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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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July 31, 2006

Guilty By Reason of 'My Neurons Made Me Do It'

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Posted by Zack Lynch

From Sunday's NYTimes Op-Ed section, "The Insanity Defense Goes Back on Trial" by Morris Hoffman a fellow at the Gruter Institute and Denver state trial judge and Stephen Morse a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania:

"The rise of various materialistic and deterministic explanations of human behavior, including psychiatry, psychology, sociology and, more recently, neuroscience, has posed a particular challenge to the criminal law's relatively simple central assumption that with few exceptions we act intentionally and can be held responsible. These schools of thought attribute people's actions not to their own intentions, but rather to powerful and predictable forces over which they have no control. People aren't responsible for their crimes: It's their poverty, their addictions or, ultimately, their neurons...we should recognize that the criteria for responsibility -- intentionality and moral capacity -- are social and legal concepts, not scientific, medical or psychiatric ones. Neither behavioral science nor neuroscience has demonstrated that we are automatons who lack the capacity for rational moral evaluation, even though we sometimes don't use it...We should be skeptical about claims of non-responsibility."

I spent four days this summer with Morris and 60 others at the annual Gruter Institute meeting up at Squaw Valley in late May of this year discussing issues like this. The general consensus was that for all the progress we are making in neuroscience, Morris and the rest of the nation's judges should remain wary of prosecutors or defenders who rely on new fangled neuroscience techniques or hypothesis to prove their case. This argument will become even more important as attorneys start using colorful brain scans backed up by neuroscientific testimony that 'show' when different parts of the brain 'light up more than others' that some type of mental state can be factually attributed. Yes, brain imaging techniques are helping us understand where 'in general' within the brain certain cognitive, emotional and sensory activity partially reside/emerge from, but we are still a good ways away from reliably measuring individual variation to the point of enabling us to convict or acquit.

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

July 28, 2006

German Momentum in Neuroelectronic Systems Grows

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Peter Osypka Foundation has endowed an assistant professorship in the field of “Neuroelectronic Systems” which will be in the Department of Neurosurgery. As far as my sources know, Freiburg University (in Germany) is the first higher education institute in the EU to promote such a position, but surely not the last.

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

July 27, 2006

Pretty Pearlescent Pills - Colorful Drugs Approved by FDA

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Posted by Zack Lynch

54936.62PEARLY-PILLS.sff.jpgThe FDA has OK'd the use of "pearlescent pigments" in any drugs that are swallowed. The pigments, which are commonly used in cosmetics, are intended to give drugs a special, colorful look that some believe could help make these products more attractive to patients. Consumer advocates, though, claim that they will add iron salt contaminants in drugs that could affect they way they work. EMD Chemicals, which makes the pigments, has been lobbying the FDA for eight years to allow their use in pharmaceuticals. EMD Chemicals hopes the pharmaceutical companies it supplies will seize on the technology to give their drugs a look that is unique and hard to copy, said Dan Giambattisto, sales and marketing director for Candurin Pigments at EMD Chemicals. The pigments are made by coating the mineral mica with either titanium dioxide or iron oxide or both. The FDA approved using the two separate combinations to color contact lenses in 2002. The FDA says that the pigments can account for no more than three percent of a therapy's weight and will have no "toxic potential" at that amount.

I wonder how advertisers will use these new colors. Instead of the little purple pill, get ready for,"Honey, can you please pass my ivory tablet? I've got a headache.

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

July 24, 2006

Translational Neurobiotech Developments Reviewed

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The July edition of Genetic Engineering News published an extensive review of a dozen CEO company presentations from the NeuroInsights' Neurotech Industry Investing conference in May. I recommend following the link to read the full review. Written by Gail Schechter, the article "Translational Medicine: Spotlighting Neurobiotech Developments Central Nervous System Remains a Large Target for Novel Therapies" highlights companies from several panels including: Targacept, Saegis Pharmaceuticals, Acumen Pharmaceuticals, Ceregene, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Amarin, Predix Pharmaceuticals, BrainCells Inc., NeuroNova, Sound Pharmaceuticals, StemCells Inc., and StemCell Sciences.

116_Neurotech_Industry_Conference_-_May_18%2C_2006_Page_1_sm.jpgGail concludes, "Conference panelists, presenters, and participants alike were clearly favorably disposed toward neurotechnology, in spite of the unique challenges confronting CNS product development. Representatives from both venture capital and big pharma reported being open to funding neurotechnology, especially when a company’s products have already demonstrated proof-of-concept, are further along in clinical development, and have a clear commercialization path. High-risk is mitigated by the potential for significant reward. After all, today’s risks may be tomorrow’s breakthroughs."

If you missed this year's conference, mark your calendars for next year's two day Neurotech Industry Investing and Business Conference 2007 which will be held in San Francisco on May 17 and 18. If you are interested in speaking or sponsoring please contact me.

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

July 17, 2006

Emerging Neurosociety Driven by Neuronanotechnology

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This Thursday in Vermont I'll be giving a talk on the social and ethical implications of perception shifting in a neurosociety. Hosted by the Terasem Movement, this workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology is bringing together several others to explore the ethics of neuronanotechnology and future mind-machine interfaces (my powerpoint presentation is available for download on the conference website).

This year's speakers by order of presentation are: Nobel Laureate in Medicine Baruch Blumberg, M.D., Ph.D., Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia,; Prof. Jack Tuszynski, Department of Physics, University of Alberta; Randal Koene, Ph.D., Center for Memory & Brain, Boston University; Ben Goertzel, Ph.D., Biomind LLC; Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies; William Sims Bainbridge, Ph.D., National Science Foundation; Marshall Brain, Founder, "How Stuff Works"; Nancy J. Woolf, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, UCLA; Zack Lynch, President, NeuroInsights; and Wrye Sententia, Ph.D., Director, Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics.

terasemlogo.jpgSpeakers will explore the ethics of neuronanotechnology and future mind-machine interfaces, including preservation of consciousness, implications for a future in which human and digital species merge, and dispersion of consciousness to the cosmos, featuring leading scientists and other experts in these areas. The workshop proceedings are open to the public via real-time conference call and will be archived online for free public access. The public is invited to call a toll-free conference-call dial-in line from 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. ET. Callers from the continental US and Canada can dial 1-800-967-7135; other countries: (00+1) 719-457-2626. Each workshop presentation is designed for a 15-20 minute delivery, followed by a 20 minute formal question and answer period, during which time questions from the worldwide audience will be invited. Presentations will also be available on the workshop's website.

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

July 14, 2006

Implanting Hope with Neurodevices

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Posted by Zack Lynch

060712_brain_vmed_12p.widec.jpgBoston-based Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems continues to make headlines with it's cutting edge work on neural implants. In a study published in the journal Nature this week, the researchers describe how two paralyzed patients with a surgically implanted neural device successfully controlled a computer and, in one case, a robotic arm, using only their thoughts. The brain-computer interface used in the study consists of a tiny silicon chip containing 100 electrodes that record signals from hundreds of neurons in the motor cortex. A computer algorithm then translates this complex pattern of activity into a signal used to control an external device. We've been hearing about cognitive-based neuroprosthetics for years in monkeys and this is the first time such results have been achieved with neural implants in humans. Check out Nature for videos of the experiment or read Emily Singer's article at MIT Tech Review.

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

July 12, 2006

Mystical Mushrooms, Sure...but Spiritual Ritalin?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

“Magic” mushrooms really do have a spiritual effect on people, according to a recent study in Psychopharmacology. Over one-third of volunteers in the carefully controlled new study had a “complete” mystical experience after taking psilocybin, with half of them describing their encounter as the single most spiritually significant experience in their lifetimes.

Roland Griffiths and the rest of his team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, recruited 36 healthy volunteers who had not experimented with the drug before. They were informed that they would receive a hallucinogen but did not know in which of two or three sessions they would receive it. Each session was separated by two months.

magicmushrooms.gifThey either received a substantial dose – about 30 milligrams – of psilocybin or a similar dose of an "active" placebo, Ritalin. The latter has a stimulating effect but is not known as a hallucinogen. An inactive placebo would be easy to identify by the volunteers when compared to psilocybin, which could bias the experiences they reported.

The researchers used psychological questionnaires and found that 22 of the 36 volunteers had a “complete” mystical experience after taking psilocybin – far more than the four who reported this type of experience after taking Ritalin. WHAT?

I find that fact that four people claimed to have a complete mystical experience after taking ritalin to be much more interesting than the known outcome of taking high doses of psilocybin.

I agree with Ian McGregor, an Australian professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Sydney, who stated that he isn't surprised that the study confirms the ability of psilocybin to induce a spiritual state. "Psilocybin and related hallucinogens have been used since ancient times in religious rituals and this study is really formalizing ... what many people already know," he says.

In an interview with the New Scientist, Griffiths said that in the future psilocybin might have a therapeutic use, perhaps helping people who have just learned they have cancer come to terms with the news. But he is quick to add that “the therapeutic application is very speculative”. “My guess is that there will be people saying ‘You’re looking for a spiritual shortcut’” says Griffiths. He stresses that the drug is no replacement for the mental health benefits of continuous personal reflection: “There’s all the difference in the world between a spiritual experience and a spiritual life.

For more information on how other researchers are using psychedelics to map our brains, I recommending reading Tom Ray's five part guest series he wrote on Brain Waves regarding his research that is focused on mapping receptor space.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Perception Shift

July 11, 2006

July 10, 2006

The Synapse Blog Carnival

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Check out The Synapse - A neuroscience blog carnival devoted to all areas of neuroscience including neurobiology, psychology, psychiatry, and neural systems -- healthy brains to perverse minds -- neurotransmitters to theories of mind. They want your best posts about brain function. Check out the first two carnivals at Pure Pedantry and A Blog Around the Clock. The next carnival will be hosted at Neurophilosopher's Blog.
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Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Writing & Blogging

July 6, 2006

An Oxytocin - Not Oil - Shortage

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Posted by Zack Lynch

We don't face an oil shortage as much as an oxytocin shortage says NYTimes columnist David Brooks. I couldn't agree more. In a brilliant op-ed piece on July 2 titled "Of Human Bonding" he explains.


"If I had $37 billion to give to charity, I’d give some of it to a foundation that would invent an Oxytocin Meter. That way we could predict who is headed for success and who for failure. We could figure out which organizations are thriving and which are sick.

Oxytocin is a hormone that helps mammals bond. Female rats injected with oxytocin nurture newborns placed in their cages, which they otherwise would attack. Prairie voles with oxytocin receptors form lifelong monogamous bonds, whereas other varieties of voles without the receptors mate promiscuously.

250px-Oxytocin.jpgIn humans, oxytocin levels rise during childbirth, breast feeding and sex. Humans with higher oxytocin levels are more likely to trust other people. They are more resistant to stress and social phobias. Humans seem, to experience delicious oxytocin floods in the brain after being with someone they love. It’s no wonder neuroscientists – displaying the branding genius for which they are famous – have nicknamed oxytocin “the affiliative neuropeptide.”

I figure if we can hang Oxytocin Meters around people’s necks, we can tell who is involved in healthy relationships and who isn’t. If you walked into an office where nobody is having an oxytocin moment, then you’d know you’re in a dysfunctional organization and it’s time to get out of there.....

If I had $37 billion, I would focus it on the crucial node where attachment skills are formed: the parental relationship during the first few years of life. I’d invest much of it with organizations, like Circles of Security, that help at-risk mothers and fathers develop secure bonds with their own infants, instead of just replicating the behaviors of their parents. I’d focus on the real resource crisis that affects the country. It’s not the oil shortage. It’s the oxytocin shortage."

If anyone out there is interested in donating to make Brooks' dream of Oxytocin Meters a reality then they should contact Paul Zak at the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies(CNS). I am on the advisory board of the CNS and am working with them to raise $5 million to endow the center so that his work on the neurobiology of trust can continue to grow. Trust me, understanding the neurobiology of trust could be one of the greatest breakthroughs for society in the 21st century. If you have a few million to spare, take a look at this research.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

July 5, 2006

Emerging Addiction Treatments - Neurotech Insights

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This month's Neurotech Insights is focused on the addiction market and includes:

Top News Alerts: Product Updates, Deals & Financings across neurotechnology
Featured Topic: Addiction Treatment and Clinical Trials

Featured Company: Alkermes (ALKS)

MARKET SUMMARY: TARGACEPT AND NORTHSTAR ADDED TO NEUROTECH INDEX

Neurotech%20Insights%20June%2030%202006%20Addiction_Page_01%20sm.jpgAmarin (AMRN) was the top gainer this month after recovering from profit taking in May. The company has shown continued progress in their pipeline, including completion of enrollment in the Phase III trial of Miraxion for Huntington’s disease. Endo Pharmaceuticals (ENDP) saw gains after announcing the launch of Synera anesthetic patch and approval of Opana (see page 4 & 5). Medivation (MDV), a company developing the neuroprotectant Dimebon for Alzheimer’s disease, gained ground after investors took speculative note of upcoming Phase II trial announcements…



EMERGING TREATMENTS FOR ADDICTION

There is no consistent, universally accepted definition of addiction. In the minds of many, addiction is synonymous with substance abuse but behaviors such as compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, and even compulsive video gaming that do not involve the use of exogenous substances have also been described as addictions. Many view a common underlying dysfunction in so-called impulse control and reward pathways in the brain as the key event in both drug addiction and behavioral addiction. The reward pathways involve many neurotransmitters and modulators, but some are of particular interest...

ALKERMES: MORE THAN A DRUG DELIVERY COMPANY

Alkermes (ALKS) was founded by Michael Wall, an electrical engineer and Floyd Bloom, a neuroscientist, with the aim of finding a way to get drugs past the blood brain barrier. It was the late 80s and the scientists were eager to do for neuroscience what had been done for cardiovascular disease. Only the so-called blood brain barrier was blocking the way for most pharmaceuticals to get into the brain. By 1991, when CEO Richard Pops joined, the company had 20 people and it was in the clinic with a compound for brain malignancies, called gliomas…

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