Friday, 28 October 2016 15:02

Our brains get 'slacker' as we age: study

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It is not just our skin that starts to lose its youthful firmness and elasticity as we age, but our brain too gets 'slacker', a new study has found.

Researchers from Newcastle University in the UK collaborated with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to investigate the way the human brain folds and how this 'cortical folding' changes with age.

Linking the change in brain folding to the tension on the cerebral cortex - the outer layer of neural tissue in our brains - the team found that as we age, the tension on the cortex appears to decrease.

This effect was more pronounced in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.

The research sheds light on the underlying mechanisms which affect brain folding and could be used in the future to help diagnose brain diseases.

"One of the key features of a mammalian brain is the grooves and folds all over the surface – a bit like a walnut - but until now no-one has been able to measure this folding in a consistent way," said lead author Dr Yujiang Wang of Newcastle University.

"By mapping the brain folding of over 1,000 people, we have shown that our brains fold according to a simple universal law. We also show that a parameter of the law, which is interpreted as the tension on the inside of the cortex, decreases with age.

"In Alzheimer's disease, this effect is observed at an earlier age and is more pronounced. The next step will be to see if there is a way to use the changes in folding as an early indicator of disease," said Wang.

The expansion of the cerebral cortex is the most obvious feature of mammalian brain evolution and is generally accompanied by increasing degrees of folding of the cortical surface.

In the average adult brain, for example, if the cortex of one side - or hemisphere - was unfolded and flattened out it would have a surface area of about 100,000 square millimetre, roughly one and a half times the size of a piece of A4 paper.

Previous research has shown that folding of the cortex across mammalian species follows a universal law - that is, regardless of size and shape, they all fold in the same way.

However, until now there has been no systematic study demonstrating that the same law holds within a species.

"Our study has shown that we can use this same law to study changes in the human brain," said Wang.

"From this, we identified a parameter that decreases with age, which we interpret as changing the tension on the cortical surface. It would be similar to the skin. As we age, the tension drops and the skin starts to slacken.

"It has long been known that the size and thickness of the cortex changes with age but the existence of a general law for folding shows us how to combine these quantities into a single measure of folding that can then be compared between genders, age groups and disease states," said Wang.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Monday, 24 October 2016 17:23

Counting on fingers may make kids smarter: Study

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Parents, take note! Counting on fingers may make your kids smarter, suggests a new study which found that children who have better perception of their hands tend to be more skilled at math.

Finger perception - the ability to distinguish, name, or recognise the fingers - is associated with math skill and even when people are not manually ticking off numbers, areas of the brain associated with fingers are still activated, researchers said.

In order to analyse how the mind works while performing arithmetic, Ilaria Berteletti from Gallaudet University in the US and colleagues scanned the brains of 39 children between ages eight and 13 while they mentally subtracted and multiplied single-digit numbers.

The scans showed two regions of the brain associated with fingers - the somatosensory area, which responds to sensations such as pressure, pain or heat and the motor area, which controls movement.

Both were active during subtraction, even though the children did not use their fingers to arrive at the answers. There was no similar brain activity during multiplication, which the researchers interpreted as a reflection of how children learn to subtract versus how they learn to multiply, 'The Wall Street Journal' reported.

"You probably learned subtraction using your fingers. Multiplication was probably presented verbally and with rote memorisation. For us, it is evidence that the two types of operations rely on different networks," Berteletti said.

Researchers are not sure whether finger recognition can make children better at math or using fingers for math improves recognition. However, they are sure that children who have better finger perception tend to be more skilled at mathematics.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Children living in big cities such as Delhi, are likely to grow susceptible to allergic ailments, more than adults, due to urban pollution, especially air, health experts said.

"Infants and children living in metro cities are inhaling polluted air and therefore their resistance power to allergic ailments are lowered at a very young age, making them more susceptible to contract various allergies when they grow up, compared to adults, Director (Acting) of the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute (VPCI), S N Gaur, told PTI.

According to Gaur, between 20-30 per cent of the population in the country suffers from some form of allergic ailments.

Studies suggest that the prevalence of asthma has been on the rise in developing countries in the past one decade. Also, studies from several centres have reported that the prevalence of asthma in children in India ranged from 2.3-11.9 per cent, while in adults it ranged from 0.96-11.03 per cent," according to VPCI.

The city-based institute has organised a four-day national conference, hosted by Indian College of Allergy, Asthma & Applied Immunology (ICAAI), to discus the clinical and laboratory aspects of allergy, asthma and immunology.

The event is specially aimed towards analysing the impact of the number of offending agents like air pollution, allergens and change in lifestyle in India and South Asia.

According to experts, it is estimated that over 20 per cent of the world's population suffers from allergic diseases such as allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis, atopic eczema and anaphylaxis.

Asthma is a worldwide problem, with estimated 300 million affected individuals and global prevalence which ranges from 1-18 per cent in different geographical regions.

"The most common allergic ailment, in my career as a doctor, I have diagnosed is allergic rhinitis," Union minister Harsh Vardhan said, at the inauguration of the conference last evening.

Air pollution is killing nearly eight lakh people annually in the South East Asian Region with India alone accounting for over 75 per cent of the casualties caused by cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer, according to WHO.

According to a recent WHO report, a few Indian cities, including Delhi, Patna and Gwalior were identified as among the severely polluted cities in the world. Experts say global warming and pollution are among the major factors responsible for causing allergic ailments.

Jaspal Singh Sandhu, Secretary UGC and a doctor himself, said, "Given Delhi's air condition, rising allergy cases are not surprising. In the city, if you ask me, one of the places having the purest air is JNU campus. Allergy incidences have been on the rise, and they should not be ignored."

Food habits and smoking, both direct and passive, are also among the factors leading to allergic reactions.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Babies should sleep in the same bedroom as their parents during the first year of their lives, but on a separate crib or bassinet, to decrease the risks of sudden sleep-related deaths, US experts say.

The new recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics draws on new research that supports skin-to-skin care for newborn infants; addresses the use of bedside and in-bed sleepers; and adds to recommendations on how to create a safe sleep environment.

"Parents should never place the baby on a sofa, couch, or cushioned chair, either alone or sleeping with another person. We know that these surfaces are extremely hazardous," said lead author Rachel Moon, from the University of Virginia.

About 3,500 infants die annually in the US from sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); ill-defined deaths; and accidental suffocation and strangulation.

The number of infant deaths initially decreased in the 1990s after a national safe sleep campaign, but has plateaued in recent years.

According to the new recommendations, babies should be put on their back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet. Soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys, should not be used. The crib should be bare, experts said.

The baby should share a bedroom with parents, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns one, but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 per cent, researchers said.
Skin-to-skin care is recommended, regardless of feeding or delivery method, immediately following birth for at least an hour as soon as the mother is medically stable and awake, they said.

Breastfeeding is also recommended as adding protection against SIDS. After feeding, experts encourage parents to move babies to their separate sleeping space, preferably a crib or bassinet in the parents' bedroom.

"If you are feeding your baby and think that there's even the slightest possibility that you may fall asleep, feed your baby on your bed, rather than a sofa or cushioned chair," said Lori Feldman-Winter, member of the Task Force on SIDS and co-author of the report.

"As soon as you wake up, be sure to move the baby to his or her own bed," Feldman-Winter. "There should be no pillows, sheets, blankets or other items that could obstruct the infant's breathing or cause overheating," she said.

While infants are at heightened risk for SIDS between the ages one and four months, new evidence shows that soft bedding continues to pose hazards to babies who are four months and older. The research was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

As part of its endeavour to protect cows, the Gujarat Gauseva and Gauchar Vikas Board has advised women to give up chemical cosmetics and maximise the use of cow urine, dung and milk products to get eternal beauty like that of Egyptian queen Cleopatra.

As per 'Aarogya Geeta', a detailed advisory published on the official website of the Board, 'panchagavya' (gaumutra- cow urine) treatment is the best medicine in the whole world for women to get naturally glowing skin.

The advisory lists several remedies for women to get rid of pimples and hair related problems by using panchagavya.

"Beauty products, such as soap, cream and powder, are made of chemicals, which ultimately take away the natural charm from the skin. There is no other remedy in the world as good as panchagavya. Application of cow milk, ghee, urine and dung on the body and face would give a natural glow," said a chapter dedicated to gaumutra treatment for preserving women's eternal beauty.

Making a strong pitch about its claims, the advisory gave example of Cleopatra's much talked about beauty.

"Gaumutra treatment would remove dark circles, black spots and pimples. Panchagavya face treatment will give you long lasting beauty and glowing skin. Egyptian queen Cleopatra was the most beautiful woman in the world. She used to bath in milk," says the advisory, without clearly mentioning if it was cow milk.

According to the Board's chairman Vallabh Kathiria, this is just an example to make women understand the benefits of cow urine, dung and milk.

"Some records suggest that Cleopatra used to bathe in cow milk to get eternal beauty. We want women to understand the benefits of cow milk, urine and dung to get such beauty instead of damaging their skin by using artificial beauty products made of harmful chemicals," Kathiria said.

Apart from providing natural beauty to women, gaumutra can help in the treatment of almost all major diseases, including cancer, asthma, paralysis, AIDS and heart problems, the advisory claims.

"Gaumutra is a holistic and natural medicine which can cure around 108 different diseases. We are sure that cow-therapy would become the most popular way of treatment in the 21st century. Even the scientists from western world admitted that cow is a perfect science and total laboratory," the Aarogya Geeta stated.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Thursday, 13 October 2016 17:46

Calcium supplements may damage your heart: study

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 Taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage, although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears to be protective, scientists have found.

After analysing 10 years of medical tests on more than 2,700 people, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US, said the results add to growing scientific concerns about the potential harms of supplement.

"Our study adds to the body of evidence that excess calcium in the form of supplements may harm the heart and vascular system," said Erin Michos, from Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that "ingested calcium supplements - particularly in older people - do not make it to the skeleton or get completely excreted in the urine, so they must be accumulating in the body's soft tissues," said nutritionist John Anderson, from University of North Carolina in the US.

Scientists also knew that as a person ages, calcium-based plaque builds up in the body's main blood vessel, the aorta and other arteries, impeding blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attack.

The researchers looked at detailed information from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, a long-running research project which included more than 6,000 people.
The study focused on 2,742 of these participants who completed dietary questionnaires and two CT scans spanning 10 years apart. The participants chosen for this study ranged in age from 45 to 84, and 51 per cent were female.

At the study's onset in 2000, all participants answered a 120-part questionnaire about their dietary habits to determine how much calcium they took in by eating dairy products, leafy greens and calcium-enriched foods such as cereals.

For the analysis, the researchers first split the participants into five groups based on their total calcium intake, including both calcium supplements and dietary calcium.

After adjusting the data for age, sex, race, exercise, smoking, income, education, weight, smoking, drinking, blood pressure, blood sugar and family medical history, researchers separated out 20 per cent of participants with the highest total calcium intake, which was greater than 1,400 milligrammes of calcium a day.

That group was found to be on average 27 per cent less likely than the 20 per cent of participants with the lowest calcium intake - less than 400 milligrammes of daily calcium - to develop heart disease, as indicated by their coronary artery calcium test.
The research was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Thursday, 13 October 2016 17:43

Brain-inspired device to power artificial systems

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Scientists have developed a new nanoscale device which could be used to power artificial systems that can mimic the human brain.

The device called a memristor may find applications in pervasive sensing technologies to fuel real-time monitoring in harsh or inaccessible environments; a highly desirable capability for enabling the Internet of Things vision, researchers said.

Artificial neural networks (ANNs) exhibit learning abilities and can perform tasks which are difficult for conventional computing systems, such as pattern recognition, on-line learning and classification.

Practical ANN implementations are currently hampered by the lack of efficient hardware synapses; a key component that every ANN requires in large numbers.

Researchers from University of Southampton in the UK experimentally demonstrated an ANN that used memristor synapses supporting sophisticated learning rules in order to carry out reversible learning of noisy input data.

Memristors are electrical components that limit or regulate the flow of electrical current in a circuit and can remember the amount of charge that was flowing through it and retain the data, even when the power is turned off.

"If we want to build artificial systems that can mimic the brain in function and power we need to use hundreds of billions, perhaps even trillions of artificial synapses, many of which must be able to implement learning rules of varying degrees of complexity," said lead author Dr Alex Serb, from Southampton.

"Whilst currently available electronic components can certainly be pieced together to create such synapses, the required power and area efficiency benchmarks will be extremely difficult to meet without designing new and bespoke 'synapse components'," said Serb.

"Memristors offer a possible route towards that end by supporting many fundamental features of learning synapses in extremely compact volumes and at exceptionally low energy costs. If artificial brains are ever going to become reality, therefore, memristive synapses have to succeed," Serb said.

Acting like synapses in the brain, the metal-oxide memristor array was capable of learning and re-learning input patterns in an unsupervised manner within a probabilistic winner-take-all (WTA) network.

This is useful for enabling low-power embedded processors (needed for the Internet of Things) that can process in real-time big data without any prior knowledge of the data.

"Our work establishes such a technological paradigm shift, proving that nanoscale memristors can indeed be used to formulate in-silico neural circuits for processing big-data in real-time; a key challenge of modern society," said Themis Prodromakis from Southampton.

"We have shown that such hardware platforms can independently adapt to its environment without any human intervention and are very resilient in processing even noisy data in real-time reliably," said Prodromakis. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Over two thirds or 68 per cent of people globally would like more rest for their well-being, according to the world's largest survey of of its kind carried on over 18,000 people from 134 countries.

The survey, led by researchers from Durham University in the UK, also showed that nearly a third (32 per cent) of respondents said they need more rest than the average person, while 10 per cent think they need less.

More than 18,000 people from 134 different countries took part in the Rest Test, an online survey to investigate the public's resting habits and their attitudes towards relaxation and busyness.

The survey found that those who felt they needed more rest scored lower in terms of well-being.

Similarly, those who responded saying they think they get more rest than average or do not feel in need of more rest, had well-being scores twice as high as those who wanted more rest.

This suggests that the perception of rest matters, as well as the reality, researchers said.

"The survey shows that people's ability to take rest, and their levels of well-being, are related. We're delighted that these findings combat a common, moralising connection between rest and laziness," said Dr Felicity Callard, principal investigator on the project.
The survey asked people to choose the activities that they find the most restful.

The results show that the top five most restful activities are those often done alone: Reading (58 per cent), being in the natural environment (53.1 per cent), being on their own (52.1 per cent), listening to music (40.6 per cent) and doing nothing in particular (40 per cent).

"It's intriguing that the top activities considered restful are frequently done on one's own. Perhaps it's not only the total hours resting or working that we need to consider, but the rhythms of our work, rest and time with and without others," Callard said.

The results of the survey come at a time when the urge to be busy defines modern life and the topic of rest is at the forefront of many people's minds.

Rest can seem hard to find, whether in relation to an exhausted body, a racing mind or a hectic city, researchers said.

Rest is a much broader category than sleep and has physical, mental and spiritual components. But much less is known about the potentially restorative benefits of rest - in part because it means different things to different people.

The survey asked respondents to state how many hours rest they had within the last 24 hours. The results showed that, on average, being younger and having a higher household income was associated with having fewer hours of rest.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Friday, 07 October 2016 17:21

Dogs ignore bad advice from humans: study

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 Dogs are less likely to follow bad advice from humans, according to a new study which found that, in contrast to kids, the canines only copy a person's actions if they are absolutely necessary for solving the task at hand.

"Children tend to copy all of a teacher's actions, regardless of whether they are necessary or not," said Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Centre at Yale University in the US.

In a previous study, children watched a demonstrator solve a puzzle by first moving a lever and then lifting a lid to pull out a prize.

Although the lever was completely irrelevant for solving the puzzle, children repeatedly performed both actions, even when they were in a race to solve the puzzle as quickly as possible.

The new study shows that dogs will leave out irrelevant actions when there is a more efficient way to solve a problem, even when a human repeatedly demonstrates these actions.

"Although dogs are highly social animals, they draw the line at copying irrelevant actions," said lead author Angie Johnston, PhD student at Yale.

"Dogs are surprisingly human-like in their ability to learn from social cues, such as pointing, so we were surprised to find that dogs ignored the human demonstrator and learned how to solve the puzzle on their own," Johnston said.

Researchers designed a dog-friendly puzzle box in which the only relevant action for getting the treat was lifting a lid on top of the box.

However, just as in the previous experiment with children, when researchers showed dogs how to use the box, they first demonstrated a lever on the side of the box before lifting the lid to get the treat.

Once dogs learned how to open the box, they stopped using the irrelevant lever.
In fact, the researchers found that dogs were just as likely to stop using the lever as undomesticated canines, wild Australian dingoes.

"One reason we're so excited about these results is that they highlight a unique aspect of human learning," said Johnston.

"Although the tendency to copy irrelevant actions may seem silly at first, it becomes less silly when you consider all the important, but seemingly irrelevant, actions that children are successfully able to learn, such as washing their hands and brushing their teeth," she said. The study was published in the journal Developmental Science.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Having a few drinks may help people with clinical depression feel better, say scientists who have found that alcohol produces same neural changes as rapidly effective antidepressants. "Because of the high comorbidity between major depressive disorder and alcoholism there is the widely recognised self-medication hypothesis, suggesting that depressed individuals may turn to drinking as a means to treat their depression," said Kimberly Raab-Graham, associate professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in the US.

"We now have biochemical and behavioural data to support that hypothesis," she said. However, this does not suggest that alcohol can be an effective treatment for depression, researchers said. "There is definitely a danger in self-medicating with alcohol. There is a very fine line between it being helpful and harmful, and at some point during repeated use self-medication turns into addiction," Raab-Graham added.

Using an animal model, researchers found that a single dose of an intoxicating level of alcohol, which has been shown to block NMDA receptors - proteins associated with learning and memory - worked in conjunction with the autism-related protein FMRP to transform an acid called GABA from an inhibitor to a stimulator of neural activity.

In addition, they found that these biochemical changes resulted in non-depressive behaviour lasting at least 24 hours. This study demonstrated that alcohol followed the same biochemical pathway as rapid antidepressants in the animals, while producing behavioural effects comparable to those observed in people.

In recent years, single doses of rapid antidepressants such as Ketamine have proven capable of relieving depressive symptoms within hours and lasting for up to two weeks, even in individuals who are resistant to traditional antidepressants. The study appears in the journal Nature Communications.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


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