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Year: 2020

23 Apr 2020

Manahel Thabet Research ‘Quantum Chaos in the Brain’

Manahel Thabet Talk on a very basic level, the entire universe runs on the rules of physics, which are mathematical concept which our reality conforms to. On a similarly basic level, our entire being is run based on our brain. Then, the need to explore the brain using the tools of our most basic reality should emerge naturally. In this report, we shall first lay down some theoretical groundwork, and then see in what ways quantum mechanics and chaos emerge in our brain.
Differential equations
The basis of chaos is in the behaviour of a system of differential equations. A differential equation is an equation which describes the change of a variable in regard to time. Consider one of the most basic differential equations, Hook’s equation:
𝑑2𝑥𝑑𝑡2=−𝑘𝑥 (1.1)
For the sake of clarity, a first time-differential will have a single do as a superscript, and a second time-differential will have two dots as a superscript, reformulating Hook’s law as:
𝑥̇=−𝑘𝑥 (1.2)
In essence, Hook’s law describes a behaviour of a weight oscillating on a spring, where the more it is displaced from the point of origin, the greater the acceleration it will experience towards the point of origin.

A system of differential equations will be of the form:
𝑥̇=𝑓(𝑥)+𝑔(𝑦)+𝐿(𝑥,𝑦)+𝐶 𝑦̇=𝑘(𝑦)+ℎ(𝑥)+𝑃(𝑥,𝑦)+𝐷
In this form, you can see how the current state of x and y influence each other. Such a system will describe the behaviour of two variables. The classical example is predator vs. prey, where x describes the number of prey, and y describes the number of predators:
𝑥̇=𝑓(𝑥)−𝑔(𝑦) 𝑦̇=−𝑘(𝑦)+ℎ(𝑥)
Model assumptions:
•There is infinite food
•The populations of prey and predators are controlled purely but their own populationand not outside forces
•Prey meeting will produce offspring
•Predators have infinite appetite
•Predators starve and die

Read more about Dr. Manahel Thabet Research can download here


18 Apr 2020

Neuroscience study indicates mindfulness training can recalibrate the brain’s response to fear in school kids

A new study provides evidence that a school-based mindfulness intervention can reduce perceived stress and modulate activity in a brain region associated with responses to fear and stress. The findings have been published in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Clemens C.C. Bauer, the corresponding author of the study and a postdoctoral associate at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, told PsyPost that his clinical practice helped to inspire the current research.

“I was a practicing family doctor in Mexico and I repeatedly witnessed how the mind state of my patients was key to their well-being and recovery from illness,” he explained. “I believe that mind states proceed biological states more than previously thought.”
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brain activity of a subset of 40 sixth graders who were enrolled in a randomized clinical trial examining the effect of mindfulness training.

In the trial, 99 students were randomly assigned to either receive mindfulness training every day for eight week or receive lessons about computer coding. The mindfulness curriculum, created by the nonprofit program Calmer Choice, was designed to encourage students to pay attention to their breath, and to focus on the present moment rather than thoughts of the past or the future.

The researchers measured activity in the amygdala as the students looked at pictures of faces expressing different emotions. Prior to the intervention, they found that students who reported greater stress tended to display greater activation in the right amygdala when viewing fearful facial expressions.

After the intervention, the children who received mindfulness training reported feeling less stress in daily life. These children also exhibited reduced right amygdala activation in response to fearful faces and stronger amygdala connectivity with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Students in the mindfulness training group also reported fewer negative feelings, such as sadness or anger, after the training.
“These findings provide the first evidence, at any age, of an amygdala neural mechanism related to stress reduction following mindfulness training, specifically a reduced magnitude of amygdala response to negative stimuli (and no relation to amygdala response to positive stimuli),” the researchers wrote in their study.

The study indicates that “mindfulness training recalibrates the automatic and unconscious response to fear, which leads to a ubiquitous resilience to stress,” Bauer told PsyPost. “It is easy to learn and can be practiced everywhere.”

“Like any other scientific study, these results are in need of replication in this age group as well as in other age groups. We still don’t know how long the effects of training last and how much practice is needed to create more long term changes. With larger studies, one can also address possible side effects that may come up during practice and possible alternatives or special approaches in vulnerable populations,” Bauer added.

The mindfulness curriculum used in the study sought to alter students’ mindsets about their stress and help them to refocus attention on the present moment. It did not include any spiritual or religious instruction.

“It is very important for the general public to understand that mindfulness training is a completely secular practice similar to basketball training or any other physical activity. In some circles, mindfulness has been linked to Eastern philosophies which may impede its upscaling into the general public school system so it would be nice that the term mindfulness starts to be treated as a secular term,” Bauer said.

Source: https://www.psypost.org/2020/03/neuroscience-study-indicates-mindfulness-training-can-recalibrate-the-brains-response-to-fear-in-school-kids-56285

14 Apr 2020

Scientists find 78% of people don’t show symptoms of coronavirus — here’s what that could mean

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, with 1.4 million cases and almost 75,000 deaths reported worldwide as of April 7. To slow down the spread and reduce mortality, governments across the world have put in place social distancing measures. When such measures are lifted, the “flattened epidemic curve” is expected to start rising again in the absence of a vaccine.

As most testing takes place inside hospitals in the UK and many other countries, the confirmed cases so far largely capture people who show symptoms. But to accurately predict the consequences of lifting the restrictions, we need to understand how many people with COVID-19 don’t show symptoms and to what extent they are contagious.

A recent study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggested that 78% of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.

The findings are in line with research from an Italian village at the epicenter of the outbreak showing that 50%-75% were asymptomatic, but represented “a formidable source” of contagion. A recent Icelandic study also showed that around 50% of those who tested positive to COVID-19 in a large-scale testing exercise were asymptomatic.

Meanwhile, a WHO report found that “80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infections and 5% are critical infections”. Though we don’t know what proportion of that 80% were purely asymptomatic, or exactly how the cases were counted, it again points to a large majority of cases who are not going into hospital and being tested.

The new BMJ study is seemingly different to the findings of studies from earlier in the pandemic, which suggested that the completely asymptomatic proportion of COVID-19 is small: 17.9% on the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship and 33.3% in Japanese people who were evacuated from Wuhan.

The new paper is based on collated data that Chinese authorities began publishing daily from April 1 on the number of new coronavirus cases in the country that are asymptomatic. It reports that “a total of 130 of 166 new infections (78%) identified in the 24 hours to the afternoon of Wednesday April 1 were asymptomatic”. They say that the 36 symptomatic cases “involved arrivals from overseas”, quoting China’s National Health Commission.

The new BMJ data is hugely important as the majority of new information and findings released daily worldwide is from the potentially small proportion of people who have shown symptoms, sought hospital help, undertook a test and tested positive. This is different to previous epidemics such as SARS, where most of the infections were symptomatic and could be traced.

Ultimately, widespread antibody testing, which is still not imminent, will be able to tell us how many people have already had COVID-19. This will give a better approximation of the total number of infections. This will be important in making decisions on lifting social distancing measures.

For example, if antibody testing suggests that a large proportion of the population has had COVID-19 already, there is a smaller chance of asymptomatic and undiagnosed cases spreading the infection once restrictions are lifted. But if only a very small proportion of the population has had the infection, then lifting of social distancing measures may have to be delayed until vaccination strategies are ready to be implemented.

Tweaking the models
Mathematical modeling allows us to develop a framework in which to mimic reality using formulaic expressions and parameters based on what we know about the virus spread. Models can be refined to replicate known aspects – for example the number of reported infections and deaths due to COVID-19. Such models can then be used to make a prediction about the future.

Ideally, a mathematical model for infectious disease spread should be based on parameters including the population of susceptible people, those exposed to the virus, those infected by the virus and those recovered from the virus. The group infected by the virus can further be split into asymptomatic and symptomatic population groups that can be modeled separately. But currently, there are large uncertainties around these numbers.

The new information will be crucial in addressing some of these uncertainties, and developing more robust and reliable modeling frameworks. This is because, although modeling has strong predictive power, it is only as good as the data it uses.

The data currently being used is from people who have tested positive to COVID-19 infections. And if asymptomatic infections are a large proportion of COVID-19 infections, as the recent estimates seem to suggest, then a number of model parameters potentially need to be refined and reconsidered. We don’t know how many people current models assume to be asymptomatic, but it could be different to the newly suggested 78%.

Increasing this number would considerably reduce the case fatality rate – the proportion of deaths per number of infections. That’s because, while the number of deaths related to COVID-19 are clearly countable, this new evidence suggests that there are a lot more infections than we thought, with a large proportion asymptomatic.

There is also very little information available to estimate the model parameter describing the time it takes for an infection to progress from asymptomatic to symptomatic. One study from Singapore suggested that progression occurs within one to three days. Confirming this will notably change the model predictions.

So while the new study suggests a large proportion of people may have already had COVID-19, we can’t say this for sure. Ultimately, we need a large blanket antibody testing strategy to confirm it.

Only then can we discuss whether the UK has reached “herd immunity” – whereby enough people have been infected to become immune to the virus – for this pandemic, and think about relaxing social distancing measures. Hopefully such a test will be available very soon.

Source: https://thenextweb.com/syndication/2020/04/13/scientists-find-78-of-people-dont-show-symptoms-of-coronavirus-heres-what-that-could-mean/

13 Apr 2020

Neuroscience research: 6 fascinating findings

In this feature, we discuss six studies that uncover new and unexpected truths about the organ we hold in our skulls. Neuroscience is never easy, but the resulting intrigue is worth the effort.

The brain is the pivotal hub of our central nervous system. Through this organ, we take note of the world, we assess our version of reality, we dream, we ponder, we laugh.

Its nervous tendrils permeate every inch of our bodies, innervating, controlling, and monitoring all that we touch, think, and feel.

Its other, more silent, yet vital role is its command over our survival as an organism — our heartbeat, our breathing rate, the release of hormones, and much more.

Because of its vast complexity, it is no surprise that we continuously learn new things about the brain.

In this feature, we will discuss some recent research that shines fresh light on the organ that defines us as individuals, controls our emotions, and retains detailed information about our first pet.

To start, we will take a look at links between the brain and a seemingly unrelated part of the body — the gut.

Brain and gut
At first glance, it seems surprising that our brain and gut are interlinked, but we have all experienced their tight relationship. By way of example, many of us, when especially hungry, might be more easily enraged.

In fact, there is a great deal of neural conversation between the gut and the brain. After all, if the gut is not well fed, it could be a matter of life and death; the brain needs to be informed when energy is low so that it can call other systems into action.

1. Sugar may alter brain chemistry after only 12 days
Recently, Medical News Today published a study that investigated how sugar influenced the brain of a particular breed of swine, known as Göttingen minipigs. For 1 hour each day for 12 days, the pigs had access to sucrose solution.

Before and after the 12-day sugar intervention, the scientists used a PET imaging technique that measured dopamine and opioid activity. They also imaged five of the pigs’ brains after their first sucrose experience.

They chose to focus on the dopamine and opioid systems because both play pivotal roles in pleasure seeking behavior and addiction. One of the authors, Michael Winterdahl, explains what they found:

“After just 12 days of sugar intake, we could see major changes in the brain’s dopamine and opioid systems. In fact, the opioid system, which is that part of the brain’s chemistry that is associated with well-being and pleasure, was already activated after the very first intake.”

The authors published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports. Scientists have debated whether sugar is addictive for decades, but these findings, as the authors explain, suggest that “foods high in sucrose influence brain reward circuitry in ways similar to those observed when addictive drugs are consumed.”

2. Gut bacteria and the brain
Over recent years, gut bacteria and the microbiome at large have become increasingly popular with scientists and laypeople alike. It is no surprise that gut bacteria can influence gut health, but it does come as more of an eye-opener that they might influence our brain and behavior.

Although at first, this idea was a fringe topic, it is now moving closer to the mainstream. However, links between gut bacteria and mental health are still relatively controversial.

Recently, a study appearing in Nature Microbiology utilized data from the Flemish Gut Flora Project, which included 1,070 participants. The scientists wanted to understand whether there might be a relationship between gut flora and depression.

As the researchers hypothesized, they did find distinct differences in the gut bacterial populations of those with depression when they compared them with those who did not experience depression.

These differences remained significant even after they had adjusted the data to account for antidepressant medication, which might also influence gut bacteria.

However, as the authors note, there is still the chance that factors other than depression might have driven the correlation. Before they firm up the links between gut bacteria and mental health, scientists will need to carry out much more work.

MNT published an in-depth article on how gut bacteria might influence the brain and behavior here.

3. Parkinson’s and the gut
Perhaps now that we have established a connection between the gut and the brain, we will find the thought of a gut link to Parkinson’s disease less surprising. MNT covered a study that looked at this theory in 2019.

Misfolded alpha-synuclein is the primary hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. These proteins aggregate and destroy certain dopamine producing cells in the brain, causing tremor and the other symptoms of the disease.

The study, in the journal Neuron, explains how the researchers created a model of Parkinson’s disease by injecting alpha-synuclein fibrils into muscles in the mice’s gut.

In the experiment, these clumps traveled from the gut to the brain through the vagus nerve. Within a few months, the mice developed symptoms that mirrored Parkinson’s in humans.

Following on from the findings above, some researchers have begun asking whether prebiotics might stave off Parkinson’s. A study using a roundworm model suggests that this theory might be worth pursuing.

Discoveries and mysteries
Of course, because the brain is complex, it still holds many secrets. Even some of the most common behaviors, as yet, defy a neuroscientific explanation. A good example is a humble yawn.

Yawning is part of the human experience, but no one knows quite why we do it.

4. A yawning chasm in our knowledge
Scientists have roundly dismissed conventional theories, such as a lack of oxygen in the brain. Why we do it, and what is happening in the brain is unclear. One of the particularly curious things about yawning is the fact that it is contagious.

A recent study investigating the contagious power of yawns appeared in the journal Current Biology. The authors believe that primitive reflexes in the primary motor cortex might trigger yawn contagion.

To investigate, the scientists used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a noninvasive technique employing magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells. The researchers showed participants videos of people yawning and asked them to either resist the yawn or to let it out.

They found that when they increased levels of excitability in the motor cortex, they also increased participants’ urge to yawn.

As part of the experiment, the researchers measured levels of excitability in participants’ brains without TMS. They found that individuals with higher levels of cortical excitability and physiological inhibition in the primary motor cortex were more predisposed to yawn.

This finding adds evidence in support of one theory about yawning that involves the mirror-neuron system. This system, as the authors explain, “is thought to play a key role in action understanding, empathy, and the synchronization of group social behavior.”

So, we still do not fully understand yawning, but we are gathering evidence, and it might involve empathy.

5. New neurons in old age
Neurogenesis — or the creation of new neurons — is almost entirely complete by the time a newborn greets the world. Although new neurons may emerge in some parts of the brain during adulthood, for the majority of the brain, we have to make do with the neurons we get when we are born.

A study from 1998 claimed to have demonstrated that neurogenesis took place in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is particularly important for memory. The findings were controversial, and later studies were contradictory.

Moving forward 2 decades, another team of scientists decided to settle the debate with the largest sample of brain tissue to date; they published these new findings in the journal Nature Medicine.

The team focused on a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. Incredibly, the researchers found that neurogenesis was occurring in all the samples of brain tissue, even in samples from individuals in their 90s.

The authors note that neurogenesis appears to slow as we age, but that it continues throughout our lives.

As with so many areas of neuroscience, however, researchers now need to gather more evidence as other studies have failed to replicate the findings.

6. A new type of brain cell
Even now, we are identifying new types of cells in the brain. A paper in Nature Neuroscience introduced one such newcomer to the neuroscientific lexicon: the rosehip neuron.

Rosehip neurons are inhibitory neurons, which are a class of cells that reduce the activity of other neurons. In the case of rosehip neurons, they apply the brakes to neurons in a way subtly different from other, similar cells.

In particular, rosehip neurons influence the activity of cortical pyramidal neurons, which account for around two-thirds of all neurons in the mammalian cerebral cortex.

Because scientists have not seen this cell in mice or other commonly used laboratory animals, the researchers believe it might help us understand why the human brain is so unique. However, at this stage, this is conjecture, and it is still not clear exactly what rosehip neurons do.

Of course, the studies this article discusses barely scratch the surface of neuroscience research today. Although we do not know what the future holds, we can guarantee it will be exciting.

It’s Brain Awareness Week, and to mark the occasion, we’re taking a look at research focused on the most complex organ in the human body. You can view all of our content for Brain Awareness.

Source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/neuroscience-research-6-fascinating-findings#Discoveries-and-mysteries

07 Apr 2020

Neuroscientist find memory cells that help us interpret new situations

Neurons that store abstract representations of past experiences are activated when a new, similar event takes place.

Imagine you are meeting a friend for dinner at a new restaurant. You may try dishes you haven’t had before, and your surroundings will be completely new to you. However, your brain knows that you have had similar experiences — perusing a menu, ordering appetizers, and splurging on dessert are all things that you have probably done when dining out.

MIT neuroscientists have now identified populations of cells that encode each of these distinctive segments of an overall experience. These chunks of memory, stored in the hippocampus, are activated whenever a similar type of experience takes place, and are distinct from the neural code that stores detailed memories of a specific location.

The researchers believe that this kind of “event code,” which they discovered in a study of mice, may help the brain interpret novel situations and learn new information by using the same cells to represent similar experiences.

“When you encounter something new, there are some really new and notable stimuli, but you already know quite a bit about that particular experience, because it’s a similar kind of experience to what you have already had before,” says Susumu Tonegawa, a professor of biology and neuroscience at the RIKEN-MIT Laboratory of Neural Circuit Genetics at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

Tonegawa is the senior author of the study, which appears today in Nature Neuroscience. Chen Sun, an MIT graduate student, is the lead author of the paper. New York University graduate student Wannan Yang and Picower Institute technical associate Jared Martin are also authors of the paper.

Encoding abstraction

It is well-established that certain cells in the brain’s hippocampus are specialized to store memories of specific locations. Research in mice has shown that within the hippocampus, neurons called place cells fire when the animals are in a specific location, or even if they are dreaming about that location.

In the new study, the MIT team wanted to investigate whether the hippocampus also stores representations of more abstract elements of a memory. That is, instead of firing whenever you enter a particular restaurant, such cells might encode “dessert,” no matter where you’re eating it.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers measured activity in neurons of the CA1 region of the mouse hippocampus as the mice repeatedly ran a four-lap maze. At the end of every fourth lap, the mice were given a reward. As expected, the researchers found place cells that lit up when the mice reached certain points along the track. However, the researchers also found sets of cells that were active during one of the four laps, but not the others. About 30 percent of the neurons in CA1 appeared to be involved in creating this “event code.”

“This gave us the initial inkling that besides a code for space, cells in the hippocampus also care about this discrete chunk of experience called lap 1, or this discrete chunk of experience called lap 2, or lap 3, or lap 4,” Sun says.

To further explore this idea, the researchers trained mice to run a square maze on day 1 and then a circular maze on day 2, in which they also received a reward after every fourth lap. They found that the place cells changed their activity, reflecting the new environment. However, the same sets of lap-specific cells were activated during each of the four laps, regardless of the shape of the track. The lap-encoding cells’ activity also remained consistent when laps were randomly shortened or lengthened.

“Even in the new spatial locations, cells still maintain their coding for the lap number, suggesting that cells that were coding for a square lap 1 have now been transferred to code for a circular lap 1,” Sun says.

The researchers also showed that if they used optogenetics to inhibit sensory input from a part of the brain called the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC), lap-encoding did not occur. They are now investigating what kind of input the MEC region provides to help the hippocampus create memories consisting of chunks of an experience.

Two distinct codes

These findings suggest that, indeed, every time you eat dinner, similar memory cells are activated, no matter where or what you’re eating. The researchers theorize that the hippocampus contains “two mutually and independently manipulatable codes,” Sun says. One encodes continuous changes in location, time, and sensory input, while the other organizes an overall experience into smaller chunks that fit into known categories such as appetizer and dessert.

“We believe that both types of hippocampal codes are useful, and both are important,” Tonegawa says. “If we want to remember all the details of what happened in a specific experience, moment-to-moment changes that occurred, then the continuous monitoring is effective. But on the other hand, when we have a longer experience, if you put it into chunks, and remember the abstract order of the abstract chunks, that’s more effective than monitoring this long process of continuous changes.”

The new MIT results “significantly advance our knowledge about the function of the hippocampus,” says Gyorgy Buzsaki, a professor of neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine, who was not part of the research team.

“These findings are significant because they are telling us that the hippocampus does a lot more than just ‘representing’ space or integrating paths into a continuous long journey,” Buzsaki says. “From these remarkable results Tonegawa and colleagues conclude that they discovered an ‘event code,’ dedicated to organizing experience by events, and that this code is independent of spatial and time representations, that is, jobs also attributed to the hippocampus.”

Tonegawa and Sun believe that networks of cells that encode chunks of experiences may also be useful for a type of learning called transfer learning, which allows you to apply knowledge you already have to help you interpret new experiences or learn new things. Tonegawa’s lab is now working on trying to find cell populations that might encode these specific pieces of knowledge.

The research was funded by the RIKEN Center for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the JPB Foundation.

Source: http://news.mit.edu/2020/neuroscience-memory-cells-interpret-new-0406

02 Apr 2020

This Startup’s Computer Chips Are Powered by Human Neurons

Biological “hybrid computer chips” could drastically lower the amount of power required to run AI systems.

Australian startup Cortical Labs is building computer chips that use biological neurons extracted from mice and humans, Fortune reports.

The goal is to dramatically lower the amount of power current artificial intelligence systems need to operate by mimicking the way the human brain.

According to Cortical Labs’ announcement, the company is planning to “build technology that harnesses the power of synthetic biology and the full potential of the human brain” in order to create a “new class” of AI that could solve “society’s greatest challenges.”

The mouse neurons are extracted from embryos, according to Fortune, but the human ones are created by turning skin cells back into stem cells and then into neurons.

The idea of using biological neurons to power computers isn’t new. Cortical Labs’ announcement comes one week after a group of European researchers managed to turn on a working neural network that allows biological and silicon-based brain cells to communicate with each other over the internet.

Researchers at MIT have also attempted to use bacteria, not neurons, to build a computing system in 2016.

As of right now, Cortical’s mini-brains have less processing power than a dragonfly brain. The company is looking to get its mouse-neuron-powered chips to be capable of playing a game of “Pong,” as CEO Hon Weng Chong told Fortune, following the footsteps of AI company DeepMind, which used the game to test the power of its AI algorithms back in 2013.

“What we are trying to do is show we can shape the behavior of these neurons,” Chong told Fortune.

Source: https://futurism.com/startup-computer-chips-powered-human-neurons

29 Mar 2020

The distorted idea of ‘cool’ brain research is stifling psychotherapy

There has never been a problem facing mankind more complex than understanding our own human nature. And no shortage of neat, plausible, and wrong answers purporting to plumb its depths.

Having treated many thousands of psychiatric patients in my career, and having worked on the American Psychiatric Association’s efforts to classify psychiatric symptoms (published as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV and DSM-5), I can affirm confidently that there are no neat answers in psychiatry. The best we can do is embrace an ecumenical four-dimensional model that includes all possible contributors to human functioning: the biological, the psychological, the social, and the spiritual. Reducing people to just one element – their brain functioning, or their psychological tendencies, or their social context, or their struggle for meaning – results in a flat, distorted image that leaves out more than it can capture.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was established in 1949 by the federal government in the United States with the practical goal of providing ‘an objective, thorough, nationwide analysis and reevaluation of the human and economic problems of mental health.’ Until 30 years ago, the NIMH appreciated the need for this well-rounded approach and maintained a balanced research budget that covered an extraordinarily wide range of topics and techniques.

But in 1990, the NIMH suddenly and radically switched course, embarking on what it tellingly named the ‘Decade of the Brain.’ Ever since, the NIMH has increasingly narrowed its focus almost exclusively to brain biology – leaving out everything else that makes us human, both in sickness and in health. Having largely lost interest in the plight of real people, the NIMH could now more accurately be renamed the ‘National Institute of Brain Research’.

This misplaced reductionism arose from the availability of spectacular research tools (eg, the Human Genome Project, functional magnetic resonance imaging, molecular biology, and machine learning) combined with the naive belief that brain biology could eventually explain all aspects of mental functioning. The results have been a grand intellectual adventure, but a colossal clinical flop. We have acquired a fantastic window into gene and brain functioning, but little to help clinical practice.

The more we learn about genetics and the brain, the more impossibly complicated both reveal themselves to be. We have picked no low-hanging fruit after three decades and $50 billion because there simply is no low-hanging fruit to pick. The human brain has around 86 billion neurons, each communicating with thousands of others via hundreds of chemical modulators, leading to trillions of potential connections. No wonder it reveals its secrets only very gradually and in a piecemeal fashion.

Genetics offers the same baffling complexity. For instance, variation in more than 100 genes contributes to vulnerability to schizophrenia, with each gene contributing just the tiniest bit, and interacting in the most impossibly complicated ways with other genes, and also with the physical and social environment. Even more discouraging, the same genes are often implicated in vulnerability to multiple mental disorders – defeating any effort to establish specificity. The almost endless permutations will defeat any easy genetic answers, no matter how many decades and billions we invest.

The NIMH has boxed itself into a badly unbalanced research portfolio. Playing with ‘cool’ brain and gene research toys trumps the much harder and less intellectually rewarding task of helping real people.

Contrast this current NIMH failure with a great success story from NIMH’s distant past. One of the high points of my career was sitting on the NIMH granting committee that funded psychotherapy studies in the 1980s. We helped to support the US psychologist Marsha Linehan’s research that led her to develop dialectical behavior therapy; the US psychiatrist Aaron T Beck’s development of cognitive therapy; along with numerous other investigators and themes. Subsequent studies have established that psychotherapy is as effective as medications for mild-to-moderate depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric problems, and avoids the burden of medication side-effects and complications. Many millions of people around the world have already been helped by NIMH psychotherapy research.

In a rational world, the NIMH would continue to fund a robust psychotherapy research budget and promote its use as a public-health initiative to reduce the current massive overprescription of psychiatric medication in the US. Brief psychotherapy would be the first-line treatment of most psychiatric problems that require intervention. Drug treatments would be reserved for severe psychiatric problems and for those people who haven’t responded sufficiently to watchful waiting or psychotherapy.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a rational world. Drug companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year influencing politicians, marketing misleadingly to doctors, and pushing pharmaceutical treatments on the public. They successfully sold the fake marketing jingle that all emotional symptoms are due to a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain and therefore all require a pill solution. The result: 20% of US citizens use psychotropic drugs, most of which are no more than expensive placebos, all of which can produce harmful side-effects.

Drug companies are commercial Goliath with enormous political and economic power. Psychotherapy is a tiny David with no marketing budget; no salespeople mobbing doctors’ offices; no TV ads; no internet pop-ups; no influence with politicians or insurance companies. No surprise then that the NIMH’s neglect of psychotherapy research has been accompanied by its neglect in clinical practice. And the NIMH’s embrace of biological reductionism provides an unintended and unwarranted legitimization of the drug-company promotion that there is a pill for every problem.

A balanced NIMH budget would go a long way toward correcting the two biggest mental-health catastrophes of today. Studies comparing psychotherapy versus medication for a wide variety of mild to moderate mental disorders would help to level the playing field for the two, and eventually reduce our massive overdependence on drug treatments for nonexistent ‘chemical imbalances’. Health service research is desperately needed to determine best practices to help people with severe mental illness avoid incarceration and homelessness, and also escape from them.

The NIMH is entitled to keep an eye on the future, but not at the expense of the desperate needs of the present. Brain research should remain an important part of a balanced NIMH agenda, not its sole preoccupation. After 30 years of running down a bio-reductionistic blind alley, it is long past time for the NIMH to consider a biopsychosocial reset, and to rebalance its badly uneven research portfolio.

Source: https://thenextweb.com/syndication/2020/03/29/the-distorted-idea-of-cool-brain-research-is-stifling-psychotherapy/

23 Mar 2020

Researchers Find Captivating New Details In Image of Black Hole

Last April, the international coalition of scientists who run the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight telescopes from around the world, revealed the first-ever image of a black hole.

Now, a team of researchers at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard have revealed calculations, as detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Advances today, that predict an intricate internal structure within black hole images caused by extreme gravitational light bending.

The new research, they say, could lead to much sharper images when compared to the blurry ones we’ve seen so far.

“With the current EHT image, we’ve caught just a glimpse of the full complexity that should emerge in the image of any black hole,” said Michael Johnson a lecturer at the Center for Astrophysics, in a statement.

The EHT image was able to catch the black hole’s “photon sphere” or “photon ring,” a region around a black hole where gravity is so overpowering, it forces photons to travel in orbits.

But as it turns out, there’s even more to the image.

“The image of a black hole actually contains a nested series of rings,” Johnson said. “Each successive ring has about the same diameter but becomes increasingly sharper because its light orbited the black hole more times before reaching the observer.”

Until last year, that internal structure of black holes remained shrouded in mystery.“As a theorist, I am delighted to finally glean real data about these objects that we’ve been abstractly thinking about for so long,” Alex Lupsasca from the Harvard Society of Fellows said in the statement.

These newly discovered substructures could allow for even sharper images in the future. “What really surprised us was that while the nested subrings are almost imperceptible to the naked eye on images — even perfect images — they are strong and clear signals for arrays of telescopes called interferometers,” Johnson added.

“While capturing black hole images normally requires many distributed telescopes, the subrings are perfect to study using only two telescopes that are very far apart,” Johnson said. “Adding one space telescope to the EHT would be enough.”

There might be other ways as well. In November, a team of Dutch astronomers suggested sending two to three satellites equipped with radio imaging technology to observe black holes at five times the sharpness of the last attempt.

Source: https://futurism.com/researchers-take-sharper-black-hole-images

18 Mar 2020


Brief Jolt
A team of engineers has figured out how to take a single drop of rain and use it to generate a powerful flash of electricity.

The City University of Hong Kong researchers behind the device, which they’re calling a droplet-based electricity generator (DEG), say that a single rain droplet can briefly generate 140 volts. That was enough to briefly power 100 small lightbulbs and, while it’s not yet practical enough for everyday use, it’s a promising step toward a new form of renewable electricity.

Forming Bridges
The DEG uses a “field-effect transistor-style structure,” Engadget reports, which can turn rainfall into short bursts of power.

The material the device is made from contains a quasi-permanent electrical charge, and the rain is merely what triggers the flow of energy, according to research published last week in the journal Nature.

Early Tests
The real trick will be finding a way to turn this technology into something that might be viable for people’s homes — for now, it’s not reliable enough to deliver a continuous supply of power, as it needs to charge up before it can let out another burst.

In the meantime, Engadget suggests, it could serve as a small, temporary power source on futuristic water bottles or umbrellas.

Source: https://futurism.com/the-byte/generate-electricity-rain

15 Mar 2020

Scientists Discover “Peculiar” Teardrop-Shaped Star

“I’ve been looking for a star like this for nearly 40 years and now we have finally found one.”

A team of astronomers have discovered a strange star that oscillates in a rhythmic pattern — but only on one side, causing gravitational forces to distort it into a teardrop shape.

“We’ve known theoretically that stars like this should exist since the 1980s,” said professor Don Kurtz from the University of Central Lancashire and co-author of the paper published in Nature Astronomy on Monday, in a statement. “I’ve been looking for a star like this for nearly 40 years and now we have finally found one.”

The star, known as HD74423, is about 1.7 times the mass of the Sun and was spotted around 1,500 light years from Earth — still within the confines of the Milky Way — using public data from NASA’s planet-hunting TESS satellite.

“What first caught my attention was the fact it was a chemically peculiar star,” said co-author Simon Murphy from the Sydney Institute for Astronomy at the University of Sydney in the statement. “Stars like this are usually fairly rich with metals – but this is metal poor, making it a rare type of hot star.”

Stars have been found to oscillate at different rhythms and to different degrees — including our own Sun. Astronomers suspect they’re caused by convection and magnetic field forces inside the star.

While the exact causes of these pulsations vary, these oscillations have usually been observed on all sides of the star. HD74423, however, was found to pulsate on only one side because of its red dwarf companion with which it makes up a binary star system.

They were found to do such a close dance — an orbital period of just two days — that the larger star is being distorted into a teardrop shape.

The astronomers suspect it won’t be the last of its kind to be discovered.

“We expect to find many more hidden in the TESS data,” said co-author Saul Rappaport, a professor at MIT.

Source: https://futurism.com/scientists-peculiar-teardrop-shaped-star