Archive for September 8th, 2011

September 8, 2011

Premature baby brains can’t tell pain from touch

Premature baby brains can’t tell pain from touch – New Scientist

Premature babies up to the age of 35 weeks had bursts of activity across the whole brain in response to both pain and touch, but a change happened around 35 weeks. Between 35 to 37 weeks – just before a fetus would normally be born – the brain seemed to become able to tell the two stimuli apart. The responses to both pain and touch now took place in specific areas on the front, back and sides of the brain, but the signal was much stronger for pain.

Further reading:

A Shift in Sensory Processing that Enables the Developing Human Brain to Discriminate Touch from Pain

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September 8, 2011

Scientists Probe Connection Between Sight and Touch

Scientists Probe Connection Between Sight and Touch – USC News

USC scientists have discovered that as you look at an object, your brain not only processes what the object looks like, but remembers what it feels like to touch it as well. This connection is so strong that a computer examining data coming only from the part of your brain that processes touch can predict which object at which you are actually looking.

Building on previous work demonstrating a comparable link between the visual and auditory sectors of the brain, Antonio and Hanna Damasio’s research group at the USC Dornsife Brain and Creativity Institute used magnetic resonance brain scans and specially programmed computers to explore how memory and the senses interact.

Further reading:

Seeing Touch Is Correlated with Content-Specific Activity in Primary Somatosensory Cortex

September 8, 2011

More Evidence for a Preferred Direction in Spacetime

Holy crap, Batman, the universe may not be quite the same in all directions!

Actually, this finding (if correct) is not necessarily very disruptive for current cosmological theory. The cosmological principle is a simplifying assumption that makes it possible to more easily derive equations, using general relativity, that describe the evolution of the universe. These equations do a pretty good job of summarizing what’s actually observed. The new observations – if accurate – represent very small departures from true isotropy.

More Evidence for a Preferred Direction in Spacetime – The Physics arXiv Blog

One of the cornerstones of modern astrophysics is the cosmological principle. This is the idea that observers on Earth have no privileged view of the Universe and that the laws of physics must be the same everywhere.

Many observations back up this idea. For example, the Universe looks more or less the same in every direction, having the same distribution of galaxies everywhere we look.

In recent years, however, some cosmologists have begun to suspect that the principle may be wrong. They point to evidence from the study of Type 1 supernovas, which appear to be accelerating away from us, indicating the Universe is not just expanding but accelerating away from us. The curious thing is that this acceleration is not uniform in all directions. Instead, the universe seems to be expanding faster in some directions than others.

Further reading:

New evidence for a preferred direction in spacetime challenges the cosmological principle

Direction dependence of the acceleration in type Ia supernovae

September 8, 2011

The $350,000 questionnaire from NIH

Interesting. I wonder whether NIH should be called to account for funding this research on the pseudoscience of “qi”…

The $350,000 questionnaire from NIH – Genomics, Evolution, and Pseudoscience

Let’s see: if you could get $350,000 from the government to develop a questionnaire, does that seem like a good deal? What if the questionnaire was designed mostly to ask people if their “qi” was balanced, or their “prana” was improving? Apparently, we don’t have enough surveys of patients asking them these vital questions, but never fear: NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has money to burn.

September 8, 2011

Breast-cancer gene keeps DNA under wraps

The gene in question, BRCA1, is the one which, when mutated, makes women who inherit the mutated form much more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. Up till now, a good understanding has been lacking of how the protein produced by unmutated BRCA1 acts as a tumor suppressor.

Breast-cancer gene keeps DNA under wraps – Nature News

The protein encoded by the tumour-suppressor gene BRCA1 may keep breast and ovarian cancer in check by preventing transcription of repetitive DNA sequences, says a study published today in Nature. This explanation brings together many disparate theories about how the gene functions and could also shed light on how other tumour suppressors work.

Since the discovery in the mid-1990s that defects in BRCA1 strongly predispose women to breast and ovarian cancer, researchers have suggested numerous ways in which the protein might stop cells from becoming cancerous. Some have focused on its ability to repair DNA damage, whereas others have studied how it regulates cell-cycle checkpoints, transcription or cell proliferation. But until now, no unifying theory of how these different functions might prevent breast and ovarian cancer has emerged.

Further reading:

Cancer: Let sleeping DNA lie

BRCA1 tumour suppression occurs via heterochromatin-mediated silencing

September 8, 2011

Antibodies Target Cancer’s Insides

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to seek out and attach to other proteins. These latter proteins may be part of a bacterium, a virus, or found on the surface of cancer cells. Cells of the immune system can then use the antibody as a signal to neutralize of destroy whatever the antibody has attached to. The research here indicates that antibodies can perhaps get inside a cell and attach to a target. In the case of cancer cells, this might neutralize the activity of targeted proteins (such as signaling proteins) that drive cell proliferation.

Antibodies Target Cancer’s Insides – ScienceNOW

Researchers may have found a way to get inside cancer’s head—or at least its body. The cancer cell has been long believed to be impermeable to antibodies that could target it for destruction. But a new study suggests that some antibodies can get through after all, potentially opening up a vast new array of cancer therapies.

Further reading:

A*STAR scientists make headway for cancer treatment and cancer prevention with landmark discovery