Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology?

For most of us, managing our health means visiting a doctor. The more serious our concerns, the more specialized a medical expert we seek. Our bodies often feel like foreign and frightening lands, and we are happy to let someone with an MD serve as our tour guide. For most of us, our own DNA never makes it onto our personal reading list.

Biohackers are on a mission to change all that. These do-it-yourself biology hobbyists want to bring biotechnology out of institutional labs and into our homes. Following in the footsteps of revolutionaries like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer in Jobs’s garage, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who invented Google in a friend’s garage, biohackers are attempting bold feats of genetic engineering, drug development, and biotech research in makeshift home laboratories.

In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.

via Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology? – Technology Review.

Biology in Pictures: Clot forming in artery

Clot forming in artery on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

New evidence of battle between humans and ancient virus

For millennia, humans and viruses have been locked in an evolutionary back-and-forth — one changes to outsmart the other, prompting the second to change and outsmart the first. With retroviruses, which work by inserting themselves into their host’s DNA, the evidence remains in our genes. Last year, researchers at Rockefeller University and the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center brought an ancient retrovirus back to life and showed it could reproduce and infect human cells. Now, the same scientists have looked at the human side of the story and found evidence that our ancestors fought back against that virus with a defense mechanism our bodies still use today. Continue reading “New evidence of battle between humans and ancient virus”

Researchers unmask proteins in telomerase, a substance that enables cancer

One of the more intriguing workhorses of the cell, a protein conglomerate called telomerase, has in its short history been implicated in some critical areas of medicine including cancer, aging and keeping stem cells healthy. With such a resume, telomerase has been the subject of avid interest by basic scientists and pharmaceutical companies alike, so you’d think at the very least people would know what it is.

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US stands to lose a generation of young researchers

Five consecutive years of flat funding the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is deterring promising young researchers and threatening the future of Americans’ health, a group of seven preeminent academic research institutions warned today. In a new report released here, the group of concerned institutions (six research universities and a major teaching hospital) described the toll that cumulative stagnant NIH funding is taking on the American medical research enterprise. And the leading institutions warned that if NIH does not get consistent and robust support in the future, the nation will lose a generation of young investigators to other careers and other countries and, with them, a generation of promising research that could cure disease for millions for whom no cure currently exists.

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Scientists identify new longevity genes

Scientists at the University of Washington and other institutions have identified 25 genes regulating lifespan in two organisms separated by about 1.5 billion years in evolutionary change. At least 15 of those genes have very similar versions in humans, suggesting that scientists may be able to target those genes to help slow down the aging process and treat age-related conditions.

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Groups of neurons in the brain rewire by changing images

Neuroscientists studying the mind’s ability to process images have completed the first empirical study to demonstrate, using animal models, how populations of nerve cells in visual cortex adapt to changing images. Their findings could lead to sight-improving therapies for people following trauma or stroke. The study at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston appears in the March 13 issue of the journal Nature.

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Fascinating split brain behavioral experiments

To reduce the severity of his seizures, Joe had the bridge between his left and right cerebral hemisphers (the corpus callosum) severed. As a result, his left and right brains no longer communicate through that pathway. This is an extraordinary insight into the machinary of the mind. Here’s what happens as a result:

What gives us fingertip dexterity?

In a novel experiment, a USC biomedical engineer examines the intricate circuitry between hand manipulation skills and specialized neural circuits in the brain

Quickly moving your fingertips to tap or press a surface is essential for everyday life to, say, pick up small objects, use a BlackBerry or an iPhone. But researchers at the University of Southern California say that this seemingly trivial action is the result of a complex neuro-motor-mechanical process orchestrated with precision timing by the brain, nervous system and muscles of the hand

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. Continue reading “What gives us fingertip dexterity?”

Researchers find trigger gene for muscle development

University of Oregon scientists say they have identified a gene that is the key switch that allows embryonic cells to form into muscles in zebrafish.oregonresear.jpg Continue reading “Researchers find trigger gene for muscle development”

Creative and noncreative problem solvers exhibit different patterns of brain activity

Why do some people solve problems more creatively than others? Are people who think creatively somehow different from those who tend to think in a more methodical fashion?

These questions are part of a long-standing debate, with some researchers arguing that what we call “creative thought” and “noncreative thought” are not basically different. If this is the case, then people who are thought of as creative do not really think in a fundamentally different way from those who are thought of as noncreative. On the other side of this debate, some researchers have argued that creative thought is fundamentally different from other forms of thought. If this is true, then those who tend to think creatively really are somehow different.
Continue reading “Creative and noncreative problem solvers exhibit different patterns of brain activity”

‘Telepathic’ Genes Recognize Similarities In Each Other

Genes have the ability to recognise similarities in each other from a distance, without any proteins or other biological molecules aiding the process, according to new research. This discovery could explain how similar genes find each other and group together in order to perform key processes involved in the evolution of species.
Continue reading “‘Telepathic’ Genes Recognize Similarities In Each Other”

JoVE: Youtube for scientists

I have been following JoVE is the Journal of Visualized Experiments, for some time. This very unique “video journal” focuses on publishing videos of experimental procedures in life sciences.

Today I learned JoVE may soon be indexed on Pubmed, which will give it a credibility of peer reviewed scientific journal. Apparently they have also signed agreement with established science publishing companies (Annual Reviews, Springer Protocols, Current Protocols) for joint protocol publication, as in this example.. I think this is extremely useful for scientists or those who want to see actual experiments done. It will be interesting to see how it develops and accepted in scientific community.

Protein that controls hair growth also keeps stem cells slumbering

Like fine china and crystal, which tend to be used sparingly, stem cells divide infrequently. It was thought they did so to protect themselves from unnecessary wear and tear. But now new research from Rockefeller University has unveiled the protein that puts the brakes on stem cell division and shows that stem cells may not need such guarded protection to maintain their potency.
Continue reading “Protein that controls hair growth also keeps stem cells slumbering”

Scientists restore walking after spinal cord injury

Spinal cord damage blocks the routes that the brain uses to send messages to the nerve cells that control walking. Until now, doctors believed that the only way for injured patients to walk again was to re-grow the long nerve highways that link the brain and base of the spinal cord. For the first time, a UCLA study shows that the central nervous system can reorganize itself and follow new pathways to restore the cellular communication required for movement.

Continue reading “Scientists restore walking after spinal cord injury”

Scientists find that culture influences brain function

People from different cultures use their brains differently to solve the same visual perceptual tasks, MIT researchers and colleagues report in the first brain imaging study of its kind.

Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects. Behavioral studies have shown that these cultural differences can influence memory and even perception. But are they reflected in brain activity patterns”

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Aging gracefully requires taking out the trash

Suppressing a cellular cleanup-mechanism known as autophagy can accelerate the accumulation of protein aggregates that leads to neural degeneration. In an upcoming issue of Autophagy, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report for the first time that the opposite is true as well: Boosting autophagy in the nervous system of fruit flies prevented the age-dependent accumulation of cellular damage in neurons and promoted longevity.

 

Continue reading “Aging gracefully requires taking out the trash”

Monkeys can perform mental addition

Researchers at Duke University have demonstrated that monkeys have the ability to perform mental addition. In fact, monkeys performed about as well as college students given the same test.

The findings shed light on the shared evolutionary origins of arithmetic ability in humans and non-human animals, according to Assistant Professor Elizabeth Brannon, Ph.D. and Jessica Cantlon, Ph.D., of the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Continue reading “Monkeys can perform mental addition”

Genomic screen nets hundreds of human proteins exploited by HIV

In some ways, HIV resembles a minimalist painter, using a few basic components to achieve dramatic effects. The virus contains just nine genes encoding 15 proteins, which wreak havoc on the human immune system. But this bare bones approach could have a fatal flaw. Lacking robust machinery, HIV hijacks human proteins to propagate, and these might represent powerful therapeutic targets.

Using a technique called RNA interference to screen thousands of genes, Harvard Medical School researchers have now identified 273 human proteins required for HIV propagation. The vast majority had not been connected to the virus by previous studies. The work appears online in Science Express on Jan. 10.

Continue reading “Genomic screen nets hundreds of human proteins exploited by HIV”

New insight into factors that drive muscle-building stem cells

A report in the January issue of Cell Metabolism, a publication of Cell Press, provides new evidence explaining how stem cells known as satellite cells contribute to building muscles up in response to exercise. These findings could lead to treatments for reversing or improving the muscle loss that occurs in diseases such as cancer and AIDS as well as in the normal aging process, according to the researchers.

Continue reading “New insight into factors that drive muscle-building stem cells”

Novel mechanism for long-term learning identified

Practice makes perfect — or at least that’s what we’re told as we struggle through endless rounds of multiplication tables, goal kicks and piano scales — and it seems, based on the personal experience of many, to be true. That’s why neuroscientists have been perplexed by data showing that at the level of individual synapses, or connections between neurons, increased, repetitive stimulation might actually reverse early gains in synaptic strength. Now, neuroscientists from Carnegie Mellon University and the Max Planck Institute have discovered the mechanism that resolves this apparent paradox. The findings are published in the Jan. 4 issue of Science.

Continue reading “Novel mechanism for long-term learning identified”

Human genetic variation — Science’s ‘Breakthrough of the Year’

In 2007, researchers were dazzled by the degree to which genomes differ from one human to another and began to understand the role of these variations in disease and personal traits. Science and its publisher, AAAS, the nonprofit science society, recognize “Human Genetic Variation” as the Breakthrough of the Year, and identify nine other of the year’s most significant scientific accomplishments in the 21 December issue.

Continue reading “Human genetic variation — Science’s ‘Breakthrough of the Year’”

The closest look ever at native human tissue

Seeing proteins in their natural environment and interactions inside cells has been a long-standing goal. Using an advanced microscopy technique called cryo-electron tomography, researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory [EMBL] have visualised proteins responsible for cell-cell contacts for the first time. In this week’s issue of Nature they publish the first 3D image of human skin at molecular resolution and reveal the molecular Velcro-like organisation that interlinks cells.

 

Caption: 3-D visualization of interacting cadherin molecules in their native arrangement. Known molecular structures of cadherins (grey and red ribbons) are fit into the electron tomogram (multicolour) of the complex.

Credit: Achilleas Frangakis, EMBL

Continue reading “The closest look ever at native human tissue”

Scientists uncover how the brain controls what the eyes see

Vase or face” When presented with the well known optical illusion in which we see either a vase or the faces of two people, what we observe depends on the patterns of neural activity going on in our brains.

“In this example, whether you see faces or vases depends entirely on changes that occur in your brain, since the image always stays exactly the same,” said John Serences, a UC Irvine cognitive neuroscientist.
Continue reading “Scientists uncover how the brain controls what the eyes see”

In a major breakthrough scientists reprogram human adult cells into embryonic stem cells

Acclaimed stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, has reported that he and his Kyoto University colleagues have successfully reprogrammed human adult cells to function like pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells. Because it circumvents much of the controversy and restrictions regarding generation of ES cells from human embryos, this breakthrough, reported in the journal Cell, should accelerate the pace of stem cell research.

Continue reading “In a major breakthrough scientists reprogram human adult cells into embryonic stem cells”

Powerful Molecular Motor Permits Speedy Assembly of Viruses

A team of physicists at the University of California, San Diego and biologists at Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. has shown that a tiny viral motor generates twice as much power, relative to its size, as an automobile engine. The finding explains why even very large viruses can self-assemble so rapidly.

In the study, published October 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers used laser tweezers to measure the forces generated by a nanoscale motor that packs DNA into a virus during the assembly of an infectious virus particle. They discovered that the motor is considerably stronger than any known molecular motors, including those responsible for muscle contraction. The researchers say this power allows the virus to reel in its long genome with remarkable speed Continue reading “Powerful Molecular Motor Permits Speedy Assembly of Viruses”

Beautiful story inside the body

Commissioned by Wall to Wall Television for Channel 4, the Discovery Channel and ITEL, Body Story is a series of programmes that takes the audience on six thrilling journeys inside the human body.

Infertility Treatment For Women Suggested By Mouse Study

A discovery in mice of immune cells that promote the formation of new blood vessels could lead to new treatments for endometriosis, a painful condition associated with infertility that affects up to 15 percent of women of reproductive age. The new research in vascular biology may point the way to treating endometriosis nonsurgically — by inhibiting angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth) so that lesions remain small and harmless.
Continue reading “Infertility Treatment For Women Suggested By Mouse Study”

Sleep-deprivation causes an emotional brain ‘disconnect’

Without sleep, the emotional centers of the brain dramatically overreact to negative experiences, reveals a new brain imaging study in the October 23rd issue of Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. The reason for that hyperactive emotional response in sleep-deprived people stems from a shutdown of the prefrontal lobe—a region that normally keeps emotions under control.

Continue reading “Sleep-deprivation causes an emotional brain ‘disconnect’”

Scientists link gene that promotes long lifespan to cholesterol

MIT researchers have discovered a link between a gene believed to promote long lifespan and a pathway that flushes cholesterol from the body.

The finding could help researchers create drugs that lower the risk of diseases associated with high cholesterol, including atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and Alzheimer’s disease.

Continue reading “Scientists link gene that promotes long lifespan to cholesterol”

Deficiency of immune system ‘peacekeeper’ pinpointed in mice as cause of ulcerative colitis

n a series of mouse experiments, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have pinpointed a specific immune deficiency as the likely fundamental cause of ulcerative colitis, a chronic, sometimes severe inflammatory disease of the colon or large intestine that afflicts half a million Americans. Remarkably, the researchers also found that once the disease was established in mice, it could be passed from mother to offspring and even between adult animals, with potential implications for public health and prevention.

The researchers have linked ulcerative colitis in mice to a deficiency of a molecular “peacekeeper” in the immune system, allowing harmful bacteria in the large intestine to breach the bowel’s protective lining and trigger damaging inflammation.

Continue reading “Deficiency of immune system ‘peacekeeper’ pinpointed in mice as cause of ulcerative colitis”

Human embryonic stem cells remain embryonic because of epigenetic factors

A human embryonic stem cell is reined in – prevented from giving up its unique characteristics of self-renewal and pluripotency – by the presence of a protein modification that stifles any genes that would prematurely instruct the cell to develop into heart or other specialized tissue. But, thanks to the simultaneous presence of different protein modifications, stem cells are primed and poised, ready to develop into specialized body tissue, Singapore scientists reported in last month’s issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Continue reading “Human embryonic stem cells remain embryonic because of epigenetic factors”

Researchers discover a gene that might control fat accumulation

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that a single gene might control whether or not individuals tend to pile on fat, a discovery that may point to new ways to fight obesity and diabetes.

“From worms to mammals, this gene controls fat formation,” said Dr. Jonathan Graff, associate professor of developmental biology and internal medicine at UT Southwestern and senior author of a study appearing in the Sept. 5 issue of Cell Metabolism. “It could explain why so many people struggle to lose weight and suggests an entirely new direction for developing medical treatments that address the current epidemic of diabetes and obesity.

“People who want to fit in their jeans might someday be able to overcome their genes.”
Continue reading “Researchers discover a gene that might control fat accumulation”

Researchers Find Promising New Targets for Antibiotics

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have identified new sites on the bacterial cell’s protein-making machinery where antibiotics can be delivered to treat infections.
Continue reading “Researchers Find Promising New Targets for Antibiotics”

Vaccine thwarts the tangles of Alzheimer’s

A new study by NYU Medical Center researchers shows for the first time that the immune system can combat the pathological form of tau protein, a key protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers, led by Einar Sigurdsson Ph.D. at New York University School of Medicine, created a vaccine in mice that suppresses aggregates of tau. The protein accumulates into harmful tangles in the memory center of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

The vaccine successfully slowed the deterioration of motor abilities produced by excessive amounts of tau in the central nervous system of mice, according to the study published in the August 22, 2007 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Sigurdsson plans to conduct follow-up studies using mice that slowly develop tangles and cognitive impairments without movement problems.

Continue reading “Vaccine thwarts the tangles of Alzheimer’s”

Scientists find way to balance skin color and tone

In the timeless quest for healthier, younger looking skin, scientists from the University of Cincinnati and Tokyo Medical University have made an important discovery toward manipulating skin tone and color. The implications of this research range from helping doctors develop more natural looking bioengineered skin grafts to helping cosmetics companies develop new products for achieving the “perfect” sunless tan.

 The research study, published in the September print issue of The FASEB Journal, shows for the first time how to manipulate skin color and tone using cells previously thought to play no significant role in this function.

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Scientists reveal how caloric restriction extends life by reducing toxic trash

Reduce, recycle and rebuild is as important to the most basic component of the human body, the cell, as it is to the environment. And a University of Florida study shows just how much the body benefits when it “goes green,” at least if you’re a rat: Cutting calories helps rodents live longer by boosting cells’ ability to recycle damaged parts so they can maintain efficient energy production.

“Caloric restriction is a way to extend life in animals. If you give them less food, the stress of this healthy habit actually makes them live longer,” said Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, chief of the division of biology of aging in UF’s Institute on Aging. Understanding how the process works at the cellular level in rodents could help scientists develop drugs that mimic the process in humans, Leeuwenburgh added.
Continue reading “Scientists reveal how caloric restriction extends life by reducing toxic trash”

Out-of-body experience recreated

Experts have found a way to trigger an out-of-body experience in volunteers. The experiments, described in the Science journal, offer a scientific explanation for a phenomenon experienced by one in 10 people.

Two teams used virtual reality goggles to con the brain into thinking the body was located elsewhere.The visual illusion plus the feel of their real bodies being touched made volunteers sense that they had moved outside of their physical bodies. 

Graphic Continue reading “Out-of-body experience recreated”

Newly created cancer stem cells could aid breast cancer research

In some ways, certain tumors resemble bee colonies, says pathologist Tan Ince. Each cancer cell in the tumor plays a specific role, and just a fraction of the cells serve as “queens,” possessing the unique ability to maintain themselves in an unspecialized state and seed new tumors. These cells can also divide and produce the “worker” cells that form the bulk of the tumor.

These “queens” are cancer stem cells. Now the lab of Whitehead Member Robert Weinberg has created such cells in a Petri dish by isolating and transforming a particular population of cells from human breast tissue. After being injected with just 100 of these transformed cells, mice developed tumors that metastasized (spread to distant tissues).

Continue reading “Newly created cancer stem cells could aid breast cancer research”

Amazing 3D simulations of science in silico

Computer simulations and visualizations are performing the thought experiments of the 21st century and pushing the limits of human vision and imagination. In silico simulations are probably future of many complex biological experiments.

Hat tip to  reasonable deviations blog.

Research identifies sirtuin protein instrumental in fat production and metabolism

A new Joslin Diabetes Center-led study has identified a protein found in fat cells that may play a major role in how fat is produced and stored, offering a new target for treatments to prevent obesity and reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes. This latest research appears in the August 2007 issue of Cell Metabolism.

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Brain imaging reveals breakdown of normal emotional processing

 Brain imaging has revealed a breakdown in normal patterns of emotional processing that impairs the ability of people with clinical depression to suppress negative emotional states. Efforts by depressed patients to suppress their feelings when viewing emotionally negative images enhanced activity in several brain areas, including the amygdala, known to play a role in generating emotion, according to a report in the August 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

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Brain as memory machine

What happens in our brains when we learn and remember” Are memories recorded in a stable physical change, like writing an inscription permanently on a clay tablet” Prof. Yadin Dudai, Head of the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, and his colleagues are challenging that view. They recently discovered that the process of storing long-term memories is much more dynamic, involving a miniature molecular machine that must run constantly to keep memories going. They also found that jamming the machine briefly can erase long-term memories. Their findings, which appeared today in the journal Science, may pave the way to future treatments for memory problems.

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Loneliness is bad for your health

Two University of Chicago psychologists, Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo, have been trying to disentangle social isolation, loneliness, and the physical deterioration and diseases of aging, right down to the cellular level.

The researchers suspected that while the toll of loneliness may be mild and unremarkable in early life, it accumulates with time. To test this idea, the scientists studied a group of college-age individuals and continued an annual study of a group of people who joined when they were between 50 and 68 years old.

Their findings, reported in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, are revealing. Consider stress, for example. The more years you live, the more stressful experiences you are going to have: new jobs, marriage and divorce, parenting, financial worries, illness. It’s inevitable.

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MIT creates 3D images of living cell

A new imaging technique developed at MIT has allowed scientists to create the first 3D images of a living cell, using a method similar to the X-ray CT scans doctors use to see inside the body.

The technique, described in a paper published in the Aug. 12 online edition of Nature Methods, could be used to produce the most detailed images yet of what goes on inside a living cell without the help of fluorescent markers or other externally added contrast agents, said Michael Feld, director of MIT’s George R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory and a professor of physics.

 Images of a cervical cancer cell Continue reading “MIT creates 3D images of living cell”

Scientists turn mouse into factory for human liver cells

Oregon Health & Science University researchers have figured out how to turn a mouse into a factory for human liver cells that can be used to test how pharmaceuticals are metabolized.

The technique, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, could soon become the gold standard not only for examining drug metabolism in the liver, which helps scientists determine a drug’s toxicity. But it also can be used as a platform for testing new therapies against infectious diseases that attack the liver, such as hepatitis C and malaria.

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Gene regulation, not just genes, is what sets humans apart from primates

The striking differences between humans and chimps aren’t so much in the genes we have, which are 99 percent the same, but in the way those genes are used, according to new research from a Duke University team.

It’s rather like the same set of notes being played in very different ways.

In two major traits that set humans apart from chimps and other primates – those involving brains and diet – gene regulation, the complex cross-talk that governs when genes are turned on and off, appears to be significantly different.

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Green tea boosts production of detox enzymes, rendering cancerous chemicals harmless

Concentrated chemicals derived from green tea dramatically boosted production of a group of key detoxification enzymes in people with low levels of these beneficial proteins, according to researchers at Arizona Cancer Center.

These findings, published in the August issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, suggest that a green tea concentrate might help some people strengthen their metabolic defense against toxins capable of causing cancer.

Continue reading “Green tea boosts production of detox enzymes, rendering cancerous chemicals harmless”

Cancer Fighting Technology for Brain Tumors

Trilogy Stereotactic Radiation Therapy to treat brain tumors. Trilogy precisely pinpoints the exact location of the cancer and treats it with a highly accurate beam of radiation.

New research discovers independent brain networks control human walking

In a study published in the August issue of Nature Neuroscience, researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland found that there are separate adaptable networks controlling each leg and there are also separate networks controlling leg movements, e.g., forward or backward walking.

These findings are contrary to the currently accepted theory that leg movements and adaptations are directed by a single control circuit in the brain. The ability to train the right and left legs independently opens the door to new therapeutic approaches for correcting walking abilities in patients with brain injury (e.g., stroke) and neurological disorders (e.g., cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis).

Continue reading “New research discovers independent brain networks control human walking”