The Future is in Good Hands – Teen discovers way to heal brain

Teenager’s brain research is awe-inspiring. It could one day help  Alzheimer’s, ALS, strokes and traumatic brain injury patients.

“When Indrani Das needed motivation, she left the lab. The 2017 winner of the Regeneron Science Talent Search — one of the United States’ most prestigious science and math competitions — enrolled in her local ambulance corps as an emergency medical technician. She needed to be close to people: the kind of lives she one day hopes to improve.”

“It was this thought that there could be a person at the end of this experiment … that drove me to continue,” she said. Answering 911 calls helped with that.
Das has made headlines for engineering a new way to treat brain injuries and neurological conditions — essentially finding a method to aid brain neuron survival. The science is complex, but the potential benefits are easy to translate: a better quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s, ALS, strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
With 47 million people with Alzheimer’s alone worldwide, that’s a lot of lives.”

Repairing the brain

“Das was educated at the Bergen County Academy for Medical Science Technology, a branch of one of New Jersey’s top public high schools. She describes a government-funded operation that allowed her and her cohort to “push ourselves to our limits” by conducting their own research projects.”
For the curious teen, that meant researching medical conditions considered incurable or irreversible. The brain became a focus. “Neurodegenerative diseases ruin a person’s quality of life,” she explains; “they take away from (a person’s) basic humanity.”
“It was that impact I wanted to understand and to study and to try and repair.”
With support from her parents and biology teacher-cum-mentor Donna Leonardi, Das embarked on her research. She began by growing and manipulating cell cultures, learning how they lived and died.”

Teenager pioneers method to save brain neurons

“I started working with these supporting brain cells called astrocytes (nerve cells that perform multiple functions in the brain, including post-traumatic repair and scarring.),” she says. “I managed to mimic an injury condition by giving them this chemical, which then made (the astrocytes) grow these spikes and start dumping toxic chemicals.”
“Das observed that in a brain injury situation, nerve molecules called glutamate would stop being taken up by astrocytes and would instead pile up around them and nearby neurons. The build-up of glutamate over-stimulates neurons, she says, “causing them to malfunction and die.”

To stop this required some bioengineering. Das used specially engineered microRNA to make the “injured” astrocytes recycle glutamate again. The neurons stopped dying as a result.

“Das’ research won her Regeneron’s $250,000 top prize, an award that opens doors for young scientists and counts 13 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Now in college, she’s researching at the Stevens Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, studying microglia, another type of supporting brain cell.”
“She also hopes her work will prompt further research in brain self-healing and supporting cells, not just neurons. “By attacking the problem from more angles … by looking at factors around these dying cells, we’ll have a better chance at re-establishing a patient’s quality of life.
“I was determined to work as long and hard as it takes to find a way to save these brain cells in disease,” Das says, reflecting on her breakthrough. “I still am.”‘

DECIDE to DECIDE to reduce your worry and anxiety

I don’t know about you but I remember being told as a child: “Do your best”, “Try your best” and questioned: “Is that the best you can do?”  I worried a lot that I wasn’t trying hard enough or I should have done better. Whether that led me to being a “perfectionist” (which some will dispute) I’ll never know.  After reading about the neuroscience research what I do know is,  from now on, I’m DECIDING to strive for GOOD ENOUGH.

Alex Korb, UCLA neuroscientist, maintains:  One thing to try is making a decision about what’s got you worked up. It doesn’t even have to be the perfect decision; just a good one will do.

“. . . Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process.”

“In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control …” Korb: “Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.”

Decisions, Decisions by Peggy

Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals:

  • Decisions, intentions & goals – all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.
  • Helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines.
  • Changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”

“A key thing here is that you’re making a conscious decision, or choice, and not just being dragged to a resolution. Your brain gets no reward for that.”

“If you’re still reluctant to make a choice between one option or another, the science suggests don’t worry, you’re likely to gain a positive bias toward the decision you make anyway.” 

“We don’t just choose the things we like;

we also like the things we choose.”

Alex Korb

Alex Korb, UCLA neuroscientist author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time








Get a Move-on!

When I was growing up the only way the brain could be studied was after you were dead. With current technology researchers can now see electrical activity and brain structure in living brains.  The information on emotional states and the brain has exploded (the information, not the brain).  

Meowie Getting a Move On by Peggy

We known for a long time how important exercise is for our body, but what we did not realize is how important exercise is for the brain.

Exercise has the same effects on the brain chemistry as antidepressant medications. Several studies have demonstrated that its benefits can ‘exceed even those of medication’.

“Exercise increases nerve growth factors, such as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which are like steroids for the brain. Most people suffering from depression due to a deficiency of serotonin  depend wholly on psychiatric medications and consume antidepressants which target the serotonin system in your brain to elevate serotonin levels, that increase your motivation and willpower-and  minimize the activity of depression. Today neuroscientific research provides evidence that exercise can also ‘boost serotonin activity’.”

“Any movement such as:

  • walking  
  • jogging 
  • gardening
  • walking up and down the stairs

increases ‘the firing rate of serotonin neurons’, which causes them to release more serotonin to treat your depression or create new good habits. Similarly, exercise with moderate intensity increases your norepinephrine– which controls in depressive people the difficulties with concentration and deep thinking.”

“When you exercise your brain releases endorphins that act on your neurons like opiates (such as Vicodin or morphine) by sending ‘neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief’.

Exercise also speeds up activation of the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids (marijuana) are a naturally occurring chemical in the brain which reduces pain and increases positive feelings.”

Get Your Move On!  Unlike cannabinoids it’s legal everywhere.

To read the entire article by Professor B L Chakoo

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