Daily Archives: April 1, 2012

Dementia Research Funding Gets UK Boost – News Round-Up: April 2012 1st Edition

The UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a doubling in the research funding available for Dementia to £66 million in the United Kingdom by 2015. He referred to a ‘quiet crisis’ emerging and a need for the UK to become a global leader in Dementia research. The Department of Health will also be launching an awareness campaign in the Autumn.

The use of Intranasal Insulin has been trialled in an experimental study in people with Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment. Changes in the regulation of Insulin in the Central Nervous System have been identified in Alzheimer’s Disease and as Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment can sometimes be a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease there is a rationale for investigating a possible therapeutic role for Insulin.

Dr William Frey Discusses Intranasal Insulin

The researchers recruited 88 subjects, divided into groups taking 20 International Units of Insulin, 40 International Units (IU) of Insulin and placebo. The researchers found that the group taking 20 IU showed an improved performance on a test of memory – delayed recall compared to the placebo group. They also looked at a number of other markers of illness and found that the first group were able to maintain these whereas there was a deterioration in some markers in the placebo group. There was no advantage in the 40 IU group. The Amyloid Cascade hypothesis is the most widely accepted theory of how Alzheimer’s Disease develops although there are other hypotheses which suggest parallel processes might contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease. This is consistent with Armstrong’s Modified Cascade hypothesis. Thus it could be possible that dysregulation of Insulin in the Central Nervous System contributes to small amounts of trauma which exacerbate the main pathological process. However the use of Insulin can also lead to hypoglycaemia and so Insulin is prescribed with a need to monitor the effect on glucose levels. These results need to be replicated and then will need to go through all the necessary trials to see if it can be safely used in clinical practice. This can take a long time and there is no guarantee that it will prove effective but adds to the approaches to treatment being examined for Alzheimer’s Disease.

One research group looked at the brains of 4 species including humans post-mortem and found evidence of a grid-like structure for neurons in deep brain structures. They used an imaging approach known as Diffusion Spectrum Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The lead researcher – neuroscientist Associate Professor Van Wedeen is currently participating in the Human Connectome Project and is looking at other methods to detect and visualise the brain’s 3-dimensional structure.

An Image from Dr Van Wedeen’s research into the 3-d organisation of the brain

The US Center for Disease Control has recently estimated a prevalence of Autism in the USA of 1 in 88 people. This is an increase on estimates from previous decades.

There is a brief overview here showing the findings from a research group at the University of Stirling into how a home can be adapted for a person with dementia.

Psychiatry 2.0

There is a short tutorial here on how to use data from the 1000 Genomes study. The Federal Research Public Access Act is an American Act which proposes that research funded by 11 Federal Agencies should be disseminated in Open-Access platforms. The essence of the argument is that when such research is published in subscription journals, the public has to pay twice for the research – once to fund this and once more to access the findings. The Act has now been supported by 52 Nobel Prize winners in a letter to the US Congress.

The Research Councils UK have released a policy statement on Open Access which is open for comments.

Evolutionary Psychiatry

Professor Robin Dunbar has published research recently suggesting that the size of the Orbital Prefrontal Cortex is related to the size of a person’s social network. This is part of the Lucy to Language Project where Lucy refers to a very early specimen thought to be related to modern humans (see below). The research involved a small study with 40 people being administered cognitive tasks undergoing structural MRI scans and also estimated the size of their social networks.

Agriculture was a significant development in human culture. In contrast with hunter-gatherer communities, agricultural communities could remain in one location and developed many approaches to sustain the communities including animal domestication. The development of agriculture has been interpreted as the basis for civilisation. Agricultural practice was thought to date back 11,000 years when it was used by the Natufian culture. However a recent archaeological discovery suggests that agriculture dates back 19,000 years. An excavation in Jordan reveals a site of just under 2 hectares with evidence of cultural practices seen in the later Natufian culture. This group are thought to be related to the later Natufian culture. The site includes stones with geometric carvings, thousands of stone tools, stone huts as well as elaborate burial practices where in one case a man was buried with a fox.  The implications are that modern civilisation can be causally linked to these people. Questions about the biopsychosocial events needed to form the beginnings of civilisation should be addressed by examining the properties of these peoples and using these findings to inform appropriate models.

In a March 2012 Nature paper, researchers have published their findings on an East African partial foot specimen which suggests that 3.5 million years ago there were at least two hominin species that were likely to be capable of walking upright. The researchers don’t have enough evidence to be confident of assigning it to a new species at this stage however it has similarities to Ardipithecus Ramidus. A species which lived in the same region at that time was Austrolopithecus Afarensis. Lucy (see below) is the most well-known example of this latter species. The foot specimen in this new finding has a grasping big toe and loss of the arch of the foot. These two findings suggest that the species was likely to be capable of walking small distances and still be adapted to climbing trees. The development of walking is a significant stage in human evolution as it would facilitate a new behavioural repertoire and would also impact on the size and shape of the female pelvis. This in turn would interact with gestation and childbirth as well as possibly interacting with foetal brain development. However both this specimen and Austrolopithecus Afarensis are not conclusively linked to the lineage of modern humans but the latter species are a likely candidate.

Lucy » reconstruction (AL 288-1) Australopithecus Afarensis, cast from Natural History Museum, Washington DC, USA, Wikimedia Commons, author DonMatas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Appendix – Complete Annual News Items from Previous Years

News Roundup 2008

News Roundup 2009

News Roundup 2010

News Roundup 2011

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