed with at least three or more of the five specific health conditions that characterize metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, low good (HDL) cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and/or pre-diabetic levels of insulin resistance.
Previous research has shown such an association among adults, but this latest report suggests the effect on intellect from metabolic syndrome may occur more rapidly and at a much younger age than thought.
“It’s also important to note that this was really a real-world study with a very conservative approach,” added Convit, who is also a member of the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Nathan Kline Research Institute. “We didn’t compare kids with metabolic syndrome against kids who were squeaky clean, but against healthier kids who still might have had one or two of the things that make up metabolic syndrome rather than the three or more minimum [needed] for a metabolic syndrome diagnosis,” he explained.
“And with that, what we found was that those with metabolic syndrome performed about 10 percent less well, on average, on a series of cognitive [intellectual] tests that look at things like spelling and math. They were still performing within the normal range, but significantly less well on skills that are very relevant for predicting school performance,” Convit said. “And who would want their kids to perform 10 percent less than their potential, even if they’re performing within the normal range?”
Convit also pointed out that 54 percent of American teens are now either overweight or obese. And an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of those weight-challenged adolescents struggle with metabolic syndrome.
“So the numbers,” he stressed, “are huge.”
In the study, the scientists focused on 49 teens diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and 62 who were not, making sure that both groups were similar in terms of age, school grade, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.
All the children underwent a battery of 17 tests that probed, among other things, abilities in the realm of attention, mental flexibility, reading, writing and arithmetic.
Those with metabolic syndrome performed more poorly on all of the tests than those without the condition. Seven of those tests reached what the team deemed to be “statistical significance.”
Adding to what the authors described as “alarming results” on the tests, MRI scans revealed that the group with metabolic syndrome had experienced a relative 10 percent reduction in the volume of the hippocampus region of their brains. What’s more, brain atrophy was also found to be more prevalent among these teens in the parts of the brain that make connections between different neurological regions.
“So, what this means is that even though the hippocampus reductions were not so severe as to be in the abnormal range, the brains of [these] kids are not working on all pistons,” Convit said. “Which means there is probably a good reason that those who are obese often tend to drop out of school more often than those who are not. They probably are more frustrated because they can’t learn as readily. That 10 percent drop probably does make a difference.”
So what should be done? “We should be doing more than simply looking at blood pressure when children visit the doctor,” Convit said. “We should be looking at a wide range of health measures, and looking out for how these kids’ brains are working. And parents should be made aware that lifestyle changes at home, where it really needs to begin, may be critical to keeping their kids healthy and ensuring that they can perform to their potential.”
Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, agreed that “this study just further supports the need to find ways to prevent childhood obesity in the first place.”
She noted that “a lot of this does start at home. Pediatricians need to work to encourage parents to help their children adopt good diets and nutritional patterns and activity patterns, so they can stay lean and physically fit. Because the problems kids experience from being overweight or obese aren’t just about looks or self-esteem. And they’re not just about heart disease issues that can develop 20 or 30 years from now. We’re talking about cognitive ability impairment that can affect school performance pretty immediately. It’s a here-and-now problem that needs to be tackled head on.”
While the study found an association between poor test scores and metabolic syndrome in kids, it didn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
For more on metabolic syndrome, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Posted: September 2012
TUESDAY June 5, 2012 — Soy supplements taken daily don’t improve the overall thinking abilities of older women, according to a new study.
“There are no substantial cognitive effects, positive or negative, from soy protein consumption in women past menopause,” said researcher Dr. Victor Henderson, professor of health research and policy and neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University.
In the study, published June 5 in Neurology, Henderson and his team evaluated 350 postmenopausal women, aged 45 to 92. The researchers randomly assigned the women to take 25 grams of soy protein a day or a milk protein placebo. The soy and placebo were given in powder or bar form.
The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is called the Women’s Isoflavone Soy Health Trial. Isoflavones in soy are estrogen-like compounds. Some women choose them as an alternative to hormone therapy to relieve hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.
Research has produced mixed results about whether soy helps protect so-called “cognitive” health, such as memory and other thinking skills. Some research has even found that soy has a negative effect on thinking skills.
At the study start and then 2.5 years later, the researchers gave the women a battery of tests to evaluate thinking skills. Among the skills tested were verbal memory, visual memory (such as remembering faces), putting letters and numbers in sequence, and other tests. The researchers analyzed results on 313 of the women after some dropped out.
The investigators found no differences in overall mental abilities in the two groups. When they did a secondary analysis, they did find women on soy had a greater improvement in visual memory.
“I think the study is large enough that if there were meaningful overall cognitive effects to be found, we would have found them,” Henderson said.
Previous studies have found an effect on a skill known as executive function, which has to do with such tasks as decision making and planning, Henderson noted. The new study did not find that soy improved this skill.
The good news from this study, Henderson said, is that soy had no harmful effect on thinking skills.
Henderson isn’t discouraging women from taking soy. He does suggest that if they do take it, not to expect an improvement in memory and other thinking skills from it.
The results are important for women to know, said Pauline Maki, a professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of women’s mental health research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Maki reviewed the new study findings.
“Studies of women who represent the U.S. population show that 17 percent of midlife women use some sort of soy supplements,” she said.
“Together with other findings from other clinical trials, we can conclude that soy has little impact on menopausal symptoms and memory,” she added.
Some effects of soy are still under study, Maki pointed out. “It remains to be seen whether women show benefits to mood and other aspects of well being with soy,” she said. Some clinical trials have shown improvement in mood with soy, she noted. Maki has conducted studies funded by the NIH to compare hormone therapy with alternative botanical therapies.
Other ongoing studies are looking at how social, mental and physical activities might prevent the decline of thinking skills with age.
One recent study, published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that older adults who participated in a walking program once a week for 90 minutes for three months had improvement in some thinking skills such as word fluency.
To find out more about soy, visit the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Posted: June 2012
Cowon Korea just announced the R7, a “Full HD Super PMP”, which is more of a 7? tablet without connectivity. At 800×480 pixel it sports quite low resolution for that screen size, but – as far as I can interpret the Korean specs sheet – it should have excellent battery life: 65 hours for audio, 10 for video. As is usually the case with Cowon, the R7 supports every audio and video format known to man (including MKV, TS, 3GP, APE, Musepack, Wavpack, True Audio), and of course 1080p playback as well. Judging by the specs, it seems this one doesn’t support BBE sound enhancements for videos, only for audio – like the V5 and O2 before it. It comes in sizes up to 64GB, sports a MicroSDHC slot, and an HDMI output.
Here’s the real zinger, however: it runs on Windows CE 6.0. This is not a joke. While the rest of the planet strives to implement WP 7 Mango (as far as Microsoft’s mobile OS goes), Android, or iOS, Cowon took a step back to the good old days of CE 6, as already found in their rather underwhelming V5 PMP of last year. Actually, the R7 is just a V5 with a bigger screen (at the same resolution).
It is even more bewildering, considering Cowon already have an Android device on the market with the D3, offering a more modern, more widely used, and arguably better operating system than on the R7. I definitely would have expected them to release an Android tablet, not a WinCE one. Then again, the R7 has no Wi-Fi connectivity, so it might not matter after all. Either way, consider me once again baffled about Cowon’s decisions.
I heard that if you soak them in 99% Alchohol, then strain it through a coffee filter. After that boil at a medium heat, the theory is that all the bad carcinogens will burn off along with the alchohol leaving a better substance than resin. Just put a little on top of bowls. So my question is, will the resin oil be worth the effort?