September 25, 2018

Week In STEM-12th Dec

Learning and Brain Activity Boosted by Dose of Small Compound

Researchers report that boosting signaling of a certain receptor in the brain with a small molecule can enhance these cellular changes and improve learning in people. The findings could lead to new treatments for patients with disorders associated with deficits in learning, such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Through decades of research on how synapses change in animal brains, scientists have found that the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) plays a critical role in strengthening synapses during learning. Compounds that increase NMDAR signaling can drive such changes and, as a result, help animals learn new tasks.

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Scientists discover chemical that breaks down Alzheimer’s plaques

One of the hypothesised causes of the mental deterioration associated with Alzheimer’s disease is amyloid beta – a sticky protein that congregates on surfaces in the brain, forming hardened plaques and impeding neural communication.

But there’s new hope that these plaques can be removed after they’ve formed, with a study by researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology discovering a chemical that can break amyloid plaques down in the brains of mice, improving the animals’ learning and memory functions.

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Innovators behind solar-powered bags that turn into lights at night

Meet the duo of South African childhood friends who founded a social enterprise that uses plastic bags to make reflective school bags that turn into lights when the sun goes down, enabling children from homes without electricity to study after dark and be visible to traffic as they walk to and from school.

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Scientists have helped a woman experience pain for the first time

Researchers investigating the role of ion channels in shifting sodium from one sensory nerve to another have identified a drug that can treat people withcongenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) – a rare condition that causes them to be physically incapable of feeling pain.

Not only has the discovery allowed a 39-year-old woman to feel pain for the first time in her life, but the team says the drug naloxone – usually prescribed to treat overdoses of morphine and heroin – could also be used to combat chronic pain conditions such as arthritis.

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Researchers gain understanding of why the brain makes mistakes

A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University investigated the brain’s neural activity during learned behavior and found that the brain makes mistakes because it applies incorrect inner beliefs, or internal models, about how the world works. The research suggests that when the brain makes a mistake, it actually thinks that it is making the correct decision—its neural signals are consistent with its inner beliefs, but not with what is happening in the real world.

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Drug-delivering gel could be the Band-Aid of the future

Researchers in the US have developed a sticky, stretchable gel-like material that can be used as a “smart wound dressing”. Incorporating temperature sensors and drug reservoirs, the hydrogel bandage can release medicine in response to changes in skin temperature, and embedded LEDs even light up to let you know when your meds are running low.

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