Tuesday, March 28, 2006

think different!

Originally uploaded by rissera.
neuroscientist eric kandel
(right) runs into a little platform problem as his powerbook confronted a microsoft-based projection system.

dr. kandel spoke this morning at a conference in boston. his topic was on animal models of mental disorders.

Anthony H. Risser | |

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Eradicating the Guinea Worm (Props Out to Jimmy Carter!)

It's not neuro, but it's an important medical advance. From tomorrow's New York Times:

Dose of Tenacity Wears Down a Horrific Disease
Published: March 26, 2006

OGI, Nigeria — Whatever secrets the turgid brown depths of the Sacred Pond of Ogi may keep, there is one they betray quite easily: why it is so infuriatingly hard to wipe even one disease off the face of the earth.

Ogi is one of the last areas of Nigeria infested with Guinea worm, a plague so ancient that it is found in Egyptian mummies and is thought to be the "fiery serpent" described in the Old Testament as torturing the Israelites in the desert.

For untold generations here, yardlong, spaghetti-thin worms erupted from the legs or feet — or even eye sockets — of victims, forcing their way out by exuding acid under the skin until it bubbled and burst. The searing pain drove them to plunge the blisters into the nearest pool of water, whereupon the worm would squirt out a milky cloud of larvae, starting the cycle anew.

"The pain is like if you stab somebody," said Hyacinth Igelle, a farmer with a worm coming out of a hand so swollen and tender that he could not hold a hoe. He indicated how the pain moved slowly up his arm. "It is like fire — it comes late, but you feel it even unto your heart."

Now, thanks to a relentless 20-year campaign led by former President Jimmy Carter, Guinea worm is poised to become the first disease since smallpox to be pushed into oblivion. Fewer than 12,000 cases were found last year, down from 3 million in 1986.

Mr. Carter persuaded world leaders, philanthropists and companies to care about an obscure and revolting disease and help him fight it. His foundation mobilized volunteers in tens of thousands of villages to treat the drinking water the worms live in.

[ ... Read the full article ... ]

Friday, March 24, 2006

Obituary: Dr. James H. Schwartz

From today's New York Times:

Dr. James H. Schwartz, 73, Who Studied the Basis of Memory, Dies
Published: March 24, 2006

Dr. James H. Schwartz, a neurobiologist at Columbia whose research helped explain the biochemical basis of learning and memory, died on March 13 at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital in Manhattan. He was 73.

[ ... Read the full obit ... ]

Anthony H. Risser | |

Modafinil, ADHD, and the FDA

From The Washington Post:
Use of Drug to Treat ADHD in Children Opposed
Associated Press
Friday, March 24, 2006; Page A11

The narcolepsy drug modafinil should not be approved as a treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children until more is learned about a possible link to a serious skin disease, federal advisers said yesterday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 12 to 1 against recommending modafinil as safe for children with ADHD. Earlier, the psychopharmacologic drugs panel unanimously agreed that modafinil works as a treatment for ADHD.

[ ... Read the full article ... ]
Anthony H. Risser | |

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Abstract of the Day: Olfactory Functioning

Wilson RS, Arnold SE, Tang Y, & Bennett DA. Odor identification and decline in different cognitive domains in old age. Neuroepidemiology. 2006; 26(2): 61-67.

Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, and Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.

The authors examined the association of odor identification with rate of decline in different cognitive systems. Participants are 481 older persons from the Rush Memory and Aging Project. At baseline, the Brief Smell Identification Test was administered. At annual intervals for up to 3 years, a battery of 19 cognitive tests was administered from which previously established composite measures of 5 cognitive domains were derived. In mixed-effects models adjusted for age, sex, and education, lower odor identification score was associated with lower function at baseline in each cognitive domain. Lower score was also associated with more rapid decline in perceptual speed (estimate=0.015, SE=0.006, p=0.013) and episodic memory (estimate=0.012, SE=0.006, p=0.030) but not with rate of decline in semantic memory, working memory, or visuospatial ability. Thus, on average, a person with a low odor identification score (6, 10th percentile) declined more than twice as rapidly in perceptual speed and episodic memory as a person with a high score (11, 90th percentile). Results were unchanged in subsequent analyses that controlled for cigarette smoking or clinically diagnosed stroke. The results indicate that impaired odor identification in old age is associated with impaired global cognition and more rapid decline in perceptual processing speed and episodic memory. Copyright (c) 2006 S. Karger AG, Basel.

PMID: 16352908 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Anthony H. Risser | |

Monday, March 20, 2006


Today's New York Times has a feature story about polio:

Rumor, Fear and Fatigue Hinder Final Push to End Polio

Read the full article.
Anthony H. Risser | |

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Abstract of the Day: Caregiver Rating Scale in Alzheimer Disease

Harvey PD, Moriarty PJ, Kleinman L, Coyne K, Sadowsky CH, Chen M, & Mirski DF. The validation of a caregiver assessment of dementia: the Dementia Severity Scale. Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders. 2005 Oct-Dec; 19(4): 186-194.

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to refine and validate the Dementia Severity Scale (DSS), a newly developed assessment of dementia severity from a caregiver's perspective. The Dementia Severity Scale is designed to measure deficits in activities of daily living (ADL), behavioral disturbances, and the caregiver's perception of the patient's current cognitive abilities. METHODS: Community dwelling caregiver/patient dyads were recruited from 12 clinical sites. Patients had a primary dementia diagnosis for at least one year. In this cross-sectional study, caregivers were administered the Dementia Severity Scale, the Quality of Life-Alzheimer's Disease (QOL-AD), the Progressive Deterioration Scale (PDS), and the Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI). Patients were administered the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the QOL-AD. To evaluate test-retest reliability, 25% of caregivers were randomized to a second visit. RESULTS: One hundred eighty-three caregiver/patient dyads were recruited. Mean caregiver age was 67.5; mean patient age was 78.8; 93% of patients had probable Alzheimer disease. Eighty-eight (48.1%) patients were male. Exploratory factor analysis established 6 subscales (Activities of Daily Living [ADL], Instrumental ADL [IADL], Communication, Agitation, Memory, and Disorganized Thinking). Cronbach's alphas ranged from 0.82 to 0.90 for the 6 subscales. Test-retest reliability was good with intraclass correlation coefficients ranging from 0.79 to 0.89. DSS subscales were moderately-to-highly correlated with the QOL-AD, NPI, MMSE, and PDS. Subscales significantly discriminated among severity levels of dementia, identified by both physician ratings and MMSE scores. CONCLUSION: The Dementia Severity Scale demonstrated excellent psychometric properties and appears to be useful both in clinical practice and research endeavors. Further research is needed to establish the longitudinal sensitivity of the Dementia Severity Scale to the progression of dementia.

PMID: 16327345 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Anthony H. Risser | |

Friday, March 17, 2006

Abstract of the Day: Antihypertensive Medications and Alzheimer Disease

Khachaturian AS, Zandi PP, Lyketsos CG, Hayden KM, Skoog I, Norton MC, Tschanz JT, Mayer LS, Welsh-Bohmer KA, & Breitner JC. Antihypertensive Medication Use and Incident Alzheimer Disease: The Cache County Study. Archives of Neurology; 2006 Mar 13. [Epub ahead of print]

Author Affiliations: Khachaturian and Associates, Inc, Potomac, Md.

BACKGROUND: Recent reports suggest that antihypertensive (AH) medications may reduce the risk of dementing illnesses. OBJECTIVE: To examine the relationship of AH medication use with incidence of Alzheimer disease (AD) among the elderly population (aged 65 years and older) of Cache County, Utah, and to examine whether the relationship varies with different classes of AH medications. METHODS: After an initial (wave 1) multistage assessment (1995 through 1997) to identify prevalent cases of dementia, we used similar methods 3 years later (wave 2) to identify 104 incident cases of AD among the 3308 survivors. At the baseline assessment, we obtained a detailed drug inventory from the study participants. We carried out discrete time survival analyses to examine the association between the use of AH medications (including angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics) at baseline with subsequent risk of AD. RESULTS: Use of any AH medication at baseline was associated with lower incidence of AD (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.64; 95% confidence interval, 0.41-0.98). Examination of medication subclasses showed that use of diuretics (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.57; 95% confidence interval, 0.33-0.94), and specifically potassium-sparing diuretics (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.26; 95% confidence interval, 0.08-0.64), was associated with the greatest reduction in risk of AD. Corresponding analysis with a fully examined subsample controlling for blood pressure measurements did not substantially change our findings. CONCLUSIONS: These data suggest that AH medications, and specifically potassium-sparing diuretics, are associated with reduced incidence of AD. Because the latter association is a new finding, it requires confirmation in further study.Published online March 13, 2006 (doi:10.1001/archneur.63.5.noc60013).

PMID: 16533956 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]
Anthony H. Risser | |

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Business World: Myriad Genetics, Flurizan (MPC-7869), and Alzheimer Disease

From the AP, via Yahoo! News:

Largest-Ever Alzheimer's Drug Trial Begins
By PAUL ELIAS, AP Biotechnology Writer Sun Mar 12, 6:58 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - It's tragedy enough that Pat Williams' mother has Alzheimer's disease. But Williams is also terrified because her chances of inheriting the disease are much better than average. So Williams eagerly enrolled her 90-year-old mother last year in a massive, 1,600-patient, 18-month clinical trial testing an experimental drug made by the biotechnology company Myriad Genetics Inc.

The drug, called Flurizan, slowed the mind-robbing disease in some of the 128 patients with mild Alzheimer's participating in a smaller test.

Based on those results, the company has gambled millions of research dollars on the largest-ever Alzheimer's drug trial. It aims to win an intense, international race among several biotech companies to find the first effective treatment to at least slow the disease's progression in the 4.5 million Americans who suffer from it.

Analysts predict the market for such a drug could reach $4 billion annually by 2013 and success for Myriad would lift the company's fortunes considerably. The Salt Lake City company is now best known for drilling deep into the Mormon community's detailed genetic history to develop a popular breast cancer test.

Myriad's Alzheimer's drug wasn't effective for patients with moderate forms of the disease, so the company is targeting patients who have just been diagnosed. Scientists are also using the latest in brain imaging and genetic technology to develop tests to find people like Williams who have above-average chances of coming down the disease.

Read the full report
Anthony H. Risser | | |

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Slinkster Time for the Brain!

If it's March, then it's time for Brain Awareness Week - a creation of the Dana Foundation a number of years ago.

Brain Awareness Week website.

If you work in neuroscience (broadly defined), do something this week to make the general public more aware of the wonders of the nervous system and the advances being made in science and medical care.

Cerebro-slinkster cool!

Anthony H. Risser | |

A Duel

A kind thanks to Mind Hacks for their post bringing attention to this narrative article:

Gray Area: Thinking With a Damaged Brain

by Floyd Skloot
Lost Magazine

"Poet Peter Davison has noticed the resonant irony of the phrase "an insult to the brain" and made use of it in his poem, "The Obituary Writer." Thinking about the suicide of John Berryman, the heavily-addicted poet whose long-expected death in 1972 followed years of public behavior symptomatic of brain damage, Davison writes that "his hullabaloos/of falling-down drunkenness were an insult to the brain." In this poem, toying with the meaning of the phrase, Davison suggests that Berryman's drinking may have been an insult to his brain, technically speaking, but that watching him was, for a friend, another kind of brain insult. He has grasped the fatuousness of the phrase as a medical term, its inherent judgment of contempt, and made use of it for its poetic ambiguity.

"But I have become enamored of the idea that my brain has been insulted by a virus. I used it as motivation. There is a long tradition of avenging insults through duels or counter-insults, through litigation, through the public humiliation of the original insult. So I write. I avenge myself on an insult that was meant, it feels, to silence me by compromising my word-finding capacity, my ability to concentrate and remember, to spell or conceptualize, to express myself, to think.

The duel is fought over and over. I have developed certain habits that enable me to work — a team of seconds, to elaborate this metaphor of a duel. I must be willing to write slowly, to skip or leave blank spaces where I cannot find words that I seek, compose in fragments and without an overall ordering principle or imposed form. I explore and make discoveries in my writing now, never quite sure where I am going but willing to let things ride and discover later how they all fit together. Every time I finish an essay or poem or piece of fiction, it feels as though I have faced down the insult."

Anthony H. Risser | |

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Business World: Biogen Idec, Elan, & Tysabri (Natalizumab) and MS

From the AP, via the New York Times website:

FDA Panel Supports MS Drug's Market Return
Published: March 8, 2006
Filed at 11:24 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Food and Drug Administration panel said Wednesday the agency should allow multiple-sclerosis drug Tysabri back on the market.

The drug's manufacturers, Biogen Idec Inc. and Elan Corp., pulled the drug in February 2005 after two patients developed a rare brain disorder, known as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML, and one died. A third patient was later discovered to have PML and also died.

The 12-member panel voted unanimously to support the drug's return.

The FDA usually follows its panel's advice, but isn't required to do so. The agency is expected to make a final decision by the end of the month.
Anthony H. Risser | |

Saturday, March 04, 2006

AF267B and Alzheimer Disease

Experimental Drug Reverses Key Cognitive Deficits, Pathology In Alzheimer's

Main Category: Alzheimer's News
Article Date: 04 Mar 2006 - 13:00pm (UK)

A new drug that enhances the activity of a key brain cell receptor involved in Alzheimer's disease (AD) reverses learning and memory deficits in mice engineered to have pathological hallmarks of the disease. What's more, the drug, called AF267B, reduces both of the pathologies--the brain-clogging buildup of protein "amyloid plaque" outside brain cells and the protein "neurofibrillary tangles" inside the cells.

In an article in the March 2, 2006, issue of Neuron, Dr. Frank LaFerla of the University of California, Irvine and his colleagues reported the first in vivo studies of the drug's effects. AF267B was developed by coauthor Abraham Fisher to activate particular receptors for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. These specific receptors, called M1 receptors, are abundant in areas of the brain--the cortex and hippocampus--known to develop severe deposits of plaques and tangles in AD patients. Dysfunction in acetylcholine receptors has been shown to be characteristic of early stages of AD.

[ ... Read the full press release ... ]
Anthony H. Risser | |

CBC's The Lens: "Braindamadj’d - Take II"

An autobiographical documentary by Paul Nadler of Montreal will air on a Canadian features show later in the month, The Lens. The program features independent Canadian filmmakers. Nadler sustained an apparently severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) a number of years ago.

According to The Canadian Jewish News, it will air March 14 and 18 at 10 p.m., 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. EST.

More information will probably be posted on the show's webpage on the CBC website closer to air time.
Anthony H. Risser | | |

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Hospitalization Incidence Rates

From this week's MMWR:

Incidence Rates of Hospitalization Related to Traumatic Brain Injury --- 12 States, 2002
Full text.
Anthony H. Risser | | |

Friday, March 03, 2006

Upcoming Event: Bethesda, 11-12 May 2006

Of interest to neuroscience students:

EVENT: NIMH DIRP Pre-doctoral Research Festival
DATE: May 11-12, 2006
LOCATION: National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
URL: NIH event link
CONTACT: Margarita Valencia, 301-451-4512


This Research Festival will provide an opportunity for pre-doctoral students in neuroscience and closely related programs across the U.S. to come to the NIH campus to showcase their talents through poster and oral presentations and learn more about the research being conducted at the NIMH.

In addition to the scientific agenda, students will be given opportunities to meet with current post-doctoral Fellows and NIMH
Scientists to discuss in an informal environment the science being conducted throughout the Division of Intramural Research Programs.

Students whose abstracts are accepted for poster or oral presentations will be provided with hotel accommodations (matched with a roommate of the same gender, unless requested otherwise) on Wednesday and Thursday, May 10th and 11th. A meal allowance (per diem) will be provided for Thursday and Friday, May 11th and 12th. Attendees will be responsible for their own transportation to and from the Washington DC area; however a limited number of travel scholarships are available.

The Research Festival registration deadline is April 10, 2006, and a limited number of abstracts will be accepted, so please encourage your students to register early.
Anthony H. Risser | |

Older Brains Can Be Spiffy, Too!

Between the frisson of excitement at the upcoming testimony of Andy Fastow at the Enron trial and the anxious waiting over the BlackBerry patent dispute, today's Wall Street Journal devotes its Science Journal column by Sharon Begley to an ode to the older brain:

Old Brains Don't Work That Badly After All, Especially Trained Ones
The Wall Street Journal
03 March 2006, pg. B1 (Marketplace).
Anthony H. Risser | |

Thursday, March 02, 2006


The World Bank has released a report on the topic of malnutrition - a topic that should be of interest to any developmentally oriented neuroscientist.
Anthony H. Risser | |