GUEST AUTHOR ARCHIVES
July 31, 2005
John Hind, writer at the UK Observer, recenly picked up on the term "cogniceuticals" in the "What's the Word" column:
n. medicines for saving and increasing cognition
Cogniceuticals are drugs that work on 'knowing' - memory, learning, attention. They are 'the fastest-growing neuro-pharmaceutical market' and are set to be so for several decades, unfolding a 'neurosociety' in which functions of the human mind are protected and then enhanced in earnest. Social and economic forecaster Zack Lynch, author of the daily Brain Waves www.neurosociety.com sees 2010 to 2040 as being a period in which cogniceuticals (and also 'emoticeuticals') will metaphorically move from invention-of-the-wheel stage to intercontinental-flight stage. Lynch sees us taking advantage, via drugs, of the vast amount of data out there. One pundit on businesspundit.com cheers, 'Competitive advantage will come not just from managing knowledge generated within your company, but by cogniceutically managing the ability of your employees to learn, think, be creative ...'
For more on cogniceuticals click here.
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July 29, 2005
One of my favorite resources for understanding where cutting edge neuroscientific research might be occurring next in the next ten years comes from the back 10-15 pages of each week's Science magazine. It is here that leading universities and companies place ads for new positions. This week, one in particular set of positions caught my eye: the newly established Brain Science Institute at Fudan University located in Shanghai, China.
According the Ministry of Education, Fudan University is the leading Chinese university in neuroscience with over 20 research groups. The Insititute is currently seeking a Director as well as several principal investigators to help grow and manage China's emerging excellence in neuroscience research.
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July 28, 2005
By Casey Lynch, NeuroInsights
There is growing interest in the subject of "cognitive fitness". For example, software being developed by companies like Posit may delay Alzheimers disease and neurofeedback games like those offered by CyberLearning Technology and Imagine Neuro Solutions may improve attention and treat ADHD.
But what about emotional brain fitness? Its well known that meditation and exercise reduce anxiety, ease depression, and provide a general feeling of well being. Can principles about the brain be learned from these practices to help develop emotional fitness tools? Can biofeedback games like Wild Divine help beginner brains look more like enlightened brains without a lifetime of dedication?
Neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin have been crossing the metaphysical divide by working in collaboration with the Dalai Lama, the state and spiritual leader of Tibet. Richard Davidsons group at the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior used EEG to compare the brain activity of highly accomplished Buddhist practitioners to beginner volunteers while meditating on unconditional compassion.
They found that the long time practitioners showed high amplitude gamma waves (a state generally associated with attention, conscious perception, and learning) particularly in the left prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain associated in some studies with positive emotions, anti-depressant activity and inhibition of fear/anxiety).
Experienced practitioners also had increased gamma wave activity while not meditating, indicating that meditation may cause permanent changes to brain activity.
In another study, Davidson teamed up with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and well known proponent of mind/body medicine. Patients in the study reporting decreased anxiety and more positive affect after meditation also showed a shift in brain activity to the left prefrontal cortex.
It's possible that neurostimulation could reproduce the positive emotional effects of meditation for people with severe depression, for example.
For more about the science and clinical applications of meditation check out the Mind and Life Institutes November 2005 meeting in Washington: Investigating the Mind.
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July 25, 2005
IBM and Swiss researchers have recently joined forces on a project, dubbed the 'Blue Brain Project', to uncover the secrets of cognitive intelligence.
While your genome can fit on an Ipod (about 3 gigabytes of data), the information about your brain will require petabytes of information storage and an unknowable amount of processing power. Over the next two years scientists from both organizations will work together to create a detailed model of the circuitry in the neocortex -- the largest and perhaps the most complex part of the human brain. By expanding the project to model other areas of the brain, scientists hope to eventually build an accurate, computer-based model of the entire brain.
Using the digital model scientists will run computer-based simulations of the brain at the molecular level, shedding light on internal processes such as thought, perception and memory. Scientists also hope to understand more about how and why certain microcircuits in the brain malfunction -- thought to be the cause of psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression.
"Modeling the brain at the cellular level is a massive undertaking because of the hundreds of thousands of parameters that need to be taken into account," said Henry Markram, the EPFL professor heading up the project. "IBM has unparalleled experience in biological simulations and the most advanced supercomputing technology in the world. With our combined resources and expertise we are embarking on one of the most ambitious research initiatives ever undertaken in the field of neuroscience."
Markram is the founder of EPFL's Brain and Mind Institute, where more than 10 years of research and wet-lab experiments have been consolidated into the world's most comprehensive set of empirical data on the micro-architecture of the neocortex.
Looks like IBM has its head pointed in the right direction by pursuing the rapidly developing neuroinformatics market.
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July 21, 2005
A recent study published in the Journal of Psychological Science and reported in today's Wall Street Journal showed that a group of individuals with brain damage to some of the more sensitive emotional regulatory areas in the brain made more profitable investment decisions than a control group with no known brain damage. Out of the 41 participants, the 15 "brain-damaged" individuals achieved approximately 10% more profitable results than their normal counterparts.
The neuroeconomics study conducted by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of Iowa, used neurodiagnostic systems such as brain imaging and genetic analysis to show how risk-aversion can impede "rational investment decisions."
Applied neuroeconomics, or neurofinance, is already taking hold on Wall Street as David Darst, chief investment strategist in the Individual Investor Group at Morgan Stanley pointed out in the article, "this (neuroeconomics) branch of inquiry and economic investigation is really fortifying and buttressing our understanding of investor behavior...and is already informing our tactical decisions."
Most interesting, however, is the buried fact that 3 of the brain damaged investors had experienced personal bankruptcy.
So does this show how debased financial markets are from reality or reveal an inefficiency in how humans have adapted to our evolving social digital ecological? As George Lowenstein, professor of economics at CMU, noted "Human beings are pathologically risk averse...There were no such things as stock in the Pleistocene era."
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July 20, 2005
The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT, focused on unraveling the mechanisms that drive the human capacity to remember and to learn, is holding two provocative fall symposiums. Mark your calendars:
On Depression: Monday, September 19, 2005
This one-day symposium will bring together scientists, clinicians, patients, policy makers, and members of the health care industry to examine new ways of thinking about depression and its underlying causes. The conference will also explore the possibility that insights gained by neuroscientists who are studying learning and memory mechanisms might lead to better diagnosis, prevention and treatment of depression.
Who: Moderated by Dr. Peter Kramer, author of "Listening to Prozac" and "Against Depression". Speakers include Dr. Charles Nemeroff, Emory University School of Medicine; Dr. Steven Paul, Eli Lilly and Company; Dr. Stephen Foote, National Institute of Mental Health; Keith Dixon, Cigna; and other leading researchers on the neuroscience of depression.
The Future of the Brain: Thursday, December 1, 2005
In conjunction with the opening of MIT's new brain and cognitive sciences complex, the Picower Institute will host some of the world's most eminent neuroscientists and molecular biologists, including five Nobel laureates, who will gather to discuss future developments in brain research. The symposium will also examine the relationship between the human brain and the mind and will look at the possible impact of research about learning and memory on human health.
Who: Speakers include neuroscientists/biologists Dr. Richard Axel, Dr. Sydney Brenner, Dr. Eric Kandel, Dr. Christoph Koch, and Dr. James Watson; Alexander Shulgin ("psychedelic chemist" who invented LSD); author Oliver Sacks; MIT President Susan Hockfield, and many others.
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July 18, 2005
By Casey Lynch
Neuropharmaceutical drug discovery company BrainCells Inc of San Diego announced that it has closed a $17.7 million Series A financing from leading neurotech venture funds including Technology Partners, Oxford Bioscience Partners and NeuroVentures Capital.
Recent research from scientific founder Fred Gage and others has shown that treatment with antidepressants correlates with the appearance of new neurons in animal models. Many factors, including chronic stress, can lead to neuronal atrophy in an area of the brain called the hippocampus and it has been shown that hippocampal volume is reduced in depressed patients. Contrary to long held dogma, certain areas of the brain, including the hippocampus, can be stimulated to generate new neurons from resident neuronal stem cells and some believe that this neurogenesis may be the mechanism of action of drugs like Prozac.
While there is still some debate as to the causative link between neurogenesis and depression, BrainCells hopes that neurogenesis can be used as a marker to identify new antidepressants and mood disorder treatments. This would be a big step forward considering the current difficulty in preclinical drug discovery for these large market opportunities.
Also of note today, neurodevice company Cyberonics received FDA approval to use it's Vagus Nerve Stimulator on depression resistant patients.
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July 16, 2005
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July 14, 2005
What separates artists and experimental scientists? Not much. This was the conclusion of last nights' Quantum Leaps panel discussion which included such luminaries as Bill Haseltine (retired Chairman and CEO of Human Genome Sciences), Martin Perl (Stanford's Nobel Winner in Physics - 1995), the hilarious Ivan Schuller, and the ever-witty moderator Bruce Jenett.
Despite one man's obsessive compulsive interrupting disorder, the two hour discussion dove deep into the value of contrarian thinking, the self-confidence and intuition required by both leading scientists and artists to create break new ground (in spite of the scientific method), and how obsession (the result of combining extreme intellect and emotion) is required to grapple with the unknown.
Bill Haseltine focused squarely on the future of medicine highlighting the regenerative model of human health that is emerging (via skin graphs, bone marrow transplants, and stem cells) and the tight integration and rapid development of bioelectronics (artificial hearts, prosthetic limbs) and neuorodevices (cochlear implants, optical implants).
Martin Perl posited several interesting questions:
1. What if mass is a trivial property in relation to understanding the universe?
2. What if gravity is not a smooth force as currently assumed?
3. Can we do time travel?
Ivan Schuller brought many laughs as he stripped down to his black t-shirt that had a multi-color version of the period table of elements. Ivan's main point was that experimental scientists need to have the freedom to explore their obsessive concerns without the need to explain exactly what the value of their work will generate in terms of economic gains. In terms of his current research on nanosystems he declared, "Don't ask me why it's valuable, we won't know this for many years to come."
Bruce Jenett interjected at several points to illuminate the discussion, ending with the profound thought of asking the audience to explore what part of themselves they would like to modulate if they could. As Bruce reminded all of us, "Yesterday's magic is today's science is tomorrow's commodity." Snap, snap.
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July 13, 2005
The Magic Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology Initiative presents Quantum Leaps: Science, Art and Creativity tonight in San Francisco. The colloquium - featuring leading scientists sharing their experiences and visions with an audience of artists and other creative thinkers - is designed to to convey the significance, excitement and drama inherent in a wide range of scientific endevours and discoveries, and to inspire new creative works exploreing the worlds of science and technology.
I'll report tomorrow on the implications for neuroesthetics, the study of the neurological basis of artistic creativity and achievement. For those new to Brain Waves I recommend reading an article I wrote last year in the Lancet Neurology on Art, Emotions and the Brain, if this topic interests you.
A special thanks to Bruce Jenett at Heller Ehrman for inviting us.
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July 12, 2005
For those of you interested in learning more about brain imaging technologies and what they can and can not tell researchers I recommend the following resource written by Carolyn Asbury, a Dana Foundation grants consultant. The brief primer covers several imaging techniques and what each reveals. The creation of this primer was developed with the assistance of James P. Basilion, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Center for Molecular Imaging Research, Massachusetts General Hospital.
From Dana.Org: This primer is intended to help readers gain a better understanding of how the brain and immune system function normally, and how their functions are altered by diseases.
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The L.A. Times reports on a devistating mental health trend in China, "Across Chinese society, signs of stress and restless energy are everywhere. Jiaolu, or anxiety, a new buzzword, produces nearly a million hits on Google China. A recent survey by the newspaper China Youth Daily found that 66% of young people considered themselves under heavy pressure and fewer than 1% felt stress-free." "The young have things their parents only dreamed of. But there's a lot of hand-wringing. They want wealth, and they want it now."
The growing mental health care crisis in China continues unabated resulting in some of the highest suicide rates worldwide.
Our modern social ecology presents humanity with a new set of threats and the need to develop new tools for survival. Emotional strength and stamina have surpassed physical strength and will soon overtake cognitive processing of information as the key determinant to survive and prosper.
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New River Pharmaceuticals (NRPH), a Neurotech Index 30 company, entered into a licensing agreement with the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UCSF to investigate a new approach toward improving the use of opioid analgesics in the treatment of pain by reducing the development of tolerance.
According to a press release, preclinical work has suggested that doses of methadone administered with morphine at certain ratios could be used to increase analgesia and decrease the potential for opioid tolerance and dependence.
While opiates are extremely effective pain-killers, like all medications, they come with side effects, such as tolerance and in some cases addiction.
Under the agreement, New River will pay a licensing fee, potential milestones and royalty payments in exchange for an exclusive license to pursue the commercial development of the technology for the treatment of pain.
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July 11, 2005
Monday's Mercury News had an excellent feature article written by Steve Johnson on "The Brain Business." It highlights several of the neurotech industry findings found in the report my company recently published on the industry. Here is a bit of the article (see the Mercury News website for more....
NICHE FIELD OF NEUROTECHNOLOGY HOLDS OUT GREAT PROMISE, BUT FIRMS SEEKING TO DEVELOP TREATMENTS TAKE BIG RISKS
By Steve Johnson
The prospect of a billion people nearing the age when they risk brain-related illnesses like Alzheimer's disease or chronic pain is helping fuel a costly scramble by biotechnology firms to find solutions.
The Bay Area has more than 30 companies, out of about 300 worldwide, developing brain-related products for everything from sleep and anxiety disorders to multiple sclerosis and stroke. Much of the focus of ``the brain industry,'' as it is dubbed, is on finding treatments for ailments likely to hit aging baby boomers.
``The demand for better cognitive therapeutics is exploding,'' concluded a study of the brain industry made public this month by NeuroInsights, a San Francisco research firm. ``One quarter of the population will be at high risk for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease by 2025.''
The report estimated the worldwide revenue for this neurotechnology niche at $100 billion last year, a 13 percent increase from 2003, with the lion's share of that produced by a few established drug companies. As potentially lucrative as the brain business is, however, it's extremely risky, even for the notoriously precarious biotechnology industry.
``There's an incredible market for this stuff, but it's a tough field,'' said Samuel Barondes, director of the Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco.
Most of the niche's newcomers don't have products on the market yet and may not make a profit for years.
....more here (sign in necessary, but worth it)
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