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With all that effort and investment into neuroscience research, we’d think that most brain diseases would be eradicated by now. We all know that is far from the truth. Every day we read newspaper headlines about new treatment strategies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but very few of these lab findings actually even make it to the clinical trial stage. Once in clinical trials, even fewer survive the test of proving efficacy in human patients.
Is there any way to make our brains more reliable? How can we supercharge our memorizing abilities? Turns out neuroscience gives us some crucial hints to beef up our memory and go for that coveted 4.0 GPA.
Most of the time, there is not much of a push to validate data. In fact, the majority of scientific work escapes the test of reproduction, since scientific journals are focused on novelty rather than replication. Works that simply try to reproduce the data without adding new insight are difficult to publish.
As a musician, you are presented with the composer’s score (the raw data). The score provides you with a hint of how the piece of music should be interpreted. Just as different artists each have a different approach to interpretation, different scientists will interpret the same data differently to reach unique conclusions.
“So, I hear about all these Black Student Union protests going on at campus. Can you tell me more about social justice issues going on in Hopkins?”
For instance, this year’s Ig Nobel Prize in biology went to two scientists who pretended to live as wild animals in their natural habitat. (One of the scientists made artificial limbs so that he could “live” as a goat.)
But we have no time to be shocked. It is now a more important time than ever for scientists to be more involved in the political process and in life outside of the lab.
To address this goal, we need tools that enable us to label specific neurons with molecules of interest. Such molecules might allow us to see the entire neuron, how it might connect to other neurons or even change the activity of the neuron to determine its function in a specific behavior.
Nevertheless, given that Brainwave is a science-focused column, I will review the iPad Pro not so much as an entertainment or educational device but rather as a device for academic scientists.
Said no one ever.
I had no idea what the benefits were behind the membership (beyond an impressive line on the CV). I am sure that many other undergraduate students also have this problem when they read faculty profiles.
Because these devices emit blue-shifted light that mimics sunlight, viewing them at night tricks our brain into thinking that it’s still daylight. As a result, we cannot fall asleep when we try to go to bed.
These days, however, it is not enough to just publish. There is now more and more pressure for scientists to publish in the “prestigious” scientific journals, namely Cell, Nature and Science (“CNS journals” for short). Among many large research universities, it is now almost a requirement to have a publication in CNS in order to be considered for faculty position. At other research institutions, the lack of CNS papers will get a PI fired. A publication (or lack of) in a CNS journal has now become a matter of life or death in the life of an academic scientist.
There are currently no effective treatments for ASD. The primary ASD therapy is a combination of non-specific psychotropic medications that provide only partial benefits while imparting drug-related adverse consequences, which can be significant at times. There are efforts to develop better therapies for ASD, but these efforts are stymied by the lack of insight into the etiologies of ASD, which remain largely unknown. Given that ASD describes a wide spectrum of clinical manifestations, the heterogeneity in ASD also makes it difficult to dissect a clear biological cause.
Simple does not mean easy to understand. There are many scientific concepts that are hard to grasp at first but then become very simple once a sufficient level of understanding has been achieved.
Research is beginning to unravel the biological causes of neurodevelopmental disorders. These laboratory findings are being translated into the development of new drugs being tested in human clinical trial studies. While these studies have yet to be completed, the preliminary results are promising.
For mammals, there are only two spots in the adult brain that support ongoing neurogenesis, or the development of new neurons: the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the lateral ventricles and the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus. There also appears to be an emerging third neurogenic spot in the hypothalamus that participates in metabolism, but in general, the point remains: You won’t find many newborn neurons in the mature brain.
How did this happen?
It is then easy to understand the disappointment that comes when a new medication fails to show any therapeutic benefit. However, rather than quickly concluding that the whole clinical trial was a total “failure,” researchers can use such “negative” results to provide important opportunities to reflect on the directions of their basic science research, as well as the design and implementation of future clinical trials.
For example, tiny single-celled organisms called microbes have recently generated interest in the neuroscience field. Light-sensitive proteins called opsins are inserted onto the cell surfaces of some microbes such as algae. These opsins convert the detection of light into cellular changes. Neuroscientists discovered that by inserting these same proteins onto the cell surfaces of neurons, neural activity can be controlled using light.