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Spy on your own thoughts with Glass Brain

What do you get when you combine a neuroscientist with the guy who helped invent the virtual world Second Life? A way to virtually fly around the brain with a gamepad watching thoughts in real time.

That's what attendees at Austin's South By Southwest were recently treated to when Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life, and Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco, unveiled their Glass Brain project. Onlookers were able to be neuro-voyeurs as they peeked in on the mind workings of Rosedale's wife Yvette, and watched the storm of activity taking place there. … Read more

Scientists create 'highway of death' for cancer

Brain tumors known as Glioblastoma multiform cancer (GBM) are a particularly insidious form of the disease because they just don't stay still. They travel through the brain by sliding along blood vessels and nerve passageways. This means that sometimes they move to parts of the brain where surgery is extremely difficult -- if not impossible -- or that even if the bulk of a tumor can be removed, chances are good its tendrils would still exist throughout the brain.

Scientists at Georgia Tech may have come up with a novel solution for this problem; though, it may be years before the technique can be used on humans. It involves creating artificial pathways along which cancer can travel. These pathways could route cancer to a more easily operable area, or even to a deadly drug located in a gel outside the body. … Read more

Want to be better at math? Electric shocks could help

In a room at Oxford University in England, children between the ages of 8 and 10 are working on math problems on computers while being administered electric shocks by senior research fellow Roi Cohen Kadosh.

OK, they're not really getting shocked, but they are getting a steady stream of low-current electricity delivered to their brains.

The procedure they're undergoing is known as Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES), and it's one of the most recent brain stimulation techniques to come about in a long history of electrical currents used to manipulate the brain. Unlike earlier electroshock treatment programs, which tended to placate people with mental disturbances, the goal of this work is to help people with learning disorders overcome their difficulties, and to help others learn better generally. … Read more

Lumosity review

Lumosity is a gaming app dedicated to improving cognitive function, based on the science of neuroplasticity. According to this principle, the brain is not fixed but can change based on new studies and experiences. With 46 fun yet challenging games, Lumosity promises to increase users' cognitive speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem-solving abilities.

Log in via Facebook or create an in-app account. While filling out your profile, indicate your goals, such as increasing speed or improving memory, or opt for a complete cognitive overhaul. Once your aspirations are in sight, Lumosity will recommend a customized daily training regimen of five … Read more

Heavy drinking hits men's brains harder than women's, study says

Maybe the average man can get away with drinking more in one sitting than the average woman. But in the long run, that may not be an advantage.

In a paper titled "Alcohol consumption and cognitive decline in early old age," and published online this month in Neurology, researchers used a long-term study of British workers to examine the association between alcohol consumption in midlife and subsequent cognitive decline in both men and women. It seems gender may play a role in the effects of alcohol consumption on the brain.

"Our study based on middle-aged participants suggests that heavy drinking is associated with faster decline in all cognitive domains in men," the paper stated. "In women, there was only weak evidence that heavy drinking was associated with a faster decline in executive function." In fact, not drinking for 10 years was associated with a faster cognitive decline for women, but don't take that as a recommendation to drink heavily. The researchers point out that there are other demographic factors involved, such as race and income.… Read more

Perfect drug for perfect pitch? New study tests valproate

You're only as young as you think you are. But what if you could re-train your brain to absorb information as easily as a child can?

That's exactly what scientists testing the FDA-approved drug called valproate investigated in study of adults who had little or no musical training yet demonstrated some degree of absolute pitch, an ability to identify or produce the pitch of a musical sound without any reference point.

Absolute pitch, the scientists say, can only be acquired early in life.

Valproate is currently used to treat epileptic seizures, migraines, and manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. But scientists wanted to see if the drug had other neurological benefits. … Read more

Take-home test may detect early signs of Alzheimer's

Misplacing keys, forgetting the name of a new co-worker you were just introduced to, or trouble finding the right words during conversation. We've all been there. But when do such occurrences indicate early signs of Alzheimer's disease? Taking a quick test can help doctors decide if you need further medical attention, or if you're just naturally forgetful.

In a study conducted by Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, more than 1,000 volunteers -- all age 50 or older -- took the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) to detect early signs of memory and cognitive thinking impairments. … Read more

Google-like data bank of kids' brain scans could aid docs

Say a doctor orders an MRI scan of a child's brain to try to determine what might be at the root of a list of troubling symptoms.

She eyeballs the results to look for abnormalities that might indicate certain diseases or disorders, but nothing seems terribly amiss. So she submits the scan anonymously to a database that includes thousands of other scans of children with healthy and abnormal brains to find matches. She then gets the medical records -- anonymously, of course -- of kids with similar scans and voila, she makes a diagnosis that involves a lot less … Read more

Lights! Neurons! Action! Binge-drinking lab rats go cold turkey

Forget rehab, medication, and counseling. What if light could one day help cure us of our addictions?

Reporting in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers at the University of Buffalo and Wake Forest University shed light on a different way to go about deep brain stimulation that may have profound and lasting effects -- at least when it comes to binge drinking in lab rats.

Instead of using electricity to blast neurons indiscriminately, the researchers turned to an emerging technique known as optogenetics, using light to target and stimulate specific neurons (in this case dopamine).

And it worked. Very convincingly.… Read more

Playing video games makes opponents think and feel alike

Researchers in Finland say they've found that even when a video game is competitive, playing it appears to bring emotional responses and brain activity in sync.

In fact, the effect actually increases as a game gets more competitive, the researchers out of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, the University of Helsinki, and Aalto University -- all in Finland -- report in the journal PLOS One.

In the study, participants played the game Hedgewars, which involves both managing one's own team of hedgehogs and using ballistic artillery to destroy as many of the opposing team's hedgehogs as possible. Basically, whoever kills more hedgehogs wins. To mix up the type and degree of competition, sometimes the players were playing one another, other times the computer.

All the while, the players were being monitored using facial electromyography (fEMG) to measure facial muscle reactions and electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity.… Read more