BRAIN and BEHAVIOR INITIATIVE WEEKLY DIGEST

August 12, 2019


News

Researchers recently used 3-D printing technology to construct a brain cancer model that accurately recapitulated in vivo biology and predicted patient drug responses. The design is a variation on existing tumor organoids, with the advantage that it incorporates diverse cell types, especially vascular cells and a mix of decellularized extracellular matrix from a pig’s brain and glioblastoma cells from biopsies of human patients.
Scientists have created a tiny, smartphone-controlled brain implant capable of selectively manipulating brain cell circuits and subsequently uncovering such neurological problems as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addiction, and depression. Down the road, the device could help with the development of new therapeutics for pain, addiction, and emotional disorders, since its use of optogenetics holds promise for long term, non-pharmacological solutions.
The devices consist of microscopic spheres of magnesium metal coated with thin layers of gold and parylene, a polymer that resists digestion. The layers leave a circular portion of the magnesium uncovered,  which reacts with the fluids in the digestive tract to generate small bubbles that propel the sphere forward. After navigating to the appropriate part of the digestive system, the platform can become a vehicle for the targeted delivery of medication.
Up to two decades before people develop the characteristic memory loss and confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, damaging clumps of protein begin to build up in the brain. Now, a blood test to detect such early brain changes has moved one step closer to clinical use. Researchers report that they can now measure levels of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta in the blood and use measurements to predict whether the protein has accumulated in the brain.
AI used to be the specialized domain of data scientists and computer programmers, but some companies are trying to democratize the field so that scientists without AI skills can harness the technology for recognizing patterns in big data. In some cases, scientists do not need to code at all; insights are just a drag-and-drop away. Such ready-to-use machine learning tools are helping scientists tackle topics related to string theory, flatworms, and intruding cats.
When we give up, a group of cells inside the brain known as nociceptin neurons become very active and emit nociceptin, a complex molecule that suppresses a chemical largely associated with motivation: dopamine. Although scientists have previously studied the effects of fast, simple neurotransmitters on dopamine neurons, this study is among the first to describe the effects of the complex nociception modulatory system.
In the new study, researchers followed 38 college football players wearing helmets outfitted for tracking the number and force of hits. Before and after each season, they took MRI scans of the players’ brains. The results were striking: although only two of the 38 players received a concussion, more than two-thirds of the athletes showed changes to the integrity of the white matter of their midbrains.
China’s researchers have racked up a long list of CRISPR firsts in genome-edited dogs, mice, rats, pigs, and rabbits. That research promises higher quality meats, disease-resistant livestock, and new medical treatments and organs for human transplantation. So far, many of the animals are simply proofs of concept. However, few people doubt that China will persist with its animal-editing binge.
While radiation is known to disrupt signaling in the brain, previous experiments use short-term, higher dose-rate exposures of radiation, conditions that do not reflect those in space. Now, researchers report that exposure to the conditions present in deep space (chronic, low dose radiation) causes neural and behavioral impairments. These results highlight the pressing need to develop safety measures to protect the brain as astronauts prepare, potentially, to travel to Mars.

Calendar of Events

BSOS Lunch & Learn
Speaker: Jeremy Purcell (Maryland Neuroimaging Center)
Title: Teaching Cognitive Neuroscience to Tibetan Monks
Date: Thursday, August 15, 2019
Time: 12 noon
Location: 1101 Morrill Hall

Funding Announcements

New FOA are listed below. Please visit bbi.umd.edu/news/FOA for the complete list of open Funding Announcements.
 
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) seeks applications from outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. The GRFP provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. Applications due October 21-25, 2019, depending on discipline.

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