There is no denying autism spectrum disorders, commonly known as ASD, have become some of the world’s greatest health concerns. But what most people do not know is the incredible complexity of these conditions. As researchers have found, the problems are not singular in nature. Rather, they are a consequence of several changes in the way the cells of the brain function. This reality has forced ASD researchers to head deep into the molecular level of the brain in the hope of understanding what is happening in those affected.
No one can argue against exercise being good for you. Decades of research have revealed how getting our bodies in motion can offer a wealth of health benefits. Our muscles, metabolism, and immunity all improve as well as our brains. Our ability to learn and remember gets better and we may be able to ward off diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis .
Have you ever been startled by a sudden noise, sight or touch? It can be quite a shock to the system. You tense up, your mind blanks out all previous thoughts, and you find yourself preparing for the worst. Then there are the lingering effects that can last for minutes after it is all over. While you may hate the feeling of being startled, neuroscience researchers have found the entire process is a natural part of life inherited in evolution from our ancient ancestors.
Injuries are a part of life. In most cases, such as cuts, bruises, tears, and even broken bones, our bodies heal. But when damage occurs to the central nervous system – or as most people call it, CNS – the outlook can be heartbreaking. The cells in this area, known as neurons, simply are not good at regeneration. This is why damage to the spinal cord and retina is considered a dire ailment.
The Canadian Association for Neuroscience is proud to announce it will be awarding two Young Investigator Awards in 2017. The laureates are Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha, from Université de Montréal, and Tuan Trang, from University of Calgary. The CAN nominations committee was equally impressed with both candidates, who have made important contributions to our understanding of the brain and the nervous system in the early stages of their careers. Both winners have developed a strong program of basic, curiosity-driven research that have led to discoveries that can be used to improve the lives of Canadians.
“If you got that lose, you want to kick them blues, cocaine
When your day is done, and you want to ride on cocaine
She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie
Despite its illegal status, cocaine remains one of the staples of social drug use. The stimulating effect of the chemical has been glamorized in modern-day culture and continues to be lauded as a means to artificially keep the mind active. Yet, as anyone who has tried this high can tell, the side effects are far less delightful. They include memory loss, increase heart rate, insomnia, and almost instantaneous addiction.
Opioids, such as morphine and fentanyl, are powerful drugs used to manage a variety of pain conditions. However, chronic opioid use can result in the development of physical dependence. When individuals stop opioid use, they may suffer from a debilitating withdrawal syndrome.
Of all psychiatric conditions, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD as it’s more commonly known, is perhaps the most widely known and also, misunderstood. Colloquially, this term is used to describe anyone with a penchant for a obsessive nature. Yet, this ailment, which only affects about 2% of the population, is quite difficult to both diagnose and manage.
Recent events at home and abroad foreshadow a more divided and closed world. As such, the Canadian Association for Neuroscience wants to state their position that science can and must remain a builder of bridges between the peoples of all nations, regardless of differences in political views, religious beliefs or country of origin. Scientists around the world share a desire to advance knowledge in ways that benefit all humans.
Imagine a fender bender at an intersection. It’s a common occurrence and, usually, someone is at fault. But ask any police officer and you’ll find the blame may not be all that easy to determine. The stories from the drivers involved often oppose one another and eye-witness reports also may reveal striking differences in how the accident unfolded.
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”
At one time or another, everyone experiences moments of social isolation, when there is no one around and the world is confined to one’s own existence. In short bursts these moments of solitude can be therapeutic and may lead to moments of emotional regeneration or creativity. Yet when loneliness becomes chronic, the effects may be deleterious to one’s emotional health.
Alzheimer’s disease is growing in Canada at an unprecedented rate. At the moment, over half a million people suffer from this debilitating condition but that number is expected to nearly double over the next generation. The effects of this illness are tragic, such as memory loss as well as changes in behaviour, judgement, and normal daily function. For this reason, understanding this disease and finding meaningful treatments are considered a priority.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, a protein, known as amyloid-β, begins to clump together, forming what is officially called a plaque. As this happens, the neurological landscape changes as neurons begin to die off. Despite decades of research, the mechanism behind this loss remains, for the most part, a mystery.
If you happen to watch any survival-based reality series, such as the Canadian Survivorman series, you’ll come to realize starvation has a dire effect on the body. A person becomes weak, disoriented, and begins to crave protein. In humans, this is considered to be normal as we are considered omnivores. Yet, this effect also can be seen in other species, including one usually considered to be herbivorous.
The common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, primarily feeds, as the name implies, on decaying fruit and the microorganisms inhabiting it Yet, when this insect undergoes starvation, its tastes change. After several days with no food, they turn carnivorous and even cannibalistic. This dramatic change in food choice, while observed, still has yet to be fully understood.
Have you ever noticed a tendency to drink some water or other liquid sustenance right before going to bed? It’s a common occurrence although the reason behind this action has not been well understood. This unfortunately has led to a rather large-scale debate regarding the potential health benefits and risks of having a swig before sleep.
Over the years, some researchers have suggested the action is based on a physiological need, such as elevated body temperature or low water concentration in blood. Others have suggested this action is psychological rather than biological in nature as it increases the chances for REM sleep and dreaming. Then there are those who feel this action has no health value at all. After all, drinking immediately before sleep means you will no doubt have to disturb your regular period of rest for a quick bathroom break.
Imagine losing the ability to control your nerve function. You may encounter numbness and weakness in the limbs. Your ability to speak could decline as well as your vision. Tics and tremors might take over certain parts of your body. You even are at risk for depression.
These are just a few of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, which is better known simply as MS. This condition affects over two million people worldwide and leads to significant reductions in a person’s quality of life. Yet quite possibly the worst aspect of this disease isn’t the range of symptoms, but the culprit causing them.
What convinces a stem cell to determine its fate? It’s one of the most persistent questions in modern biology. Research over the last four decades has revealed there is no easy answer. For example, in the brain, stem cells in the embryo produce all of the different cell types at precise times and amounts. If stem cells are perturbed by altering their ability to make those cell types, this is thought to contribute to neuropsychiatric and developmental disorders.
To produce their progeny, stem cells receive signals from other cell types, blood vessels, and the cerebral spinal fluid, and even produce signals themselves. This in itself raises numerous questions. What are those signals? How many are there? How does a stem cell decide to respond to one signal and not another? More importantly, how can this all happen in a coordinated manner to ensure the proper development of the brain?
It’s an experience most of us have encountered at one time or another. We turn on the radio, stereo, television, or YouTube video and the volume is just too loud. Our reactions are almost immediate combining a mixture of frustration, helplessness, and a need to turn down the sound. Thankfully, we quickly can adjust the dial, slider, or remote to achieve a more comfortable level.
Now imagine that volume control cannot be adjusted and is fixed in one spot. If the levels are too high, you have to find other ways to deal with the auditory intrusion. It can lead to pain, frustration, and possibly an alteration in normal behaviour. In essence, when the sound is too loud, you suffer.
Have you ever noticed when you remember something from your past, you may also recall other moments from that time. It seems to be even more pronounced when remembering a moving event, such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the demise of the space shuttle Challenger, and more recently, the tragic events of 9/11.
While many of us experience these multiple memories, the mechanism behind their formation has been a biological enigma. For over a century researchers have tried to figure out how these combinations – or co-allocations – of memories occur. Yet successes have been few and far between.
Improving memory is a quest that never seems to end. For centuries, humans have attempted to find the right combination of social actions to better retain what we’ve learned. Over the years, some options have shown promise such as fasting and strenuous exercise. While effective, they are not particularly popular. Then there’s the odd concept of intranasal injection of insulin. It goes to show that an idea with promise might not be the best idea.
Acquiring a language is a difficult process. One of the best ways to learn involves the use of a tutor. This one-on-one interaction allows for direct learning as well as interaction without distraction. Usually, the teacher is an expert in that specific language. But when it comes to learning a first language, the most useful tutor happens to be an infant’s parent.
Most people take motion sensing for granted. Our eyes pick up on something moving and our brains are sent a signal to let us know something has occurred in our space-time continuum. Despite the simplicity of the task, the mechanisms allowing us this ability are incredibly complex. They have been studied for over fifty years and the neural circuitry underlying motion detection is probably the best described circuitry in the brain. Yet, researchers have not discovered all the answers.
It’s one of the guarantees of life: stress. At its core, it’s a perception of a physical or psychological threat and is designed to help us survive. But the triggers are varied and as such, there is no single way to deal with the impending sensation of harm.
For years, researchers have studied the stress spectrum and identified numerous behavioural changes. Most are relatively simple to understand such as heightened awareness, risk avoidance, and the fight or flight response.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a scourge for anyone who suffers from it. The symptoms are heartbreaking – nightmares, flashbacks, poor sleep quality, irritability, and a lack of concentration. Some will feel disconnected from reality as they perceive being trapped in a mental cage from which they cannot break free.
In the playground, a popular game for kids of all ages is “Freeze.” The concept is rather simple. A leader tells the participants they are free to move around until everyone is told to freeze in place. Those who don’t suddenly stop are notified they are out and the game continues. It’s a great way to learn how to deal with environmental stimuli and also how to better control locomotor abilities. But most of all, it’s a great deal of fun.
Imagine repairing injured spinal cords or brains. Many may relegate this idea to the realms of science fiction yet researchers around the world continue to strive for this goal. They have developed and tested ways to rebuild the damage nervous system and bring back proper function. Some have even shown success in the lab.