One study released recently, by a coalition of top scientists from private groups and federal agencies, indicates that pregnant and breast-feeding women should eat at least 12 ounces of fish and seafood per week to ensure their babies' optimal brain development. But does the risk and reward balance regarding mercury in some seafood? The question is whether some seafood has a lot less mercury than other types of fish, such as small fish having less mercury than large fish. The point is getting enough DHA into the developing brains of infants before birth.
For years, pregnant and nursing women have been warned to limit the amount of fish they eat, because many marine species may contain high levels of mercury. Then on October 4, 2007, a children’s health group challenged, the mercury warnings on seafood advising pregnant women and nursing mothers to eat more fish so as to ensure optimal brain development in their babies, according to a 2007 article in the New York Times citing the recommendations from the FDA. See, "Should Pregnant Women Eat More Seafood? - NYTimes.com."
First the Food and Drug Administration advised pregnant women to limit their weekly seafood consumption to no more than 12 ounces, or about two servings, per week. Then in 2007, a recommendation reported by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, a nonprofit group that focuses on childhood health issues notes that the group’s scientific advisors say that pregnant women and nursing mothers should eat at least 12 ounces of fish per week, as explained in the 2007 NY Times article, "Should Pregnant Women Eat More Seafood? - NYTimes.com."
In different years, is the message changing or the same with some groups challenging and some promoting the eating of seafood while pregnant or nursing? Without the mention of seafood for now, brain fitness has become the popular topic of the year among numerous scientists.
Brain fitness is topic of presentations this year
And in another study, speaking of brain fitness, some researchers estimate that globally only around 40 per cent of those with dementia know they have it. Brain health is just as important as physical health, reports a new study from the University of Cambridge presented a talk, " A Vision for Excelling in Mental Health and Well-Being," on February 17, 2013 at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.
We all know the importance of keeping healthy and are familiar with the refrains of "exercise more," "eat better" and "get regular physicals." But what about our mental health? Professor Barbara Sahakian, best known for her expertise on cognitive enhancers, challenges society (and government) to prioritize mental health in the same way as we do physical health.
"As a society, we take our mental health for granted," explained Prof Sahakian, in the February 17, 2013 news release, Get your brain fit. "But just like our bodies, it is important to keep our brains fit." In any given year, one in every four adults suffers from a mental disorder. As a result, in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability, with depression and anxiety accounting for a significant percentage of the disorders.
Keep on eye on the state of mental health
"Just as joggers check their pulse rate, we should encourage individuals to regularly keep an eye on the state of their mental health. Often people wait too long to seek help, making their condition more difficult to treat. We need to educate the public about what to look for and make them aware of the importance of early detection and intervention," added Sahakian in the news release.
Mental and physical health are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, exercise is good for your cognition, mood and physical health. You can improve your cognition and brain health throughout your life through exercise and learning: both of which have been shown to increase neurogenesis in the brain. Psychological well-being, especially in the early years of life, is important for instilling resilience throughout life.
Professor Sahakian is also advocating for the use of innovation and technology to improve our mental health. Innovation is leading to novel treatments both pharmacological and psychological
Professor Sahakian explained in the news release, "Innovation which promotes enjoyable cognitive training for example through the use of games on iPads and mobile phone apps will be of great benefit to healthy people and those with mental health problems alike.
"Technology for early detection of problems in brain health and for monitoring mental health problems is essential. This will promote early detection and early effective treatment, as well as public health planning. Hopefully, this conceptual shift in the way society views brain health will ultimately lead to the prevention of common mental health problems."
Relevant statistics from Prof Sahakian's presentation:
- Today only around 40 per cent of those with dementia know they have it.
- UK - Estimated total annual costs including health service costs, lost earnings, lost productivity and human costs – depression - £20.2-23.8 billion, anxiety - £8.9 billion, schizophrenia - £13.3 billion, dementia - £17 billion, somatisation disorder - £17.6 billion.
- Early detection is cost-effective for the NHS: Each patient with Alzheimer's disease who receives early assessment and treatment saves society £7741, compared no early assessment and treatment. Of this, £3600 is in direct healthcare costs.
Professor Barbara J Sahakian FMedSci directs a laboratory of psychopharmacology at the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry and the Medical Research Council/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute. She has an international reputation in the fields of cognitive psychopharmacology, neuroethics, neuropsychology, neuropsychiatry, neuroimaging and neuroscience and mental health policy. She was a member of the Science Coordination Team for the UK Government Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing (Beddington J, et al. Nature. 23, 1057-60).
She is co-inventor of the CANTAB computerized neuropsychological tests which are used worldwide. The ISI Web of Science database credits her with a Hirsch (h) Index of 86, with some publications having over 300 citations. She is a Fellow of Clare Hall. For more information, see the websites, cantamobile.com, camcog.com, and cantab.com.
The infant brain develops differently from the adult brain, says new study
A new Columbia University (Columbia Engineering) study finds that the infant brain does not control its blood flow the same way as the adult brain, that the control of brain blood flow develops with age. The new study reveals how control of brain blood flow develops with age. These findings could change the way researchers study brain development in infants and children and suggest that fMRI experiments in infants and children should be carefully designed to ensure that maturation of blood-flow control can be delineated from changes in neuronal development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The paper, presented on February 18, 2013 which the scientists say could change the way researchers study brain development in infants and children, is published in the February 18 Early Online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"The control of blood flow in the brain is very important" says Elizabeth Hillman, according to the February 18, 2013 news release, Shedding new light on infant brain development. Hillman is an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering and of Radiology, who led the research study in her Laboratory for Functional Optical Imaging at Columbia.
"Not only are regionally specific increases in blood flow necessary for normal brain function, but these blood-flow increases form the basis of signals measured in fMRI, a critical imaging tool used widely in adults and children to assess brain function. Many prior fMRI studies have overlooked the possibility that the infant brain controls blood flow differently."
"Our results are fascinating" says Mariel Kozberg, in the news release. Kozberg is a neurobiology MD-PhD candidate who works under Hillman and is the lead author of the PNAS paper. "We found that the immature brain does not generate localized blood-flow increases in response to stimuli. By tracking changes in blood-flow control with increasing age, we observed the brain gradually developing its ability to increase local blood flow and, by adulthood, generate a large blood-flow response."
Maturation of blood flow control in infants and as children grow
The study results suggest that fMRI experiments in infants and children should be carefully designed to ensure that maturation of blood-flow control can be delineated from changes in neuronal development. "On the other hand," says Hillman in the news release, "our findings also suggest that vascular development may be an important new factor to consider in normal and abnormal brain development, so our findings could represent new markers of normal and abnormal brain development that could potentially be related to a range of neurological or even psychological conditions."
Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is one of several brain-imaging methods that measure changes in blood flow to detect the presence and location of neuronal activity. In adults, blood-flow increases occur in specific regions of the brain during a particular task like moving your hand or reacting to a stimulus. FMRI relies upon measuring decreases in deoxygenated hemoglobin resulting from this blood-flow increase to understand which parts of the brain are responsible for different actions and emotions. FMRI and other brain-imaging methods are currently being widely used to explore brain development, and to understand disorders in infants and children including autism and ADHD.
"Until now, we had been studying blood flow in the adult brain," Hillman explains in the news release, "but we became interested in several studies that reported odd, sometimes negative, blood-flow responses in newborn and premature infants and decided to carefully explore what was different about the immature brain compared to the adult. Initially, I saw these studies as a way to watch how the adult system assembled itself during development. Then we realized how important our findings were to those using brain imaging to study child development and developmental disorders."
Only by adulthood was the positive increase able to balance the decrease in blood flow
The team used a unique multispectral optical intrinsic signal imaging system (MS-OISI) built in Hillman's lab to perform the research. MS-OISI is a high-speed, high-resolution imaging approach that takes advantage of the different absorption spectra of deoxygenated and oxygenated hemoglobin in order to determine changes in the concentrations of each. The researchers found that, with increasing age, there was a gradual development of a localized increase in blood flow, while a strong, delayed decrease in flow was consistently present. Only by adulthood was the positive increase able to balance the decrease in flow.
"Our results suggest that the infant brain might not be able to generate localized blood- flow increases, even if there is neuronal activity occurring, and that the development of blood- flow control occurs in parallel with early neuronal development," says Kozberg in the news release. "This could suggest that fMRI studies of infants and children may be detecting changes in both vascular and neuronal development—in fact, vascular development may be an important new factor to consider in normal and abnormal brain development."
Vascular development as children grow may be an important new factor to consider in normal or abnormal brain development
The team also found that the younger age groups were highly sensitive to blood pressure increases in response to stimulation and that these increases can cause large increases in blood flow across the brain. "This finding indicates that the newborn brain is also unable to regulate its overall blood-flow levels," Kozberg explains. "This could explain earlier fMRI results in infants and children that were sometimes positive and sometimes negative, because it is difficult to tell whether blood pressure increases are occurring in infants and children. This result suggests that great care should be taken in setting stimulus thresholds in young subjects."
The researchers add that, since the newborn brain appears to be able to sustain itself without tightly controlled blood flow, their findings suggest that the infant brain may be intrinsically more resistant to damage due to a lack of oxygen than the adult brain. "This could be an important property to understand, both in terms of understanding how best to treat blood-flow problems in the newborn infant brain, which can cause lifelong problems such as cerebral palsy, and to potentially better understand how to treat the adult brain in conditions such as stroke," Hillman observes.
Is the infant brain intrinsically more resistant to damage due to a lack of oxygen than the adult brain, researchers ask?
"Our lab operates at the intersection of neuroscience and engineering," continues Hillman, according to the news release. "Not only do we develop the imaging systems that let us investigate the living brain in new ways, but like all engineers, we're fascinated with figuring out 'how things work,' and the brain is no exception."
Next steps for Hillman and her team include further defining the cellular mechanisms underlying the developing hemodynamic response at a cellular and microvascular level, using methods such as high-speed and multi-plane in-vivo two-photon microscopy, another technique developed in the lab. They're particularly interested in tracking changes in neuronal activity, microvascular architecture and connectivity, and the distribution and activity of other cellular populations thought to be associated with neurovascular coupling as a function of development.
How is the neonatal brain different from the adult brain?
"This will help us understand how the neonatal brain is different, and better understand how mature blood-flow control mechanisms in the adult brain work," says Kozberg. Adds Hillman in the news release, "We are also keen to take this research into the clinic and explore whether our findings could improve diagnosis and monitoring of newborn infants. Our findings so far feel like just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more for us to do now to understand why the infant brain is so different, and how we can use our findings to improve understanding of a wealth of devastating childhood and developmental conditions."
Grants and student fellowships from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Eye Institute, the National Science Foundation, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, the Medical Scientist Training Program, and the Human Frontier Science Program supported the research. Hillman is also a member of the Columbia University graduate program in Neurobiology and Behavior and the Kavli Institute for Brain Sciences.
Mini, ultra-flexible electrodes could improve treatment of Parkinson's and other health issues
Some 90,000 patients per year are treated for Parkinson's disease, a number that is expected to rise by 25 percent annually. Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), which consists of electrically stimulating the central or peripheral nervous system, is currently standard practice for treating Parkinson's, but it can involve long, expensive surgeries with dramatic side effects. Miniature, ultra-flexible electrodes developed in Switzerland, however, could be the answer to more successful treatment for this and a host of other health issues.
On February 18, 2013 Professor Philippe Renaud of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland reports on soft arrays of miniature electrodes developed in his Microsystems Laboratory that open new possibilities for more accurate and local DBS. At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, in a symposium called "Engineering the Nervous System: Solutions to Restore Sight, Hearing, and Mobility," he announces the start of clinical trials and early, yet promising results in patients, and describes new developments in ultra-flexible electronics that can conform to the contours of the brainstem—in the brain itself—for treating other disorders.
At AAAS, Renaud outlines the technology behind these novel electronic interfaces with the nervous system, the associated challenges, and their immense potential to enhance DBS and treat disease, even how ultra flexible electronics could lead to the auditory implants of the future and the restoration of hearing. "Although Deep Brain Stimulation has been used for the past two decades, we see little progress in its clinical outcomes," Renaud says.
"Microelectrodes have the potential to open new therapeutic routes, with more efficiency and fewer side effects through a much better and finer control of electrical activation zones." The preliminary clinical trials related to this research are being done in conjunction with EPFL spin-off company Aleva Neurotherapeutics, the first company in the world to introduce microelectrodes in Deep Brain Stimulation leading to more precise directional stimulation, according to the February 18, 2013 news release, "Fighting disease deep inside the brain."