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About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
Follow me on Twitter at @neurorev
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April 30, 2004

Human Brain Project 2004

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Human Brain Project (HBP) turned 10 years old this past week and neuroscientists gathered to celebrate recent advances and speculate about what is to come. While the field of cognitive neuroscience took a while to realize the importance of data sharing and neuroinformatics, it is now working to archive and openly disseminate data from neuroimaging studies of brain function from across the globe.

One of the results of this decade long effort has been the development of the fMRI Data Center (fMRIDC) which provides computerized analysis of neuroimages, providing the ground work for a neuropsychiatric image database that could be used for clinical assessment.

As I've written previously, neurotechnology will be used to define mental disorders in the coming years. Indeed, the DSM-V, due for publication in 2010, will most likely contain neuroimaging and genetic analysis information to more accurately diagnose and treat mental disorders.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurodiagnostics

April 29, 2004

Neurocognitive Enhancement Already A Fact of Life

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"The enhancement of normal neurocognitive enhancement by pharmacological means is already a fact of life for many people," states a recent report in this month's Nature Reviews Neuroscience titled, "Neurocognitive Enhancement: what can we do and what should we do?" (subscription required)

As Judy Illes, one of authors explained to ABC news, "the idea is to get the neuroscientific community to get out ahead of the potential ethical issues and establish guidelines that will facilitate ongoing research. Part of their goal is to avoid public relations blunders that could hamper progress — doing to them what fear over potential human cloning has done to geneticists."

The report highlights four primary issues that the neuroscience community must be thinking about which are quickly summarized here:

Safety: The use of neurocognitive enhancers that individuals are currently using "involves intervening in a far more complex system, and we are therefore at greater risk of unanticipated problems."

Coercion: "What if keeping one's job or remaining in one's school depends on practicing neurocognitive enhancement?...Of course coercion need not be explicit. Merely competing against enhanced co-workers or students exerts an incentive to use..." At the same time, "the straightforward legislative approach of outlawing or restricting the use of neurocognitive enhancement...is also coercive."

Distributed Justice: "It is likely that the distribution of neurocognitive enhancers will not be fairly distributed."

Personhood and intangible values: We run the risk of medicalizing regular human behavior. "When we improve our productivity by taking a pill, we might also be undermining the value and dignity of hard work, medicalizing human effort and pathologizing a normal attention span."

Clearly these issues are real. Today only 5-6% of the general population having been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorders, while one recent report suggests that almost 16% of high school and college students are currently using some form of "attention-focusing" pharmaceutical. And it is thoughtful reports like this one that are needed to sort out the complex issues that are emerging as new neurotechnologies emerge in the years to come.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroethics

April 27, 2004

Neurotechnology Aids Alzheimer's Research in China

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Posted by Zack Lynch

East China Normal University (ECNU) established the Shanghai Institute of Brain Functional Genomics in 2002. Brain Functional Genomics presents a new multidisciplinary field that aims to study the function of genes and their dynamical interactions through systematic analyses at molecular, physiological and behavioral levels in both genetically modified and unmodified animals.

Recently, the Institute of Brain Functional Genomics purchased several Multichannel Acquisition Processor (MAP) Systems for neural signal acquisition and analysis research on Alzheimer's disease. The hope is that this neuroelectronic system will accelerate the acquisition of neural data, enabling researchers to understand the gene mutation responsible for the early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Plexon, the manufacturer of the MAP system supplies tools for basic brain and nervous system communication research, neural biosensors for drug and environmental screening, brain machine interfaces and neuroprosthetics for the growing neurotechnology industry. Plexon's current customers include over 250 domestic and international academic research labs, research hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

As I've mentioned before, China's growing mental health care crisis is driving it to leverage the latest neurotechnologies. This is just one of the latest examples.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurodevices

April 23, 2004

The Coming Neurosociety Transcript

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Posted by Zack Lynch

If you missed Natasha Mitchell, host of Australia's weekly national radio program, All in the Mind, interview me about The Coming of the Neurosociety, the transcripts are now available.

Here is an excerpt :

Zack Lynch: Currently the United States has recently implemented fingerprinting people as they come into the United States from certain countries. If they have the capacity to do brain finger printing should that be done, is there a right for individuals, Americans, or foreigners to have brain privacy? Where is that edge in a neurosociety?

Natasha Mitchell: Where indeed? Hello Natasha Mitchell with you for All in the Mind. This month sees the release of another surreal offering from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman with the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film has stars Jim Carey and Kate Winslet selectively erasing their minds of memories of their tumultuous relationship with the help of a maverick scientist and a whiz bang piece of neurotechnology.

Extract from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind trailer:

Here at Lacuna we have a safe technique for the focussed erasure of troubling memories.

Is there any risk of brain damage?

Technically the procedure is brain damage.

It’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking, nothing you’ll miss.

Screams.

That baby is history.

It’s all been wiped away.

They are erasing you Clem you’ll be gone by morning.

Natasha Mitchell: Yes, well it sounds improbable though not according to my guest today who believes that the rapid convergence of nanotechnology, cognitive science, biotechnology and information technology, which all gets abbreviated to 'Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno' by the way, will have major consequences for how we think and behave.

You might have read recent headlines championing the arrival of the next big thing in the advertising world, Neuromarketing - just one example of the prospects for neurotechnology. It’s an attempt to find the 'brain’s buy button', so they say, and the idea is to scan our brains, measure cerebral blood flow to find out what our subconscious minds really feel about a product and to tailor ad campaigns accordingly.

The hype around it all has been palpable and keeping a keen eye on it is Zack Lynch who’s Executive Director of a non-profit organisation he’s founded called the Neurosociety Institute and he also runs a popular net blog called Brain Waves – Neurons – Bits and Genes, exploring technologies that target the contents of psyche and beyond. And Zack joins me today on All in the Mind.

Zack Lynch thanks for joining me on the program from there in San Francisco.

Zack Lynch: Well thank you for having me.

Natasha Mitchell: You think we’re on the cusp of yet another major societal transformation, you suggest that we’re heading towards a neurosociety. What is a neurosociety?

Zack Lynch: Well if we look back through human history what we see is we’ve come from an agricultural society to an industrial society, today we’re living in an information society where political, economic, social changes, basically driven by information technology. If we look forward what we see is the convergence of multiple technologies that will allow us to develop effective tools for mental health. Now those tools are neurotechnology, the set of tools that allow us to manipulate our central nervous system, more specifically our brain. Our future society will be driven by neurotechnology. Now that’s brain scanning technologies, neuroceuticals, which are advanced psycho-pharmaceuticals and those will create new industries. They will have political, economic and major ethical implications.

Natasha Mitchell: You paint a pretty grandiose vision, I’ll come to neuroceuticals in a minute because that’s an intriguing possibility – you suggest that neurotechnology has the potential to redefine competitive advantage, restructure patterns of global production and make possible new modes of artistic expression. I mean to some ears this all sound rather improbable.

Zack Lynch: Sure, with any new technology there’s always promise and peril; it’s a double-edged sword. Now I think it’s important to know that when I talk about the neurosociety what we’re really talking about is a time from about 2010 to 2060. This isn’t something that’s occurring now so when you’re looking at how brain scanning technology is and neurotechnology is in its current state today.

Natasha Mitchell: Positively antiquated.

Zack Lynch: Correct, absolutely, as I like to say, Prozac is the wheel!

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurosociety

April 22, 2004

Who is Protecting Your Freedom of Thought?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Today's New Scientist has an excellent interview with Richard Glen Boire, Director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE). Last year Richard wrote several guest blogs on Brain Waves (here) discussing cutting edge issues in neuroethics. Here is a short excerpt from today's interview. (I highly recommend reading the whole piece.)

So who should have control? (of your brain)

It's clear that by manipulating the brain you can change thought, and because your thoughts are central to who you are, and because freedom of thought is necessary for all our other freedoms, it ought to be the case that the individual, as opposed to the government, has the ultimate control over matters of the mind. Without freedom of thought, what freedom remains?

How is the CCLE financed?

We get no government funding. Most of our funding comes from people who are involved primarily in developing the internet. They see the internet as an amazing technology for communication, yet at the same time they see its brightest promises being held back or co-opted by archaic legal concepts. They are interested in making sure that these new technologies, like neurotechnology, don't get misused, misapplied or regulated in a way that takes the heart out of them - or which removes the greatest possible benefit, or, even worse, directs them into some of the darkest applications. They want to see freedom of thought expanded rather than contracted.

Please join me in supporting CCLE. As a member of their board of advisors I can assure you that this is one of the best run non-profits around. Donations can be made on-line (what's $40 when your freedom to think and control your brain is on the line).

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroethics

April 20, 2004

Neurotechnology Research Grants (Revisited)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced additional funding for the neurotechnology research, development and enhancement program.

As I have written previously, neurotechnology is being driven by the convergence of advances in Nanotechnology, Information Technology, Biotechnology and Cognitive Science (NBIC -- pronounced N-bic). Mike Roco, the man who has spear headed the National Nanotechnology Initiative over the past decade, is now targeting the NSF's attention on creating a similiar initiative to understand how NBIC technologies will create new tools to enhance human performance.

I have grouped the examples used in the Neurotechnology Program Announcement into their respective technology sector to show that all four of these areas are required for neurotechnology to fully develop. I have also tried to find links to relatively close examples of each technology for those who wish dive deeper. (Many of these technologies could fall into multiple categories. For example, drug delivery systems are likely to require nanobiotechnology for significant breakthroughs to emerge.)

Neurotechnology Program Research Objectives

This program seeks to enable neuroscience and behavioral research by soliciting research and development of novel tools and approaches for the study of the development, structure, and function of the brain. Technologies that are appropriate include: hardware, software, and wetware (and combinations of thereof) that would be used to study the brain or behavior in basic or clinical research.

Nanotechnology
1. Nanocrystals or quantum dots covalently bonded to neural receptor ligands
2. Microfluidic systems for in-vivo spatial and temporal delivery of biomolecules
3. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) used for monitoring neurons
4. Nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) used for monitoring neurons
5. Amplifiers for mice to record neural activity from many neurons
6. Non-invasive optical imaging instruments
7. Tools for detection of acute neurological events
8. Improved electrodes, microcomputer interfaces, and microcircuitry

Information Technology
1. Software to translate neuroimaging data from one data format into another
2. Algorithms for understanding human neuroimaging data
3. Tools for real-time analysis of neurophysiological events
4. Dynamic monitors of intracranial pressure and spinal fluid composition
5. Devices for non-invasive diagnosis and precise identification of pathogens
6. Tools, technologies and algorithms for neuroprosthesis development
7. Non-invasive tools to assess damage, monitor function in brain tissue
8. Tools for data mining into genomics and proteomics of the nervous system

Biotechnology
1. Proteome analysis arrays, proteome data storage, analysis of proteome data
2. Genetic approaches to study structure or function of neural circuits in animals
3. Biosensors that would be selectively activated by neurochemicals
4. Delivery systems for drugs, gene transfer vectors, and cells
5. Probes of brain gene expression that can be imaged non-invasively
6. Genetic approaches to manipulate or monitor synaptic activity
7. Tools for intervention and prevention of acute neurological events

Cognitive Science
1. Non-invasive methods for in-vivo tracking of implanted cells
2. Tools to enhance visualization of specific brain markers
3. New methods to study neural connectivity in living or post mortem brain,
4. Tools for early-warning detection of imminent seizure activity
5. Methods to facilitate high-throughput analysis of behavior
6. Tools for therapeutic electrical stimulation for rehabilitation

Just as previous techno-economic waves have been driven by the convergence of multiple technologies from different sectors, so too will the neurotechnology wave. To understand how our emerging neurosociety may take shape, it is critical to understand how the NBIC convergence will drive the neurotechnology wave.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurodevices

Neuromarketing Our Next President

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As Matt Drudge reported last night, today's NYTimes has a front page story on how UCLA brain researchers are using brain imaging to understand how the brains Democrats and Republicans differ in their response to campaign ads.

From the Times article, Using M.R.I.'s to See Politics on the Brain:

"— The political consultants discreetly observed from the next room as their subject watched the campaign commercials. But in this political experiment, unlike the usual ones, the subject did not respond by turning a dial or discussing his reactions with a focus group.

He lay inside an M.R.I. machine, watching commercials playing on the inside of his goggles as neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, measured the blood flow in his brain. Instead of asking the subject, John Graham, a Democratic voter, what he thought of the use of Sept. 11 images in a Bush campaign commercial, the researchers noted which parts of Mr. Graham's brain were active as he watched. The active parts, they also noted, were different from the parts that had lighted up in earlier tests with Republican brains.

The researchers do not claim to have figured out either party's brain yet, since they have not finished this experiment. But they have already noticed intriguing patterns in how Democrats and Republicans look at candidates. They have tested 11 subjects and say they need to test twice that many to confirm the trend.

"These new tools could help us someday be less reliant on clichés and unproven adages," said Tom Freedman, a strategist in the 1996 Clinton campaign, later a White House aide and now a sponsor of the research. "They'll help put a bit more science in political science."

In the experiment with Mr. Graham, researchers exposed him to photographs of the presidential candidates, commercials for President Bush and John Kerry, and other video images, including the "Daisy" commercial from 1964. In that advertisement, promoting Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater, images of a girl picking petals from a daisy were replaced by images of a nuclear explosion."...

"It seemed so last century," Professor Freedman said. "Consultants were quoting Freud as if it was cutting edge. It was all about interpretation instead of using new technology to measure what's actually happening in the mind."

But then, after the Bush campaign commercial is shown, the subjects respond in a partisan fashion when the photographs are shown again. They still respond emotionally to the candidate of their party, but when they see the other party's candidate, there is more activity in the rational part of the brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. "It seems as if they're really identifying with their own candidate, whereas when they see the opponent, they're using their rational apparatus to argue against him," Professor Iacoboni said.

The neuroscientists warned against drawing conclusions until the experiment was over. They said the results would mainly point the way for future research, and other neuroscientists echoed their caution.

"Brain imaging offers a fantastic opportunity to study how people respond to political information," said Jonathan D. Cohen, director of the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior at Princeton. "But the results of such studies are often complex, and it is important to resist the temptation to read into them what we may wish to believe, before our conclusions have been adequately tested."

As I wrote in neuromarketing to your mind, this emerging field presents many ethical issues, but as the auto industry and others drive towards perfecting their advertising schemes, neuromarketing will quickly gain momentum.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuromarketing

April 18, 2004

Neurotechnology - Faster, Safer, Smarter

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neurotechnology represents better tools for mental health. As I mentioned in my letter to President Bush last year, neurotechnology will emerge before genetic engineering as the primary toolset that humanity will use to counter the growing global mental health epidemic for many reasons, including:

  • Neurotechnology effect is temporary, genetic engineering is permanent: Human genetic engineering won't become widely adopted until people can experiment with less permanent tools, especially when it comes to issues of human behavior

  • Social acceptance is proven: Humans are already using first generation neurotechnologies on a vast scale. For example, 17% of the US white-collar work force is currently using anti-depressants

  • Regulation and distribution systems are in place: The FDA and pharmaceutical development and distribution systems are already globally trusted processes, while genetic engineering will requires entirely new regulatory and distribution institutions
  • Scientific complexity: Genetic engineering requires knowing all the potential downstream consequences that altering a specific gene will have throughout one's life. The convergence of biochips and brain imaging will allow us iincrementally improve our understanding of our brain, making it possible for individuals to temporarily test and shape those mental attributes that help them achieve the goals important to them at that period of their life, much sooner.
  • Indeed, as neurotechnology develops it may turn out that in a majority of situations humans will choose neurotechnology instead of genetic engineering to combat disease because each versatility it offers.

    It appears that some were listening to this line of reasoning. The recent shift in the President's Council on Bioethics towards neuroethics is proof that people are beginning to see that neurotechnology is becoming to be seen as the real driver of near term economic, social and political change, rather than genetic engineering.

    But the genetic engineering meme remains deeply embedded across society. Just yesterday, the otherwise insightful economist, Tyler Cowen, suggested that parents will likely choose to genetically engineer their children to be more "obedient". Really? Would you really choose to permanently shape the personality of your future children if tools were available to allow them to make their own choices when they deemed it appropriate?

    Indeed, it has only been in the past few months that have we have seen the most effective medium of mass education, movies, begin to address the impact that neurotechnology will have across society. While the highly specific memory erasure neurotechnologies that are portrayed in movies like Eternal Sunshine in the Spotless Mind, PayCheck and the soon to be release Robin William's film, The Final Cut, remain unproven, last month's NYTimes magazine piece on measure erasure technologies shows the field in moving faster than many would think.

    To accelerate the public understanding of neurotechnology and galvanize the financial markets focus on this area, I have recently joined forces with Kevin Jones to accelerate the neurotechnology meme into the global consciousness. I am honored have Kevin joining with me on this important mission of accelerating the development of better tools for mental health for all. Stay Tuned.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurotech Industry

    April 15, 2004

    Too Many Brain Imaging Systems?

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    This is very interesting (from Strategy and Business)

    There is substantial evidence that overutilization and misuse of technology leads to spending that exceeds its value for patients. In the diagnostic imaging technology category — which has grown to nearly a $100 billion business — spending increases are driven to a large extent by the growth in the number of machines installed in hospitals, as well as in doctors’ offices and at imaging centers. This has led in turn to overcapacity in many areas and has created incentives for doctors to prescribe unnecessary procedures. Duplication of procedures (i.e., a patient receives an MRI, then a PET scan, even though doing both procedures does not help doctors get closer to a diagnosis) and overuse of high-end procedures in situations where they add little value has also driven up technology spending unnecessarily.

    This needs more research.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurodiagnostics

    April 14, 2004

    The Global Mental Health Epidemic

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    The global mental health care crisis grows. According to one study, over 400 million people across the world suffer from mental disorders. Only 25% of them are referred to health services and only 10% of them receive adequate treatment. 10-20 million attend and 1 million people complete suicide every year. As Marginal Revolution pointed out recently, a new study shows that India has some of the highest suicide rates in the world.

    The global suicide rate stands at 14.5 deaths per 100,000, with suicide the fourth leading cause of death in the 15 to 19 age group. This compares to just 2.1 suicides per 100,000 in the same group in the UK. The average suicide rate for young women aged between 15 to 19 living around Vellore in Tamil Nadu was 148 per 100,000. Compare this to older numbers in China, and you might agree that the number of people affected by mental disorders is indeed much higher.

    While research on the neurobiology of suicide continues, it is clear that mental disorders, like suicide, have multiple impacts of social, biological, and psychological determinants.

    In the developing world, mental disorders are compounded by living in extreme poverty, such as slum-dwellers; children and adolescents experiencing disrupted nurturing, abused women, abandoned elderly people, others traumatized by violence, such as the victims of armed conflicts, migrants, including refugees, and many indigenous persons.

    All indications show that the future will bring a dramatic increase in mental health problem. It is a crises of the 21st century. As the first report suggests, "order to avoid this rapidly growing problem, we should work altogether to increase the awareness of the community and to educate it about mental health, reorganize mental health services, create community mental health services and outreach programs, train of primary care providers, train psychiatrists, and provide psycho-social rehabilitation."

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

    April 13, 2004

    What Do Dreams Mean?

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    Dennis Coates has an interesting post on why we dream (here). As he describes, "I’ve done a lot of reading about the brain and personality as a part of my research for MindFrames, and over the years I've revisited the scientific literature on dreaming a number of times."

    My bottom line is that scientists still don't know why we dream. There have been a lot of theories, some of them over 100 years old, but none of them have been validated by research.

    My preferred theory about why we dream, based on some of the new findings in sleep research, a separate area of inquiry. When asked why we sleep, researchers have much to say, but it’s mostly descriptive. They’ve identified three stages of sleep, in which EEGs show low-frequency brain waves, accompanied by reduced muscle tone, heart rate and breathing. These three stages are believed to be preparatory stages, after which the brain switches into a fourth, much deeper stage of sleep, which is marked by high-frequency brain waves, and practically no muscle tone. This is known as REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, which lasts 30-45 minutes and begins again in cycles of 90-120 minutes. Subjects report dreams five times as often in this fourth stage.

    The most plausible explanation for why we sleep is that when the brain is active during waking hours, brain cell metabolism produces chemical byproducts. These need to be cleared out and replaced on a regular basis or they accumulate and get in the way of normal neurotransmitter activity, causing the sensation of being "mentally tired." Without mental rest (sleep), the brain would have difficulty functioning. This process is similar to what happens during "muscle fatigue." Prolonged use of a muscle area creates the waste byproducts of exercise metabolism, causing the sensation of need for physical rest, which gives the body time to remove these byproducts.

    Moreover, the whole body requires rest in order to regenerate. The autonomic nervous system consists of two subsystems: sympathetic and parasympathetic. Both cannot be active at the same time; when one predominates, the other is switched off. When we’re active and coping with challenges and stressful situations, we're using our sympathetic nervous system. In this state, the human organism uses up energy. When we're calm and passive, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, so that the body can repair and restore itself. During rest, the immune system builds itself back up again. Without rest, we heal more slowly and are more vulnerable to disease. The importance of sleep, then, is that it forces this mental and physical inactivity upon us.

    The above describes what happens, but it doesn’t explain why people dream. Freud believed that dreams were the experience of “the unconscious,” a repository for sexual and violent urges too raw to be dealt with consciously. Another long-standing theory is that dreams are how people sort through and integrate daily experience. I've also heard some say that dreams occur because the creative part of ourselves needs to be free to express itself, which it can't do adequately while we're awake. But these are all unproven speculations."

    What do dreams mean to you?

    Comments (21) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

    April 11, 2004

    Better than Caffeine

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    As I wrote in wake up drivers, Provigil has recently been approved by the FDA for use by shift workers. Given the amount of caffeine university professors, bloggers and others are consuming, perhaps the FDA should consider extending it's use further. Brad Delong posts the milligrams of caffeine he and a few other professors drink each day:

    Brad DeLong, professor of economics, UC Berkeley: TOTAL: 373.25 mg
    Philippe Bourgois, professor of medical anthropology, UCSF TOTAL: 310 mg
    Daniel A. Mendelsohn, frequent lecturer in classics, Princeton: TOTAL: 1,419 mg
    John E. Sexton, president of New York University:TOTAL: 919 mg

    While not everyone desires the neurotransmitter boost that caffeine provides, it is clear that many of us continue to search for a neurocompetitive advantage. So while I wait for more effective cogniceuticals to be developed, I guess I'll just head down to Cafe XO for my morning dose.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cogniceuticals

    April 8, 2004

    Listen to Neurosociety on Australia's "All In The Mind" National Radio Program

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    Listen to Natasha Mitchell, host of Australia's weekly national radio program, All in the Mind, interview me about The Coming of the Neurosociety this Saturday (1:30 pm, Sydney time).

    Here is the overview from All in the Mind:

    Need a neurocompetitive advantage? Pop a neuroceutical! Pundit Zack Lynch reckons we’re on the cusp of a major technosocial transformation. He predicts the convergence of bits, atoms, neurons and genes are accelerating us towards a neurosociety, where we’ll bust beyond the biological constraints of our evolutionary brain. It’s a brave new world of neuromarketing, neuroweapons and neuroethics. But who will have access to what’s on offer, and will your thoughts remain your own? He joins Natasha Mitchell as this week's feature guest...

    And if just can't wait, you can listen to my interview on LA public radio's Digital Village program last week.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interviews/Press

    Rice Helps Reduce Anxiety

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    Anxiety disorders like panic disorders, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder lead the individuals to significant distress and dysfunction due to an unpleasant emotional state, fear.

    Anxiety and panic can interfere with normal life but certain nutrients may help the body and mind to cope. The B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, B6, biotin, pantothenic acid, B12, folic acid) are all important for the healthy functioning of the nervous system, especially the production of the key neurotransmitters that can help alleviate mild anxiety.

    One good source of several of these nutrients is brown rice which contains thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6, and niacin. Thiamin is beneficial during anxiety and panic because it facilitates neurotransmitter synthesis, promotes healthy nerve function, and converts carbohydrates in foods into energy. Vitamin B6 helps the body to manufacture neurotransmitters such as serotonin, essential for the body to cope with anxiety and panic. And Niacin helps the body to release energy from carbohydrates, control blood sugar, and maintain proper nervous system function.

    Foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, brown rice, unrefined cereals and flours, and vegetables and fruits, provide your brain with a steady supply of glucose.

    So here is one suggestion for feeding your brain better throughout the day:

    Breakfast: Begin the day with a mixture of protein and complex carbohydrates: low-fat milk with whole-grain cereal and fresh fruit.

    Lunch: To renew mental energy for the afternoon, have a salad with low-fat dressing, shrimp cocktail, or chicken breast and fresh fruit for dessert.

    Afternoon Snack: Use the midday snack to supply your brain with carbohydrates. Choose fresh fruit or low-fat crackers and six ounces of fruit juice or vegetable juice cocktail.

    Dinner: Start the evening with complex carbohydrates-baked potato or corn-as a side dish; choose a choline-rich entree, such as lentil soup or fish; and finish with a low-fat frozen yogurt dessert.

    Bedtime Snack: Relax your brain and prepare for a good night's sleep with warm low-fat milk, honey and banana.

    Time for a little natural mind styling and a stretch.

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

    April 7, 2004

    FutureLab for High Schools on Tour

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    FutureLab: The Innovation Expo is currently traveling to high schools around the U.S. previewing advanced technology exhibits in the areas of: Deep Space, NanoFutures, Beyond DNA and RoboTech. FutureLab’s goal is help teens understand how science will shape ltheir lives and future job prospects.

    After only two stops, FutureLab has reached over 12,000 students. To see if FutureLab will be coming to a high school in your area check here.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurosociety

    Celebrating Obsessive Art

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    1 in 50 adults Americans experience obsessive-compulsive behavior during their lives. While OCD is a serious social disabling disorder, it has also become a source of inspiration for some artists.

    Celebrating the creative power of obsession is an art exhibit at The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts, called OCD. OCD is an exhibition of artists whose works study the pursuit of obsessive behavior.

    "It could be argued that all forms of art making contain an element of obsession; it drives the will to create and underlies most great works. Though most artists accept their obsession as a means to an end, there are some who explore the nature of obsession, itself, and the statements that an obsessive act can make.

    In response to the variety of options that have become available, many artists have narrowed their focus to very limited parameters to explore a singular goal. To the observer, this can be viewed as “obsessive,” especially in a culture that glorifies the opposite of obsession – distraction.

    OCD delves into the phenomena with eight artists for whom obsession and compulsion are both the subject and the method of their workJoseph Trupia, Nancy Havlick, Luke Walker, Morgan Phalen, Jennifer Schmidt, Chris Francione, Jason Dean, and Matthew Nash. These artists all work with methods that require extensive physical and emotional exertion, as well as finely tuned mental control. Each artist brings a different media to the exhibit, portraying their individual form of obsession. Their works range from the more traditionally grounded forms, like drawings, photographs, and prints, to works that are more playful in their media, such as sugar eggs or bubble wrap."

    While neuroesthetics has focused on the neurobiology of creativity and the role of emotions in artistic expression, it would be valuable to extend the boundaries of research to include artists who exhibit OCD or even techies who have ADD.

    Thanks to sumitsays for the pointer.

    Update 4/9: Latest research on OCD via Nature neuropsychopharmacology --
    Amygdala Volume Reductions in Pediatric Patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treated with Paroxetine: Preliminary Findings

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroesthetics

    April 6, 2004

    FutureGuru Sees the Neurosociety

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Futures, is interviewed in US News' Friday Forward column where he describes some of the critical issues he sees emerging in the coming decades. Here is a snippet:

    "Next News: What trends do you see developing over the next 10 to 25 years that the average person today has little awareness of?

    Canton: The major future trend that will affect everyone in business in the future is the emergence of the innovation economy. Innovation will be the currency of the future marketplace, offsetting the outsourcing trend. Those that know how to use tech innovations to create customer value will win. The fastest innovation will be driven by the convergence of four power tools—nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognitive science. They will offer a new gold rush of opportunity. Leveraging the new building blocks of innovation comprised of bits, atoms, genes, and neurons will be essential for future leaders . . .

    The real sleeper trend is neurodrugs for enhancing human cognition, augmenting memory, and increasing intelligence. Human and health enhancement will be the largest marketplace in the 21st century, driven by the aging and affluent baby boomers who will want to invest in their own longevity—"live long and prosper."

    Next News: What magazines or Web sites do you read that the average person may not have heard of?

    Canton: I get Issues in Science and Technology, I subscribe to the NeuroSociety Online Blog by Zack Lynch and I get NASAs Astrobiology newsletter."

    As I've mentioned before, James gets it.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurosociety

    April 4, 2004

    Guru of the Week - Pate Kane and the Play Ethic

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    The London Financial Times named Pat Kane this week's Guru for the ideas he has put forward in forthcoming book, Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living.

    Pat was a guest blogger on Brain Waves last year writing several brilliant pieces, including:

    - The Play Ethics and Neurosociety
    - No Innovation without Representation
    - To the Victor the Paradoxes
    - "Quirky, Flexible, Redudant": the Being and Becoming of Play

    As he explains in the Financial Times and on his own blog, "We should stop thinking of playing as a distraction and start celebrating its benefits, such as added creativity, flexibility and dynamism. We should also redefine the way we think of ourselves and label ourselves "players" not "workers."

    I highly recommend Pat's Play Ethic blog if you haven't been there already. Also, check out what the Guardian had to say about him.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurosociety

    Your Right to Erase Bad Memories

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    Robin Henig writes about modern medicine's ability to erase bad memories in today's NYTimes Magazine:

    "All of us have done things in our lives we'd rather not have done, things that flood us with remorse or pain or embarrassment whenever we call them to
    mind. If we could erase them from our memories, would we? Should we?"

    ''Going through difficult experiences is what life is all about; it's not all honey and roses,'' said Eric Kandel, a professor of psychiatry and physiology at Columbia University. ''But some experiences are different. When society asks a soldier to go through battle to protect our country, for instance, then society has a responsibility to help that soldier get through the aftermath of having seen the horrors of war.''

    Of course, post-battlefield remorse serves as a check on our militaristic tendencies. Vietnam veterans haunted by memories of combat were among the most forceful opponents of the war after their return home.... If we have the responsibility to treat veterans' physical wounds, don't we also have a responsibility to ease their psychic suffering?"

    The article focuses on a study performed by Roger Pitman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, where 20 subjects took a placebo pill and half were took propranolol, which interferes with the action of stress hormones in the brain.

    "When stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine are elevated, new memories are consolidated more firmly, which is what makes the recollection of emotionally charged events so vivid, so tenacious, so strong. If these memories are especially bad, they take hold most relentlessly, and a result can be the debilitating flashbacks of post-traumatic stress disorder. Interfering with stress hormone levels by giving propranolol soon after the trauma, according to Pitman's hypothesis, could keep the destructive memories from taking hold."

    So should we provide propranolol to everyone who experiences a traumatic event? Perhaps not. Citing recent brain imaging research on twins it appears that "some individuals may be more prone to shown that a small hippocampus is a marker for susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder."

    Clearly, the right to erase one's memory is closer than many would believe. If you are interested in being on the cutting edge of this debate, you shouldn't miss a tomorrow's talk by Richard Glen Boire, one of the leading independent neuroethicists in the nation, who will be speaking at Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute on the future of freedom on thought and cognitive liberty.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroethics

    April 2, 2004

    Life in the US in 1904

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    Marginal Revolution caught this great blog about what life was like 100 years ago in the US.

    - Average life expectancy was 47.
    - Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub.
    - Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.
    - There were 8,000 cars and just 144 miles of paved roads.
    - More than 95% of all births took place at home.
    - 90% of all physicians had no college education.
    - Most women only washed their hair once a month
    -The five leading causes of death were: 1. Pneumonia & influenza 2. Tuberculosis 3. Diarrhea 4. Heart disease 5. Stroke
    -And the kicker: The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.

    So what will 2104 look like? Sure makes our emerging neurosociety seem more likely, eh?

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurosociety

    April 1, 2004

    Are You Wired to be Fat?

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    Posted by Zack Lynch

    A study published in today's Science shows that the appetite-regulating hormone leptin causes neurons to be rewired in areas of the brain that regulates feeding behavior.

    The research team, led by HHMI investigator Jeffrey M. Friedman, provides an important clue about how leptin exerts its effects on the brain to cause decreased food intake and increased energy expenditure.

    "Leptin decreases feeding and fat deposition by acting on two classes of neurons. Leptin suppresses the activity of neuropeptide Y (NPY) neurons and it enhances the activity of proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons. Conversely, the absence of leptin increases feeding and fat deposition by exciting NPY neurons and suppressing the activity of POMC neurons."

    So here is the problem for the neuroceutical industry:

    “If you just look at a region of the brain, you can't tell one neuron from the next,” Friedman said. “And in this case, you had in one brain region neurons theorized to stimulate appetite right next to those believed to inhibit appetite.”

    As I mentioned in Addicted, Overweight? specificity at the neuron level will be necessary to develop effective neuroceuticals. Not an easy task.


    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropharma