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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Brain Waves

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December 29, 2005

A Love Spray for the Fearful

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The analysis of love has moved from the embrace of poets into the arms of science. A recent series of precise studies reveal some of the key brain areas and molecules, like oxytocin, involved in the ability to love and bond with others, according to December's Brain Briefings. This research creates a better understanding of how the brain controls love and bonding, which is critical for species survival. In addition, the work may help researchers find ways to treat autism, anxiety and phobias.

romjul.jpgScientists have long been intrigued by the hormone oxytocin, which plays a role in complex social behavior. The hormone is part of a system in the brain that controls the formation of emotional bonds, and plays a role during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. Now, scientists at the National Institutes for Health and Justus-Liebig University in Germany have discovered that oxytocin, which some have dubbed the hormone of love, can make volunteers less fearful.

In a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that volunteers who had oxytocin sprayed into their noses had less fear response when shown frightening images than those given a placebo. Volunteers’ fear reactions were measured through a very sensitive brain-imaging technique that revealed less activity in the part of the brain known as the amygdala. Diminished activity in the amygdala has long been linked to increased sociability and decreased fear, wrote the researchers, whose work was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The scientists said the research suggested the possibility of using the hormone to treat serious mental disorders characterized by increased anxiety and fear.

I wonder what higher doses of oxytocin might produce? I'll ask some researchers I know who are working on this and report back.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals

December 22, 2005

Controlling Pain with Neurofeedback

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Posted by Zack Lynch

images.jpgEmily Singer at the MIT Tech Review has started series of articles exploring how new approaches to brain imaging could improve treatment for neurological and psychiatric disorders. The first installment, published on December 20, examined how patients can use real-time fMRI images of their own brains to control chronic pain. Today's installment, Imaging the Unconsciousness, explores how researchers are using fMRI to understand different aspects of psychiatric illnesses. It is great to see another person reporting on how neurotechnology is influencing humankind.

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

December 19, 2005

Flavors of Experience - 5th Neuroesthetics Conference

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Posted by Zack Lynch

It's that time, again! Come join internationally renowned scientists and artists discussing the brain's responses to such things as gourmet food, fine wine and aromatic perfumes at the Fifth International Conference on Neuroesthetics at UC Berkley on Saturday, January 21, 2006.

cook.jpgThe theme of this year's conference is Flavors of Experience. Understanding how chocolate, champagne or Channel No. 5 can elicit intense reactions and enhance long-term memories promises to guide scientists in their research of how pleasure centers and the memory system in the brain are connected. Likewise, chefs, vintners and perfumers can learn from scientists how our brains respond to their products. At the day-long conference, speakers will range from Yale University's Dana M. Small, an expert in how the brain processes flavor, to San Francisco Zen Center's Ed Epse Brown, a priest, cook and author.

The conference, which is sponsored by the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation and the Institute of Neuroesthetics in London, is free and open to the public. Speakers, include:

"There is no accounting for flavour without having first experienced it."
Dana M. Small Assistant Professor of Psychology and Surgery, Yale University, Assistant Fellow of the John B Pierce Laboratory: "The Phenomenology of Terroir" Randall Grahm Viticulturist and founder of Bonny Doon Vineyards Santa Cruz, California; "Comparing Pepsi to Picasso: neural valuation responses to aesthetic and consummatory preference." Read Montague Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; "The Neuroesthetics of Smell: From Pavlov to Proust, with Pleasure." Jay A. Gottfried Cognitive Neurology & Alzheimer's Disease Center, Northwestern University School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; "Aroma, Emotion and Memory"Daniel Patterson, Restaurateur and chef, Frisson, San Francisco, California; "Neurobiology underlying the neuroesthetic experience of taste." Scott Herness Professor of Oral Biology, College of Dentistry, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; "Awakening Taste: The Ceremony of Eating Just One Potato Chip." Ed Espe Brown Zen priest, cook, and author, San Francisco Zen Center; "Odor and pheromone processing in the human brain in relation to sex and sexual orientation" Ivanka Savic Berglund Associate professor and senior consultant neurologist, Centre of Gender Related Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

This is always a fantastic conference. Here are my write ups from 2004 (Emotions in Art and the Brain) and 2005 (Empathy in the Brain and Art) in case you are interested.

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

December 13, 2005

The 5th Year in Ideas for the Brain (Part 2)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Continued from yesterday's 5th Year in Ideas for the Brain from the NYTimes Magazine:

5. Seeing with your Ears: A new device called "vOICe" allows you to present visual information into sounds, allowing blind people do "see" with sound.

6. Subadolescent Queen Bees: According to a study released this year, girls as young as 4 manipulate their peers to stay atop the social hierarchy. " They'll spread rumors and give their peers the silent treatment. They do what ever it takes to maintain control."

7. Trust Spray: A nasal spray containing the "trust hormone" Oxytocin can be used to make human subjects more trusting. In a 128 person research experiment almost half of the individuals who took three snorts per nostril of the spray transferred all their money to unseen trustees, whereas only a quarter of those who inhaled a placebo went that far.

8. Yawn Contagion. Steve Platek, a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University, describes yawning as " a primitive unconscious mechanism that has a lot to do with empathy. To prove his point he put volunteers into fMRI machines and made them yawn again and agin to pinpoint the areas involved. Apparently their brains lit up in the same region that is known to be highly associated with empathy. Bottom line: if you yawn a lot, you are more likely to exhibit "higher empathy."

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

December 12, 2005

The 5th Year in Ideas for the Brain (Part 1)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

For the past five years the New York Times Magazine has produced an issue focused the past years "most noteworthy ideas." I look forward to this issue each year. It never ceases to amaze me how many of these ideas are directly related to the brain. I highly recommend visiting the New York Times Magazine website and searching out this year's most noteworthy brainy ideas. Here are four of them with a short excerpt from the magazine's full description.

1. The False Memory Diet: It is possible to convince people that they don't like certain fattening foods -- by giving them false memories of experiences in which those foods made them sick.

2. The Hypomanic American: This year two professors of psychiatry each published books attributing American exceptionalism to...American DNA. They argue that the US is full of energetic risk-takers because it is full of immigrants who as a group may carry a genetic marker that expresses itslef as restless curiosity, exuberance and competitive self-promotion-- a combination known as hypomania.

3. Microblindness: People are distracted by naked supermodels; it doesn't take three PhD's to figure that out. But what psychology professors at Yale and Vanderbilt Universities have discovered is that erotic -- and violent -- are so distracting that they make people temporarily blind. The effect lasts for less than a half a second and is known by the name "attentional rubbernecking."

4. Monkey Pay-Per-View: It turns out that with remarkable consistency, monkeys are willing to forgo a little juice -- to pay extra, in effect -- to look at pictures of more important monkeys or to check out the "attractive back end" of a female monkey. This study shows that social information is wired into their brains: the neural circuits that assign value (in the currency of juice) have access to the database of social interaction.

Four more tomorrow.

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

December 1, 2005

Neurotech Index Reaches New Highs

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Posted by Zack Lynch

by Casey Lynch

NeuroInsights’ Neurotech Index reached new heights in mid November, gaining over 50% since its start in December 2003. As of November 30th, the Neurotech Index, is up 46% compared to respective gains of 12% and 11% for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite Index. The Neurotech Index is also outpacing the NASDAQ Biotech Index, another life-science-oriented measure of the public markets, which has gained only 8% during the same period. This month saw several major moves in index companies.

NeuroInsights%27%20Neurotech%20Index%28TM%29%201205.jpgAdolor (ADLR) was up this month on speculation that the new phase III trail for Entereg to be completed in March will address FDA concerns expressed in an approvable letter last July. Entereg, is being developed in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for treatment of opiate induced bowel dysfunction.

Elan Pharmaceuticals (ELN), which will be joining NeuroInsights’ Neurotech Index in January, was boosted by news of FDA priority review for their multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, which was voluntarily pulled in February due to potential toxicity. The drug could receive blessing from the FDA as soon as March 2006.

Pain Therapeutics (PTIE), recommended in the September issue of Neurotech Insights, gained over 40% after announcing a $400 million partnering agreement with King Pharmaceuticals (KG). A week later, the stock lost almost half of its gains after a phase III Oxytrex trial for osteoartiritis failed to meet significance on the primary endpoint. NeuroInsights believes that overall the trial data was encouraging and the stock dip provided a good opportunity to buy. The company, in a good cash position from the King Pharmaceutical partnership, intends to conduct a new phase III trial in 2006.

Two companies in NeuroInsights’ Neurotech Index, Eyetech (EYET)/ OSI Pharmaceuticals (OSIP) and Advanced Neuromodulation Systems (ANSI)/ St. Jude Medical (STJ) completed lucrative mergers this month.

From this month's Neurotech Insights.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Casey's Insights