"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Brains, Muscles, and a Life 

Looking forward to the day when you can just think and have your computer type that paper for you? Or drive to work? Well, Pennsylvania researchers have developed a technology that may help get us there: they found a way to grow long (10 cm) neural 'data cables' that they think will be able to interface brains with computer boards. Sounds pretty cool, but of course having a cable is only useful if a common language can be found between brain and computer.

One of the cool uses of such a connection, of course, would be to 'back up' our memories, say in case of amnesia or Alzheimer's. But until that's possible, the best course is to not get those things, and that requires knowing how they happen. It's long been thought that Alzheimer's results from an excess of the beta-amyloid protein in the brain, but just how there comes to be that excess (and whether it is really etiogenic or just a side-effect) remained a mystery.

Well, Canadian researchers have found that Alzheimer's patients are more likely than controls to have a variant allele of the gene SORL1, which normally shuttles amyloid proteins to a safe destruction site. Variant copies of SORL1 do not properly remove amyloid, so it is broken down in the cell body, leaving the destructive amyloid-beta to wreak havoc on the system. Hopefully this work pans out, and a simple treatment can be found.

Outside the brain, Muscular Dystrophy is one of the most severe and common degenerative disorders around. Hopkins researchers have found that, in mice with the rare Marfan syndrome and the common Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (two muscle wasting diseases that affect human children), the blood pressure drug losartan seemed to reduce symptoms and reverse damage. This is really cool, but of course there's concern that athletes (and gym queens) could abuse the drug to gain extra muscle mass*.

And finally, for both the brains and muscles of Second Life players, I join in offering this proven-effective health advice: get a First Life!

* When I say "there's concern," I mean that the kind of people who think that the Drug War is more important than people's actual health (i.e., the same ones who want to ban medical marijuana, will be annoyed by this.

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