Tag Archives: postaweek

Brain Ageing May Be Due To Genetic Problems. Study Shines Light On ‘Weakness’

As you grow older many things are certain. Things wear out. One issue is a loss of brain cells (neurons.)  Although the numbers lost through ageing aren’t as striking as they once were, we cannot ignore the fact that the nature of brain cells puts them at risk to damage by any means. And whats worse, losing them can have very significant effects on your life.  Previously, our complicated model of understanding explained the severity of brain disease based on a lack of cell replacement or ‘hardiness‘, amongst other factors such as increases in certain proteins. But new research may have found a fundamental problem with how our neuron’s use energy, and a genetic tendency toward self-destruction. It may be that the brain is programmed to burn itself out.

Old Brains and Old Genes

In a new study published in Cell Reports, researchers compared brain cells from both ‘young’ and ‘old’ donors. They compared the levels of genes ‘upregulated‘ (i.e more deliberately active,) in association with brain cell energy processes such as mitochondrial activity (a cell organelle involved in energy use. )’Upregulation’ of a gene means that the behaviour or process it codes for is more likely to happen, i.e up regulation of genes associated with growth means the organism grows more. They then looked at whether there was a difference in the brain cells susceptibility to damage dependent on the level of the genes expressed in each group. Simply put, they wanted to know if age effected the genetic activity governing brain energy use, and whether this was good or bad.

brain death neutron gene

Neurons, once lost, do not return. So why are they so delicate? Image courtesy of NICHD

They found that in older cells,  that 70% of  genes associated with energy use were expressed at lower levels. They also found that replicative processes associated with energy use, as well necessary protein creation, were also lower. Most strikingly, this was associated with defects in the very mitochondria affected. This means that since the brain relies on mitochondrial activity for energy, that damage to the brain may actually occur due to genetic issues rather than simply blood loss or other disease.  This will increase the risks associated with ageing, as well as potentially explain why the brain dies off as we grow older.

A New Model Of Brain Death

Although the research has provided a fundamental shift in how we may understand brain cell death, it must be placed in context. Rather than undermining current theories, such as neurons being especially susceptible to blood loss, it may both help to explain them and provide a better picture of how brain cells die overall. As maudlin as this may seem, it may provide new avenues for genetic therapy down the line. We are already seeing genetic therapies being developed that target ‘problematic processes.’ There is no immediate reason that these therapies could not be adapted after further research. So, in this case, knowledge is very much power.

So watch this space, because as we age the need for more intervention increases. And this may be another step toward protecting our brain, the centre of our being, for that much longer. And let us know what you think in the comments below.

What’s Next?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Images courtesy of flickr. The content matter of this article has been simplified greatly from the original journal publication. This has not been done to obscure or overly simplify  the findings of the research, but to make the findings communicable. And I don’t mean to just the lay person, I mean trained professionals who can’t make sense of ‘ We found that 70% of all mitochondrial genes were downregulated in old iNs compared to young iNs ( Interestingly, categorization of the mitochondrial genes into functional groups revealed that 93% of the genes that composed the mitochondrial ETC complexes I–V were downregulated in old iNs (example of source text. )But I am very aware that in the process of making the data and article more understandable that I risk making mistakes in my inferences. If that is indeed the case, please do let me know so I may retract and improve on the subject matter at hand. Ben.

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Top 5 Incredible Discoveries In Space

pillars of creation top5 universe

The Universe is really, really big. And there is a lot out there. Whether you have an interest in astronomy or not, the very wonder of the Universe is, well, universal. From Interstellar’s black hole to the curious ‘Pillars Of Creation‘, there is no denying that space holds a certain beauty. And under that aesthetic, the very laws of physics not only explain the beauty, but add to it. So today, I am taking on you a whistle-stop tour through our Universe, showing you what I feel is the best of the best. So as Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says; ‘Come with me.’

Number 1: Cassiopeia A

top5 universe star supernova

Cassiopeia A. Image courtesy of Robert Sullivan

Cassiopeia A is what remains of a ‘supernova’ (an exploding star.) And its actually not that far away, at least in Universal terms. Situated about 11,000 lightyears away in our Milky Way. Not only is it an incredible sight, but also the strongest source of radio emissions beyond our solar system. These emissions are some of the many we receive every day, and others like them provide an  exciting avenue for detecting alien life.

Number 2: M101, The Pinwheel Galaxy

top5 galaxy supermassive black hole

The Pinwheel Galaxy. Image courtesy of Rob Sullivan.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is a spiral galaxy located in the Ursa Major constellation (the Big Bear.) At around 170,000 lightyears in diameter, it dwarfs our own Milky Way. And houses around 1 trillion stars. But unlike lots of galaxies, it seems to lack a central ‘supermassive black hole‘ at it’s centre. It’s mesmerising shape is a result of its rotation and gravity, as well as the influence of the gravity of other nearby Galaxies.

Number 3: The Pillars Of Creation

pillars of creation top5 universe

The Pillars of Creation. Image courtesy of Jack Jacowski

No list of Universal art would be complete without The Pillars of Creation. Found in the Eagle Nebula are part of a ”stellar nursery”, a huge expanse of material from which new stars are born. Our own sun was forged deep in the heart of a such a nursery. But the Pillars give us a glimpse back in time. The myriad colours represent elements present in space, such as red for sulphur  and green for hydrogen. But, like any nursery, they won’t be around forever. Eventually, cosmic winds will simply blow them apart.

Number 4: The V838 Monocerotis Halo

monocerotis halo event light

The Monocerotis Halo. Image courtesy of Maddox63.

This image captures the odd expansion and ‘echo’ of Monocerotis. The ‘halo’ itself is an artefact created by reflections of interstellar dust. The red focus is caused by the giant star itself.  During the event the star became 60,000 times more luminous than our sun. NASA followed by the phenomenon over January 2002, recording the expansion of the halo and sudden dimming of the star itself.

Number 5: Hercules A

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Hercules A. Image courtesy of Hubble Heritage

This interesting phenomenon shows two high energy plasma jets ejected by a supermassive black hole. These jets are usually a result of the high gravitational energy of a black hole, and the ring like structures outside the jets suggest that these are not the first. Hercules A is around 2.1 billion light years away. Not only do these jets provide a fascinating sight, but also tell us new things about radio waves emitted in deep space.

So thats it, a short jaunt through the Universe. But there is much more out there, so why not find your favourite and let us know? And as always, if you liked it, share it!

What’s Next?

  • Learn more about Depression and why early diagnosis is best.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr. Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates.If you liked this article and want to see more, check out Ben’s work with PORP.

 

 

 

 

Search Engine Data May Help Diagnose Depression Earlier

A new study published in JMIR Mental Health has revealed that searches relating to Depression and its treatment spike at different times of the day. The data shows that searches around depression peak between 11pm and 4am daily, showing a clear focus overnight. The reason for this isn’t immediately clear but may tell us more about the day to day lives of patients. With depression a growing problem, these insights may help us to recognize depression earlier. And, with that, to help people access treatment.

Depression and Diurnal Variation.

It is common knowledge that the symptoms of depression vary in severity over the day. The classical picture of waking up ‘sad’ and ‘feeling better’ later is one of just many. But little has been done to actually quantify this in real terms over a large population. The researchers reviewed search data of key terms around ‘depression’ to elucidate a pattern. They found four peaks between 11pm and 4am, and relative ‘troughs’ between 5am and 10pm. Essentially, people were trying to learn more about depression and take ‘online tests’ during the night.

depression data diurnal medicine

Depression is a common and difficult problem. Data may help earlier diagnosis and treatment. Flickr.

It’s hard to directly claim what this may mean without considering multiple factors. The first is the simple issue of time availability, with daily work commitments limiting free time to search. The second is that more people are likely to sit on computers overnight, increasing the likelihood of searching for anything.  However, the team’s statistical analysis shows a clear difference between searches at different times, suggesting something significant. What this may mean in actuality will require further study. But it could be very useful information indeed.

Why May People Search For Depression At Night?

Aside from the reasons discussed above, it may be that this pattern is well explained by what we already know. Depression is known to be associated with anxiety and sleep disturbance. We also know that with depression, in many cases people feel better later in the day. It is very possible, with a number of assumptions, that the combination of these two factors may explain the findings. If people feel more energized later in the day and overnight, and cannot sleep due to their symptoms, there would be peaks in activity. The data would seem to support this idea.

depression sleep diurnal data diagnosis

Depression is associated with sleep problems. Flickr.

However, further research is needed to compare these findings with the actual patients themselves. It would not be fair to assume without more supporting evidence. The data itself does not reveal whether those looking for ‘depression’ related information were actually suffering from depression, suspicious of being depressed, or simply interested in the condition. There is a lot of conjecture. But what the study does provide is strong evidence that people are more active in learning about depression at night.

Given what we know about depression, this may provide a new way of recognizing depression in the undiagnosed, and helping to monitor treatment success in patients.

A New Way Forward

Depression is a growing problem and early intervention is key in its treatment. This new data shines light on the daily lives of patients and the undiagnosed. It may be that recognizing the patterns tells us not only more about the nature of depression but could provide an early warning system for those at risk. But how this may work in practice is another question altogether. The first step may be interviews with those concerned, establishing the nature of their condition. Only then could a suggestion be made that ‘search engine’ data be instrumental in earlier diagnosis.

So what do you think? Could search engine data help doctors diagnose depression earlier? Are you concerned about privacy? Is there a happy medium between? Let us know in the comments.

What’s Next?

  • Learn more about Depression and why early diagnosis is best.
  • Follow Ben on Twitter so you never miss an article from drbenjanaway.com

The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr. Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr. If you are concerned about your health please see your local healthcare provider. Sources available within main text via hyperlinks. If you find new information that contradicts this article, or feel that an error has been made, please do let me know via benjanaway@outlook.com. I will be happy to hear from you.