Posts Tagged ‘neuroscience

The Nothing That Really Does Cure Anything (almost)

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On a similar note to the previous post regarding homeopathy, here are some interesting resources on the mysterious and wonderful placebo effect.

In 2002, the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute published study results that revealed a surprising difference between the patients receiving a placebo and the patients on the medication being tested.  Of those receiving the actual medication, a little more than fifty percent experienced a reduction in their depression symptoms, while thirty eight percent of the placebo recipients also saw an improvement in their symptoms.  The surprising revelation in the study was the fact that those patients who responded to the placebo experienced improved brain activity in a region of the brain that none of the other patients experienced, whether they were on the medication or placebo.  In fact those on the actual medication experienced diminished activity in that region of the brain.

You can hear a brief report on the study here.

The full text of the study is also available.
Radio Lab did a show on placebos that, as always, was great.  If you listen to only one thing linked to on this post, it should be Radio Lab.

If you are not all placeboed out, then you may enjoy listening to the very interest, uncut interview between Richard Dawkins and Professor of Psychology, Nicholas Humphry, in which placebos are discussed in their conversation about alternative medicine.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Written by Aaron Nee

April 17, 2010 at 8:02 pm

It’s Finally Happened – A True, Functional Cyborg

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Researchers in the UK have developed a robot that is controlled by living organic tissue – neurons cultivated from rats.  This technically makes the robot a cyborg.   To my knowledge the first true cyborg.  Here is a blurb from New Scientist:

… the disembodied neurons are communicating, sending electrical signals to one another just as they do in a living creature. We know this because the network of neurons is connected at the base of the pot to 80 electrodes, and the voltages sparked by the neurons are displayed on a computer screen.

It’s these spontaneous electrical patterns that researchers at the University of Reading in the UK want to harness to control a robot. If they can do so reliably, by stimulating the neurons with signals from sensors on the robot and using the neurons’ response to get the robots to respond, they hope to gain insights into how brains function. Such insights might help in the treatment of conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

How many times have our attempts to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy led to the devastation of the human race by unkillable, rat brained robot warriors?  When will we learn?

Check out the New Scientist article to learn more about how the neurons are cultivated and the way they are used to study how brains work (or don’t work).  It’s a fascinating read.

Written by Aaron Nee

April 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Thumbs on Faces, Amputated Limbs Moved With Mirrors and More Wonders of the Brain

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There is a fascinating lecture by Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran available to view at Princeton University’s site.  Ramachandran’s work has been discussed on episodes of Radio Lab the most recent of which is a Radio Lab short titled Do I Know You.

In the Princeton lecture, Ramachandran discusses several fascinating developments in neuroscience including treating phantom limb pains suffered by amputees and the senses of amputated hands remapping onto the face.

I also highly recommend the 2006 episode of Radio Lab, Where Am I, that discuses phantom limbs and other wonders of the brain.

Written by Aaron Nee

April 2, 2010 at 1:06 am