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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.
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November 30, 2005

Harvard Announces Center for Bioethics and Technology

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Better late than never...

Harvard Law School said it will create a new center specializing in cutting edge issues at the forefront of genetics, medicine and technology. The center will examine thorny legal questions including the debates over cloning, end-of-life care and physician assisted suicide. Also likely to receive significant attention: controversies over the privacy of patient data and third-party access to electronic medical records. Funding for the project was provided by a $10 million grant from the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation and Joseph H. Flom.

Harvard joins the list of other leading bioethics programs at schools like such as Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, St. Louis University, the University of Houston and Seton Hall University. According to the NYTimes, "Drexel University in Philadelphia is focusing its new law school, slated to open next year, solely on technology and health issues."

It should be interesting to see how quickly and far they will go down the neuroethics road.

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

November 28, 2005

Emotional Neurotechnology - Who Needs Emotions?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

My book review of Who Needs Emotions? The Brain Meets the Robot is published this month in the Lancet Neurology. While copyrights hold me back from publishing the review here, I will say that the 499 page book is an important contribution to the field of emotional neurotechnology. It contains a stimulating collection of chapters from some of the most prominent neuroscientists and artificial intelligence experts around.

622235.gifOne of my favorite chapters was written by Ann E Kelley and focused on understanding how the brain processes emotions, how emotions evolved and the neurobiological substrates of emotions. I write, "Within the space of a few dozen pages, Kelley traverses evolutionary time and looks at the neurochemical networks encoding emotion and motivation. The role of dopamine in reward and plasticity, serotonin in aggression and depression and opioid peptides in pain and pleasure are discussed as critical neuromodulators that have given rise to an extraordinary amount of behavioral flexibility."

"So what about the robots? Researchers in artificial intelligence are interested in leveraging emotions to build systems that can perform unanticipated tasks in unpredictable environments. Despite the progress being made in these systems, most AI researchers concede that improved outcomes (of their models) will need better models of how human beings respond (in their emotional state) to new situations."

At the end of the day, I highly recommend the book for searchers and graduate students across neuroscience and computer science.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Emoticeuticals

November 23, 2005

Turkey's Imagined Tryptophan Effect

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As most Americans prepare to gorge ourselves tomorrow, I'd like to set the record straight about the sedative effect of the amino acid tryptophan found in turkey: IT'S A MYTH.

100px-Tryptophan.pngTryptophan is the key ingredient in making serotonin; without it, serotonin won't be produced. Because the body can't make it's own tryptophan, it must be taken in as part of the diet; for this reason tryptophan is known as an "essential" amino acid. Typtophan achieves its effects by way of serotonin which promotes feelings of calm, relaxation, and sleepiness. Lack of serotonin, on the other hand, is associated with depression. Many of today's antidepressant drugs work to increase the level of available serotonin in the brain.

However, eating turkey with lots of other foods on a day like Thanksgiving will actually lower your tryptophan. That's because tryptophan uses the same means of transport into the brain as other amino acids, and has to compete against them to cross the blood-brain barrier. As it happens, tryptophan is the least abundant amino acid in protein. Forced to fight for access against the more common amino acids, tryptophan is left waiting at the gate: the amount of tryptophan entering the brain actually decreases.

Why, then, the post-turkey torpor? It's more likely due to the combination of drinking alcohol and overeating - not just turkey, but also mashed potatoes, ham, creamed onions, cranberries, sweet potatoes, peas, stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer), carrots, bread, pies, and whipped cream - all of which have the effect of puling the blood away from your brain to help your digestive tract do its work, and the sugar/insulin effect. Put simply, you've stuffed yourself.

Gobble, gobble.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (4) | Category: Emoticeuticals

November 21, 2005

Human Brain Project - India

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The President of India, A P J Abdul Kalam, today called for a comprehensive human brain project with global participation to tackle brain disorders.

Delivering 10th convocation address of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in India, he said the project should aim at preparing a comprehensive structural and functional map of human brain and facilitate convergence of all activities pertaining to brain research.

hbp.jpg"This indeed is a challenging task which requires active participation and effective contribution of research institutions like NIMHANS, government agencies, academia and entire medical fraternity," he said.

Kalam said according to an estimate of World Health Organisation, brain disorders would be the greatest health threat in the next few decades to come. The project should tackle diseases like depression, sleep disorders, epilepsy and schizophrenia, he said.

I couldn't agree more with India's President. Fortunately for him, India, and the rest of us, the Human Brain Project, headed by the NIMH in the US, is already in it's 11th year and welcomes international participation.

Comments (18) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurodiagnostics

November 17, 2005

Foiled Helmets, Foiled Brains, Serious Humor

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Leave it to researchers at MIT to analyze the effectiveness of aluminum foil helmets on protecting your brain against invasive radio waves. In you read the Onion, you are going love this.

"Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

We evaluated the performance of three different helmet designs, commonly referred to as the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion. These designs are portrayed in Figure 1. The helmets were made of Reynolds aluminium foil. As per best practices, all three designs were constructed with the double layering technique described elsewhere (I highly recommend following the 1st link to see these helmets).

Conclusion

The helmets amplify frequency bands that coincide with those allocated to the US government between 1.2 Ghz and 1.4 Ghz. According to the FCC, These bands are supposedly reserved for ''radio location'' (ie, GPS), and other communications with satellites. The 2.6 Ghz band coincides with mobile phone technology. Though not affiliated by government, these bands are at the hands of multinational corporations.

It requires no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the current helmet craze is likely to have been propagated by the Government, possibly with the involvement of the FCC. We hope this report will encourage the paranoid community to develop improved helmet designs to avoid falling prey to these shortcomings.

Thanks Robert

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: X-tra

November 16, 2005

Pill Popping Friends Regulate Minds Together

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Today's NYTimes had an truthful article on the growth and trade of prescription drugs among friends.

The article "Young, Assured and Playing Pharmacist to Friends" nailed a very real trend stating,

"For a sizable group of people in their 20's and 30's, deciding on their own what drugs to take - in particular stimulants, antidepressants and other psychiatric medications - is becoming the norm...The behavior, drug abuse prevention experts say, is notably different from the use of drugs like marijuana or cocaine, or even the abuse of prescription pain killers, which is also on the rise.

The goal of many young adults in not to get high but to feel better - less depressed, less stressed out, more focused, better rested. It is just seems that the easiest route to that end often seems to be medication for which they do not have a prescription. Some seek to regulate every minor mood fluctuation, some want to enhance their performance at school or work, some simply want to find the best drug to treat a genuine illness."

drugs_prozac_cartoon.pngThe article goes on to cite some important statistics like prescriptions to treat attention deficit disorder in adults age 20 to 30 nearly tripled from 2000 to 2004 and 14% of students at a Midwestern liberal arts college reported borrowing or buying prescription stimulants from each other, and that 44% knew of someone who did.

My own research suggests the practice is even more widespread. After a recent talk I gave at an ivy league college, I had a chance to speak with some professors who had recently performed their own blind class surveys on the use of "neurocognitive enhancers" (i.e. stimulants) in their undergraduate classes and the number of students that had reported using them at some time was north of 60%, with 80% suggesting that they knew someone who did.

Despite the warnings and potentially life threatening side effects of this practice I expect that it will only grow as treatments with fewer side effects continue to reach the market. Like it or not, cosmetic neurology, or the shaping of one's perception with neurotechnology, is but one of the social issues humans are beginning to grapple with in our emerging neurosociety. So where is the line between therapy and enhancement?

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Perception Shift

November 15, 2005

Isolating Excessive Friendliness For the Good of Humankind

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Excessive friendliness is one of the indications that people with Williams-Beuren Syndrome (WS) exhibit. Also known as 'elvin face syndrome' because of the general common appearance of upturned noses, wide mouths and small chins, WS is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 1 in 7500 people.

williams_person_medgen_genetics_utah_edu.jpgWS was first identified the early 1960s in a set of papers that described children with a unique set of facial, cognitive, heart defects and excessive social behavior. Since the discovery in the early 1990s that the syndrome is caused by the deletion of a tiny section of 28 genes on one copy of chromosome 7, researchers have been using imaging, cognitive tests, and genetic analysis to identify the different roles that the genes within the section play in the development and functioning of the brain.

In this week's Science, an excellent review article discusses the progress being made in understanding how these 28 genes, out of the thousands involved in brain development, cause specific aspects of the disorder. The news article "Friendly Faces and Unusual Minds" reviews our increasing understanding of multiple deficits associated with the disorder including: using fMRI to show that WS individuals show significantly lower neuronal activity in a part of the brain used by the spatial processing pathway of the visual system; using MRI scans have revealed structural details of WS-affected brains which revealed different folding patterns in specific areas of the brain; and a multitude of detailed genetic studies to isolate the specific contribution of different genes to the cognitive deficits presented by this disorder.

What I find most interesting about this disorder is the research being carried out on the excessive friendly behavior. Interestingly, while individuals with WS exhibit social fearlessness, they also "display high levels of nonsocial anxiety, such as fear of heights." The article describes a set of experiments that researchers performed using fMRI which showed that WS-affected individuals who were shown threatening faces exhibited a lower level of activation of the amygdala than control groups and a higher activation when shown when shown threatening scenes relative to controls. To date no one has determined the genetic link to these behavioral characteristics.

Last week at the inaugural opening of the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel postulated about a new approach to treating certain brain-related illnesses which I believe may open up an entirely new era of therapeutic development. For example, instead of just studying depression and treating its neurological manifestations, why not look at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, to something like the neurobiology of joy, and try to accentuate those characteristics as well.

Given this logic perhaps one of the values of studying and understanding extreme friendliness found in WS patients could be a new treatment for those with profound social anxiety. Perhaps, Kandel is on to something.

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

November 14, 2005

Lauretta Courtney, 104

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Posted by Zack Lynch

My great aunt, Lauretta Courtney, passed away last week at the age of 104. I vividly remember attending her 100th birthday where much of my extended family enjoyed each others stories. Long live Lauretta, she had a wonderful impact on the people she touched. The follow obiturary was published in the Green Bay Gazette.

Lauretta%20Courtney.jpg

Lauretta Courtney, 104, Green Bay, passed away on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005, at Woodside Lutheran Home. Lauretta was born on June 21, 1901, in Marquette, Mich., the daughter of the late Nelson and Maude (Gebeau) Cadarette. She was a graduate of Duluth Central High School and furthered her education at the Duluth Business College in Minnesota. She worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for most of her life. On June 25, 1929, she married John S. Courtney at Saint John's Catholic Church in Marquette, Mich., and the couple enjoyed over 40 years together. John preceded her in death on June 30, 1969. She later married Norman G. Vadnais in California and he preceded her in death in December of 1989. Lauretta had a very caring and nurturing personality and she always accepted a caretaker role for her family and friends. She always put others before herself. Lauretta was a wonderful cook and always enjoyed creating delightful meals and desserts for her family. She loved her family and cherished the moments spent with them.

Lauretta is survived by one son and daughter-in-law, John F. and Lori Courtney, Livonia, Mich.; two daughters and one son-in-law, Ann E. Courtney, De Pere; Mary and Charles McGee; Allouez; six grandchildren, James (Nancy) McGee, Jean (Tom) Soderberg, John (Sandy) McGee, Sharon (Paul) Babasick, Thomas (Sally) Courtney, Daniel Courtney; 13 great-grandchildren, Lauretta, Courtney and Reven McGee, Mathew, Andrew, Eric and Sarah Soderberg, Jack and Kaelin McGee, Andrew and Olivia Babasick, Samuel and Luke Courtney. She is further survived by nieces, nephews other relatives and friends.

Lauretta was a loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother whom will be fondly remembered and sorrowfully missed.


Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: X-tra

November 11, 2005

November 10, 2005

Brain Waves Blog Value?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Found this crazy blog value worth calculator via Brent's Stop the Presses:


My blog is worth $68,309.34.
How much is your blog worth?

Anyone interested in buying a few shares?

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Writing & Blogging

November 9, 2005

Lower Cholesterol and Learn Better?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In a serendipitous twist that can only be found in medical science a widely used cholesterol-lowering drug, Lovastatin, may also aid learning in adults and kids with learning disabilities. Researchers at UCLA will begin three separate human trials in both children and adults within a few weeks after their initial animal testing showed hopeful results. Amazingly, after the knock-out mice received the drug, their performance (on a series of memory tasks) improved 30 percent so that they outperformed normal mice, reported the LA Times.

Lovastatin, trade-named Mevacor, is one of a family of drugs known collectively as statins that have revolutionized the treatment of high cholesterol. The drugs, first introduced in the 1990s and taken daily by millions of people at risk for heart disease and other problems, have been widely recognized as safe.
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The learning problems studied by the researchers were caused by a genetic defect called neurofibromatosis 1, the most common genetic cause of learning disabilities. It affects 1 in every 3,000 to 4,000 people. The learning disabilities include poor attention spans, difficulties in carrying out tasks involving spatial abilities and problems learning new tasks.

The LA Times article continues, "The treatment also may be useful in a much larger group of people because the underlying molecular disorders in other types of learning disabilities may be similar, the researchers said. As much as 5 percent of the population is learning disabled, and lovastatin may be useful in treating many of them, he said.

The key to the discovery is a protein called Ras, which regulates how brain cells communicate. Researchers had previously shown that the genetic mutations associated with neurofibromatosis 1 lead to an excess production of Ras, which inhibits the brain's ability to record newly learned information. Statins interfere with Ras by reducing the level of fats found in blood, known as lipids, which are required by Ras to carry out its function."

No matter how powerful the scientific method is as a technique for real progress, it never ceases to amaze me how many breakthroughs occur as afterthoughts or side effects of other projects.

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

November 8, 2005

Neurocompetitive Advantage - The Future of Competition

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Posted by Zack Lynch

More has been learned about the brain in the past 10 years than the previous 50. There are currently over 400 companies worldwide working on creating new treatments for brain illness and the same knowledge about how the ill brain functions will most likely make it possible to enhance the performance of “normal” brains, including improve memory retention and emotional stability.

The implications of brain enhancement are profound. And you can bet, that if there is a way to safely improve human capital productivity, individuals will use these new tools to work more effectively and keep their jobs. But using neurotechnology for performance enhancement will not come without protest.

Cultural concerns regarding what is “natural” will lead ethical and moral tensions around the basic right to augment oneself. Divisions will emerge across all levels of society as humanity grapples with this new way of living, impacting each nation and culture differently.

However, the reality is that we live in a highly competitive global economy. Even if it is just a small group of individuals choose to improve their mental performance, their choice will transform the basis of competition for the rest of us.

From a business perspective, it is clear the mental health is the ultimate competitive resource. It underpins the development of knowledge capital and the capacity of employees, to think, be creative and be productive. Like never before, business today depends upon the consistent, sustainable mental performance of employees.

As more people live longer and global competition intensifies, people will need to learn new skills throughout their lives. Performance enhancing neurotechnology represents the tools workers will use to succeed at continuous education. By enabling a higher level of productivity, neurotechnology represents the next form of competitive advantage beyond information technology. I call this neurocompetitive advantage.

While results like these may seem impossible, so was the idea of putting a man on the moon in the early 1900s.

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

November 5, 2005

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November 2, 2005

Intention, Perceptions and Beliefs

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I just got around to reading the October 7th Science and found this interesting tidbit:

What is the relation between intention, choice, and introspection?

Researchers used a card trick in a simple decision task to identify a dissociation between awareness of the initial choice and the outcome when this has been surreptitiously altered. Participants were givena choice to make in the attractiveness of two female faces shown on two cards, and then asked to justify their choice as they examined the card with the alternative they had allegedly chosen. In some trials, the experimenters covertly switched the cards. In the majority of such trials, participants failed to recognize the switch, and proceeded to justify their choice of the card they were handed, although it was not the one they had selected. (Credit: Johansson)

What's the bottom line: We believe what we want to believe?

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture & the Brain

November 1, 2005

Obesity: The Search for a Skinny Pill

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The latest data from the Center of Health Statistics show that 30% of U.S. adults over 21 are obese. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. And among children and teens, 16% are considered overweight.

Obesity is not just a cosmetic problem. It causes impaired mobility, decreased heat tolerance, excessive sweating and skin folds leading to skin lesions and infections. It is also associated with more serious debilitating and deadly conditions. Among these are hypertension, high lipid levels, cardiovascular illness including heart attack and stroke, type 2 diabetes leading to blindness, kidney failure, and limb amputations, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, as well as some cancers, including breast, colon and endometrial cancer. In short, it is a major health problem with a real effect on life-expectancy.
 This article in Neurotech Insights covers mechanism of obesity, treatment development strategies, and clinical trial pipelines.

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

Arena’s Obesity Drug Scores in Phase II Trial

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA) is a mid-size San Diego biotech company focused on G-coupled protein receptors (GPCR's). GPCR's are a class of receptor molecules that mediate the majority of cell to cell communication in the human body. These receptors are also drug targets of choice and estimates are that better than 50% of the drugs on the market today are aimed at GPCR's.

The company was founded in 1997 based on a novel idea called Constitutively Activated Receptor Technology or CART in conjunction with a readout agent called a melanophore. The CART technology enabled company scientists to measure receptor activity and changes to that activity caused by an experimental compound, without knowing the natural ligand of that receptor. Since the natural ligands for most GPCR's were unknown at the time, and a significant number still are, it opened the door for new discoveries. Such capabilities did not go unnoticed and the small company soon had big pharma partners, substantial amounts of cash and was able to go public a year and a half later….

For the full interview with Arena's CEO see the October 31st edition of Neurotech Insights

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

October Neurotech Public Market Summary

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Posted by Zack Lynch

From Neurotech Insights:

Neurotech Stocks up on acquisitions; three IPOS pending

Three companies in NeuroInsights Neurotech Index (ANSI, MTIX, and BLSI) announced acquisition deals this month with an average valuation of 39% above their trading price. Investors in neurodiagnostic company Bio-logic Systems (BLSI) received the largest return for the month, after Natus Medical (BABY) announced a $66 million acquisition offer, representing a 49% premium above the market value. Advanced Neuromodulation (ANSI), a rumored target for J&J, announced that it will be acquired by St. Jude Medical (STJ) for $1.3 billion, a 30% premum over the stock price which had recently taken a small dip … More market news in this month's From Neurotech Insights

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Neurotech Industry