Science and Medicine

Altering Eye Cells May One Day Restore Vision

“We think it may be significantly easier to preserve vision by modifying existing cells in the eye than it would be to introduce new stem cells.”

Doctors may one day treat some forms of blindness by altering the genetic program of the light-sensing cells of the eye, according to scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Working in mice with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes gradual blindness, the researchers reprogrammed the cells in the eye that enable night vision. The change made the cells more similar to other cells that provide sight during daylight hours and prevented degeneration of the retina, the light-sensing structure in the back of the eye. The scientists now are conducting additional tests to confirm that the mice can still see.

“We think it may be significantly easier to preserve vision by modifying existing cells in the eye than it would be to introduce new stem cells,” says senior author Joseph Corbo, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and immunology. “A diseased retina is not a hospitable environment for transplanting stem cells.”

The study is available in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Compared to Peers, US Health Comes up Short

This health disadvantage exists even though the United States spends more per capita on health care than any other nation.

Even wealthy, educated Americans with health insurance die sooner and seem to be sicker than people in other high-income countries.

This health disadvantage exists at all ages from birth to age 75, according to a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.

Ana Diez-Roux, University of Michigan professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology, served on the panel that wrote the report.

“The systemic nature of the problem was surprising to the committee, and suggests that a number of interrelated environmental and policy factors may be playing an important role,” Diez-Roux said.

“We were struck by the gravity of these findings,” said Steven Woolf, professor of family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University and chair of the panel that wrote the report. “Americans are dying and suffering at rates that we know are unnecessary because people in other high-income countries are living longer lives and enjoying better health. What concerns our panel is why, for decades, we have been slipping behind.”

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Research Reveals Exactly How the Human Brain Adapts to Injury

“The human brain has a remarkable ability to adapt to various types of trauma, such as traumatic brain injury and stroke, making it possible for people to continue functioning after key brain areas have been damaged,”

For the first time, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI) have used a new combination of neural imaging methods to discover exactly how the human brain adapts to injury. The research, published in Cerebral Cortex, shows that when one brain area loses functionality, a “back-up” team of secondary brain areas immediately activates, replacing not only the unavailable area but also its confederates.

“The human brain has a remarkable ability to adapt to various types of trauma, such as traumatic brain injury and stroke, making it possible for people to continue functioning after key brain areas have been damaged,” said Marcel Just, the D. O. Hebb Professor of Psychology at CMU and CCBI director. “It is now clear how the brain can naturally rebound from injuries and gives us indications of how individuals can train their brains to be prepared for easier recovery. The secret is to develop alternative thinking styles, the way a switch-hitter develops alternative batting styles. Then, if a muscle in one arm is injured, they can use the batting style that relies more on the uninjured arm.”

For the study, Just, Robert Mason, senior research psychologist at CMU, and Chantel Prat, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study precisely how the brains of 16 healthy adults adapted to the temporary incapacitation of the Wernicke area, the brain’s key region involved in language comprehension. They applied Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) in the middle of the fMRI scan to temporarily disable the Wernicke area in the participants’ brains. The participants, while in the MRI scanner, were performing a sentence comprehension task before, during and after the TMS was applied. Normally, the Wernickearea is a major player in sentence comprehension.

The research team used the fMRI scans to measure how the brain activity changed immediately following stimulation to the Wernicke area. The results showed that as the brain function in the Wernicke area decreased following the application of TMS, a “back-up” team of secondary brain areas immediately became activated and coordinated, allowing the individual’s thought process to continue with no decrease in comprehension performance.

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