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Withered brain cells restored (in monkeys, anyway) 207

lisa writes "You've heard the old theory that we lose 10,000 neurons a day after the age of 20. Well, that may not be true. Scientists revived and restored aged brain cells thought to be dead in a group of old monkeys. " Interesting-very succesful tests-we'll see how the human trials go.
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Withered brain cells restored (in monkeys, anyway)

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  • Does anyone happen to know if there was ever any research done which points towards an atrophy in brain cells caused by Alzheimers as opposed to it simply destroying brain cells?
  • Perhaps even more fitting for the "Genetic engineering boosts mouse intelligence" story [], given that "Algernon" in Flowers for Algernon was the mouse on which they'd done the initial intelligence-boosting experiments, before trying them on the narrator of Flowers for Algernon.
  • Heh! Young fool!

    I've no idea whether there's any truth in the scenario you describe, but I'll tell you one thing for sure: at least some of us do suffer a progressive dulling of the wits during the 10 years following age 25.

    It's highly noticeable if one was very bright as a youngster. I'm fairly sure people who were stupid to start with won't notice much of a difference though.

    People falling into the latter category won't be reading Slashdot, naturally.
    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • You have gotten the wrong end of the stick wrt how the brain thinks.

    To see a comprehensive and truly convincing neuroanatomical theory of how it really works read William H Calvin's "How Brains Think" and "The Cerebral Code".

    I promise you will be completely boggled by these books. Nothing I can say in a few words will prepare you for the shock of revelation you will experience. So I won't bother anyway.
    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • Seriously, I am wondering why they want to restrict this to alzheimers patients.

    Because it's a big risk. Inserting cells producing a nerve growth factor into the skull could cause all sorts of problems with overgrowth of nerve and related tissues - resulting in nasty brain damage or fatality. A particular risk is brain tumors, especially mama/baby tumors where two types of cells, at least one immortalized, manufacture each other's growth factors in a positive feedback loop.

    So they'll start with people who are ALREADY having their brains slowly but unstoppably destroyed by another disease process. At worst it will just speed up something that's already happing. At best it might slow, halt, or reverse the disease - perhaps by promoting replacement of the brain tissue as it is destroyed, perhaps by invigorating the existing cells to resist the problem or switching them to a mode where they aren't "yet" susceptable.

  • I'm sure that we'll be using nanotechnology to help as well. Imagine creating tiny computers that float around in the bloodstream and maybe help clear arteries or repair wounds? It's amazing to think that probably someone reading Slashdot will be involved with this too. Maybe creating the hardware or programming computers to reconnect all of the tiny fibers of the spinal cord. This technology, combined with what's in development now, really has far-reaching implications. Absolutely fascinating.
  • yes- actually that's a really insightful work. Medical health actually does have a very good chance of becoming a VERY important civic virtue in the future- and an aristocracy of medicine is a serious danger to any democratic polity. Niven was indeed quite a bright fellow.
  • Not really on topic, but if these things increase blood flow, does this mean they might help combat AMS (Altitude sickness)? Or is the general lack of oxygen in the blood at altitude the limiting factor regardless of how fast it's going round the body?

  • I meant in the future silly. Although major kudos for reminding me that monkeys constitute a major socioeconomic group. heh heh.
  • I take it at least some people here have read Asimov's books about the spacers; basically they got all this tech where they could extend their lives to about 500 years or something; consequently their birth-rate became next to zero so that they didn't run out of living space. But this extended life-span made them paranoid about early death and due to the lack of upcoming young minds with different viewpoints their technological development ground to a halt and they were overtaken by the short-lived earthmen who didn't extend their lives. While the spacers all but died out the earthmen went on to colonise the galaxy.
    It seems to me to be a really bad idea to extend life, no matter how attractive it may be for the individual. After all, as far as the species is concerned, death is a pretty healthy part of life.

  • Two words, dude: SPACE COLONIZATION. Space FRIGGING colonization, exploration and industrialization! Hell, with 6+ billon people on this rock, we should have BEEN doing this irregardless of advances in the feild of medicine.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the human brain, under normal conditions, does not forget anything. Nothing. Not even a single perceptic. Just ask any hypnotist: Under the right conditions, all of the factors which inhibit memory can be lifted, allowing you to remember the way the wind stirred your hair at the ballpark when you were eight, the angle of the sun when you got your first kiss in junior high, etc.

    Of course, hypnotism can be a dangerous game. It essentially puts all cognitive functions in bypass mode. If I tell you to bawk like a chicken every time I snapped my fingers and then forget everything I told you, then snapped you out of the hypnosis, you'd bawk every time I snapped my fingers, until I told you what had transpired during the hypnosis.

    A better way of enhancing memory is to review perceptics of past memories - the outlay of colors when you were eating breakfast this morning, the feeling of motion the first time you can remember walking through a park, etc. There is a book which is full of such exercies. I used to use it quite a lot, and it helped my memory. If anyone is interested, e-mail doktor1 at earthlink dot net.

    As for sleep shutting down cognitive functions: I don't think it does that. Cognitive functions are still used during dreaming, but the inputs to those functions don't come directly from the senses, but from whatever random traffic the brain generates while it "defragments" the day's events, conducting final assimilation on the thousands of minute events of the day. I think it also does some intermediate assimilation on the larger events of the day (for example, attending a meeting concerning the total re-organization of your department, meaning that you don't know WTF your job description is any more... grrrrrr).

  • Check this out

    Although NGF may help in rejuvenating atrophied nerve cells, according to this study, it doesn't help in cases where there is nerve damage (as seems to be assumed by several of the posts).

    The study, conducted in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, failed to show that Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) could restore function to impaired nerves.

  • tml

    (forgot to add it)

  • Although quite popular, the idea that people only use 15% (or some similar number) is untrue. If this were true people who suffer partial brain damage at an early age would be able to re-route their synapses and regain full capibilities. Children born with only 20% of their brain matter would be to able to function normaly. I'd love to be able to point to a link on more information but I pulled it all out of a BBC documentary about a neurosurgeon.

  • With everything that researches are doing, and the RATE at which things are progressing, how old do people think we're going to get, for people currently in their 20's? I have to really sit back, but do I really, REALLY want to live to be 100? 200? 250?
  • I recall one theory that predicts that if humans lived long enough we ALL would get Alzheimers by age 120 or so. As versitile as the brain is, there must be some physical limit to the amount of data it can store. And since you can't exactly go back and cut and rewire dendrites and fibers once they've grown into place, (i.e., the brain has no delete command), the brain just can't function anymore and "crashes". With no more room in the skull to grow new brain matter, offloading new data to some sort of artificial storage medium seems to be the only option down the road.

    BTE I think sleep is when the brain shuts down cognative function so that it can go through the sensory "data" collected through the day and stored in short term memory and sort the important stuff into long term memory and dump the crap. Since short term memory is limited in capacity (maybe even rewritable), when it starts to get full we get sleepy. This sorting process is also time consuming hence we sleep 33% of the time.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A study on men's brains showed that men in their 40's are at their mental peak, in terms of overall effectiveness. They don't have the mental flexibility of 20 year olds, but their extreme experience compensates.

    Just imagine what it would be like if we had a society of people whose average wisdom was that of a 40 year old, but whose average mental flexibility was that of a 20 year old. The biggest problem we face is that people only have wisdom and intelligence in a fairly short window - 30 to 50 years old. Everyone else is either naive or mentally crippled. Uncrippling the older folks' brains would supercharge our society.
  • by fable2112 ( 46114 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @11:19AM (#1681670) Homepage
    Given that we supposedly only use some rather low percentage of our brain capacity overall as it is, how exactly is this going to be helpful for most people? I can see, as some others have posted, why it might help in restoring brain cells that have suffered some sort of traumatic damage (like the guy who took the fencing foil up the nose and is now a classic neurology case study). But why restore cells that died a "natural" death, especially if they are some of the large percentage of cells that we don't use?

  • the person who moderated this down is probably only running how the metamoderation would react to this.. so is xENTROPYy a cmdrtaco in disguise? and by the way: i think what is really offtopic are those meta discussions about how something is moderated good or bad. i wish people would not comment on such things. after all this is why there is meta moderation. meta discusions are offtopic. and of course this as being a meta meta discussion is especially offtopic. but since i do not have enough moderator points to modertate all the people down how whine about how something is moderated bad or good i thought i just jump in the discussion and give my $0.02
  • Something tells me they aint living much longer -- unless the treatment can restore the brain after it's been cut open & examined.
  • Alzheimers is a disease caused by Prions, according to my Bio teacher, who studied it for Amgen. Therefore, how could gene therapy have an effect on the condition?
  • But see, what if you could do it without really "aging" all that much physically? What if you were able to pass from one body of yours, when you're maybe 50 or 60, to a clone body created 20 years earlier? So you become wiser and wiser but maintain peak physical condition (or at least start over in it every 40 years or so). You're able to watch civilization grow, to watch technology surpass even our wildest dreams... I don't want to live forever, because as someone mentioend earlier, death is a pretty healthy part of the life cycle. But if you can extend my life by maybe another 100 years so I can watch as technology progresses and as we evolve as a society... sign me right up.
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @10:34AM (#1681680)
    Dr. Strauss sayz I should rite down evrything that happens too me from now on....

  • There is a short story, but the novel is better(the short story basically just cuts out 90% of the book).
  • I have to really sit back, but do I really, REALLY want to live to be 100? 200? 250?

    Perhaps if we live long enough, we may get to see a stable and working version of Windows...
  • by rde ( 17364 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @10:40AM (#1681689)
    It's been coming for a while now; I reckon we're abut ten years away from a practical application.
    For more on regeneration, check this [] out.
  • The data are not great, but the relevant studies actually suggest a higher incidence of Altzheimer's in poorly educated people

    True. In fact, studies have shown that regular "exercise" of the brain (doing things like crossword puzzles, etc) can delay the onset of Alzheimer's and other age-related dementia.

  • Is to revive brain cells that think they themselves are dead. Boy, wouldn't that be a surprise! One minute you're in heaven, the next you're on someone's countertop! I can't help but think of poor Erwin (of Userfriendly) in this context, somehow...

    How are the neural grafting ideas coming along? Anyone trying for cyborg tamagochis soon?
  • by mo ( 2873 )
    Ah... Flowers For Algernon.

    First a short story, then a novel, then a TV movie if I remember correctly.

    If you get a chance, I _HIGHLY_ recommend the short story. The novel shows a little too much that it was written to cash in on the short story.
  • In fifty years, we will have immortality.

    This article, and all the others in recent [months|years], are indicating a definite trend toward the day when we can arbitrarily and indefinitely prolong the life of the human brain. Couple this with cloning research and the eventual evolution of nanotechnology (specifically, tiny little machines that we can use to repair damage in a fraction of the time that our body can naturally), and within fifty, maybe sixty years, science will have achieved the ability to make a person effectively immortal -- even if they are already advanced in years. Painless restructuring of an elderly body into a younger, stronger form, and eternal neurons, will allow any human (short of violent trauma or nuclear explosions) to live for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years (if you're lucky). Sign me up. :)

  • In popular science a while back they had a article on how much of the brain we actually use. It is a misconception that we only use a small partition of our brain. It is true that we don't use it ALL at once. If did use it all at once we would probaly be completely defunked, not smart. We use all of our brain at different times, for different functions. At least, according to the doctor that responded to the question in Popular science, which I concider a pretty good source.
  • don't forget to mention the whole "creating life" story.

    Almost certainly increased life spans for rich people.

    Did anybody calculate ratios on what kind of "savings" you could expect? We need to start calculating the theoretical limit of a funcional brain. I can certainly see totally brainless human shells made to house a recently reinvigorated brain, making the term "lifetime guarantee" rather useless.

  • Gotta disagree with you there. The brain -- the Mother of All Neural Networks -- can store many overlapping patterns and still be able to recall them distinctly. A memory is not stored in a specific place, but instead distributed throughout a web of connections. A single brain cell may be involved with the recollection of many memories.

    The ease of recall is determined by the strength of the dendritic connections between the brain cells that make up the pattern -- how strongly the pattern is "burned in". This is the point of rehearsals and rereading important items. With more patterns overlapping, you may be more likely to make connections between seemingly disparate topics, but you should still be able to distinguish them. If two *weak* patterns overlap (items that haven't been recalled in awhile) it might be possible to confuse them.

    If the volume of data were primary factor, wouldn't teenagers have better recall than twenty-five year olds? I think we'd all agree that a 25-year old remembers just as well or better than a 16-year old. So why does mental performance decline over time? Well, aren't the late 20's when you are no longer forced to learn new things?

    Without anyone forcing you to learn new things, you're on your own. If you keep learning, mental performance should actually improve until serious brain cell degradation sets in -- I guess this is what these researchers are trying to reverse. On the other hand, if you learn nothing new the patterns start to atrophy.

    Anyway, that's my $.02, any neuroscientists care to weigh in?
  • As much as I like the IDEA of it, you have to look at the side affects. Do we really want to strain the world by allowing half of the population to double it's life expectency?

    One of the limiters to how many children people HAVE is how long they live. Suddenly, everyone lives twice as long, and has twice the number of kids?

    We could modify the dictionary to point humans to the definition of lemmings..
  • Nope. They'd throw more and more new stuff at it, hence, never reaching perfection.. ;-P
  • Oh boy, here we go off the deep end. If you clone a body, you have to wait for it to be born and grow. At that point, it is an individual. You can't just murder someone so that you can live longer. You could just teach all you know to the youngster, but we already have a formalized system for that. It's call SCHOOL!

    Or what if we could take the heads of dying people (say, heart attack victims who are falling over the edge) and mount them on a rack system. Then we could network them and have a helluva beowulf cluster.

    What would be involved in porting Linux to the human mind? Damn, no device drivers! Do you think we could mail-bomb God's email server and convince him to open-source the code to a mouth or eye driver?

  • Hmmm... Brains equivalent of a defrag perhaps ?? :P
  • But see, what if you could do it without really "aging" all that much physically? What if you were able to pass from one body of yours, when you're maybe 50 or 60, to a clone body created 20 years earlier?

    Sigh... Humans. Always looking outside of themselves for "what's missing". What's wrong with restoring the body you have?
  • That's not true. The number is more like 10%.

    But neither of us is giving a source, so who knows for real?

  • Was that in reference to the 'Flowers for ALgernon' post that got moderated up to 4 (funny)??

  • I want something now that would restore me to the level of intellectual and learning ability I had when I was 25.

    What about desiring to be restored to the learning ability you had when you were a child? You were at your height of information intake!
  • I recall one theory that predicts that if humans lived long enough we ALL would get Alzheimers by age 120 or so. As versitile as the brain is, there must be some physical limit to the amount of data it can store. And since you can't exactly go back and cut and rewire dendrites and fibers once they've grown into place, (i.e., the brain has no delete command), the brain just can't function anymore and "crashes".

    Then wouldn't we see much higher Alzheimer's rates among the more educated? Wouldn't you expect to see scientists (and other intellectual types) getting Alzheimer's much more often, due to the fact that there is more information stored in their brains? I'm not sure if studies have been done, but I doubt Alzheimer's rates go up drastically with education levels.

    Of course, if it really is a "disk full" situation, then the best strategy to avoid losing your mind would be to never gain it! ;-)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    To keep your finger on the pulse of near-term medical advances, check out CenterWatch [], a site that tracks current clinical trials of new medical therapies.
  • is always there and will always be there.

    Professional athletes have anabolic steroids, it just took longer to figure out the brain. To bad we let drug tests for employment become commonplace, now they'll know if you had to cheat to be that smart.
  • No! I want the brain of a 50 year old and the body of a 20 year old!
  • when they think of an absolutely amazing idea and their head explodes. I hate it when that happens.
  • Alzheimers is brain's equivalent of "disk full"
    This is not the case. Autopsy shows very real physical damage to the brain done by altzheimer. Large 'holes' form, filled with a nasty protein plaque. Afaik it is not clear wether the plaques are a cause or a symptom of the disease.
    If you want to explain it in computer terms you might compare it to randomly chiseling away transistors on the CPU and memory chips, and punching little holes in the HD's.
    If this neural growth factor leads to an effective treatment, it comes too late for my grandparents :-(
  • Of course, that's accepting the premise that intelligence=wisdom. From all my practical experience, that doesn't seem to be true. (look at factions in University faculties, etc, to see what great intelligence is capable of - scary!)
  • Gets your whole brain && body thang going full time.

    Try a 'soft' art like Tai Chi, Shaolin Kung Fu or somesuch, as these tend to be more challenging and engaging for 'thinker types', but still have MORE than enough hardcore physical activity to allow you to get away with mere cogitation alone. The 'soft' arts take longer to learn, but grow WITH you as you age, whereas a 'hard' art, like kickboxing, will give you greater short-term ability to kick butt, but can leave you floundering and possibly wounded as your body ages.

    For a REAL challenge, check out Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu [] for a refreshingly wacky physical and intellectual challenge!

  • Yeah, and now I have to go and wreck things even further by revealing my excitement at the mere thought of a really PHAT BEOWULF CLUSTER of REJUVENATED MONKEY BRAINS!


    (You know what? That felt kinda good!)

  • The reason why so many of these hyped up researches never see the light of day is that they're based on the lets-kill-some-animals approach. Consider, these guys couldn't begin to tell you how humans would react to this therapy, based on what a bunch of mute monkeys did. Consider also, they had no idea of what the brains looked like before the treatment. All they had are the cut up brains after the therapy. What if they picked up 4 monkeys that had better brains to begin with? It's almost as bad as that self-aggrandizing I-can-make-life "scientist".
  • I believe one was elected mayor of Carmel, California and another is touring with Motley Crue. A third went into regression and is now serving time in Folsom Prison for mail fraud.
    Just a thought.

  • In fifty years, we will have immortality.

    You know, while I wouldn't hazard a guess at a date yet, I've actually been thinking seriously that I may never have to face the prospect of dying of old age.

    While immortality may not happen in 50 years, they'll surely have extended the life span by a good 20-30 years with medical advances. And with the rate of advances increasing, that 20-30 years shound be enough to allow me to extend it another 20-30 years. And so on until they figure out how to prevent death.

    I don't care if I look 90 at that time, as long as I have most of my mind. Because it surely won't be too long after that (if not sooner) when they can fix up the body to make me look young again.

    Personally, I plan on throwing a huge party for the turn of the millenium. As in Y3K. :)
  • An actual count of the cells in the cortex, a key area in the thinking part of the brain, shows that very few cells are lost with age, he said.

    So what unfortunate assistant had the job of counting brain cells?

    "One million seven hundred thirty seven thousand four hundred and fifty ONE, one million seven hundred thirty seven thousand four hundred and fifty TWO...."

    Sure drinking kills brain cells, but only the weak ones.
  • Now there is some redundancy. You just said what everyone else is saying.
  • Their non-acceptance is well studied, and generally thought to be a function of user preference. We don't want to have to "get our muff fluffy" every damn time the phone rings, apparently.

    definitively unfluffy
  • If I do minimal physical activity all day long, I still need sleep. It just gives your head a rest.
  • Just as many memorable moments happen to those who are educated as to those who are not. Your brain wouldn't fill up quicker just because you can recite poems or other useless junk. Your brain remembers what is wants, not what you want.

    Your brain wouldn't fill up if you went to school for 16 years. You probably have trouble remembering 95% of the school experience. Sure you can remember what was taught, but other people still have experiences while you are in school that they would remember.

  • > A study on men's brains showed that men in
    > their 40's are at their mental peak, in terms
    > of overall effectiveness. They don't have the
    > mental flexibility of 20 year olds, but their
    > extreme experience compensates.

    I would wonder if there's an inverse relationship
    in there somewhere. Perhaps "experience" actually
    replaces, or disables free thought.

    Experience seems to be a "this is the way it's done" thing, rather than mental flexibility, which
    would be a "We could do it this way, or this, or

    Can we have both in high quantities together?
  • Use it or lose it.

    Atrophy is generally linked to lack of use, and I've heard many times (and seen a few supporting examples) that your mind stays sharp as long as you keep using it, especially for learning. I've also heard that the brain contains stem cells, and can actually grow new neurons if it needs them.

    Makes your wonder...
  • What book are you talking about?
  • This doesn't regenerate cells, it only revives atrophied cells. If you've had actual physical damage to the grey matter, it's not going to help.

    Interestingly, though, there has been work in nerve cell regeration, and I believe it's actually been going places in the last few years. See comments previously for a link, I believe.
  • Like what? It's all well and good to make scary pronouncements about how humans should not dare tamper with mother nature, but you never hear any really good reasons why not...
  • The cause of Altzheimer's disease remains elusive. There are a few epidemiological, molecular, and histopathological correlates known, but it has not been shown to be one of the prion diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jacob, Kuru, Fatal Familial Insomnia, "Mad Cow" disease, etc.

    As for gene therapy being useless for a prion disease, it shouldn't necessarily be dismissed summarily. After all, genes can manufacture proteins that can bind to other proteins (prions) and potentially activate/inactivate them, etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Practice survival of the fittest. Kill the week neurons with beer.

  • Applying this to Alzheimer's patients is a good restriction because otherwise it becomes difficult to discern between playing god and correcting something that has happened to a person due to a dibilitating disease.

    Basically, one's "correction" and one's "improvement". I'm all in favor of fixing things that are broken. But if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    Remember, we were all meant to forget for a reason. The mind is selective so that we can make decisions. Too many options is just as paralyzing (if not more) than no options at all.

  • Isn't this somewhat like the premise of the movie Deep Blue Sea? I don't know, maybe I'm just paranoid, but this reminds me of the whole Jurrassic Park, messing with evolution stuff. Something is bound to go wrong, I hope not, but I think the chances of complete success are far smaller than the chances of something going wrong. I just hope that any side effects are caught before it gets to human testing.
  • This is great news. My pet monkey has
    been getting on in years and is no
    longer the chess partner he used to be.
  • Good point. I like the idea that this technology might improve the quality of life for people whose brains give out long before their bodies do.

  • Now that was funny!! Where the hell are the moderators. OH, I's bootey kissing time

  • Congratulation !!
    Your have just argued for your own limitations,
    now they are yours. ;-)

  • It's true that we don't need all our neurons - right now. Parkinson's disease strikes when the ability of striatal dopaminergic cells to stimulate higher motor areas is diminished. If these cells didn't have high redundancy, we'd all start trembling, freezing, and doing the Tussin' Shuffle at age three or four, as minor trauma, sub-clinical infections, and random fatal mutations took their constant toll on the neuronal population. It's not as if there is a specific tract of "walking cells" (at least not at this level), and when they happen to get whacked, you lose the ability to walk. Rather, you need a certain number of cells to walk, perhaps 20% of the total, and when they're gone then trouble sets in.
    This is significant because even if the complex interconnections of neocortical cells (and the mental skills, higher thought, and memory they provide) can't be restored, just regrowing a hodge-podge jumble of dopaminergic cells would be valuable indeed. I don't know if many of these cells atrophy in the specific manner of Alzheimer's-stricken cells, admittedly.

    The NGF angle of this treatment is also intriguing, because one of the problems we have with regrowing cells is getting them to send axons to the right places. NGF seems to direct their growth in just the desired fashion, and in fact I recall hearing about a successful rat-spine regeneration experiment along these lines - but they needed to supply constant microinjections of NGF, which would be undesirable for human use. If we could stimulate cells in the targeted area to produce this "beacon" on their own, then this technique could be integrated with others to provide genuine cell neogenesis. There's still some uncertainty as to exactly where the cells will go, but that's far from unacceptable, considering that this could be used to rehabilitate people with no visceral feedback at all. Finding out that you have to defecate by a tingling in your left arm is preferable to finding out from a colostomy bag, or from a bad smell.

    - laborit
  • Within 10 years, we're going to be dealing with moral questions that we never even dreamed of before.

    Read Larry Niven's short story, "The Jigsaw Man". Available in the collection "Tales of Known Space", by same. Mr. Niven saw moral problems related to medical advancements like this back in the 1960's.
  • Indeed.

    In fact, given what we're learning about the effects of de-stressing in protecting the brain from excitotoxicity, infection, and cortisol overload, I wouldn't be surprised if moderate marijuana use turned out to be a statistical marker for better brain function.

    - laborit
  • Well, an improvement rather than a wonder, but yeah. Improves happiness, but doesn't do anything for Science or production (except take resources to support). Sounds authentic.
  • Playing God? We all do that, everytime we cross the street (saving our own life), help or harm someone else (meddling with another's karma), etc.

    This is just new, so it feels scary. Maybe it is, but so are lots of things. Some are good (meaning I like them). Some are bad (meaning I don't like them). Most are in between (sometimes I like them and sometimes I don't).
  • As a rebuttle to certain points (Not necessarily because I believe it is so, but just because I don't believe it is):

    1. As I noted previously, a hash table has a certain volume up to which collisions are so minimal that there is no performance impact, therefore it may well be that the brain, a product of an evolution during the majority of which a lifespan of 40 years was impressive, has developed a bucket/hash equivalent where it starts getting bad performance from inserts/retrievals around 25/30.

    2. As you noted, reinforcement has a great deal to do with it as well, people at 25 have more cross-references to use to support a memory than 16 year olds, plus the fact that 16 year olds are usually swimming in hormones which may well affect certain varieties of memory.

    This is not to say that I don't totally agree with you on your picture of the brain, however I see no reason from your arguments that the comparison with a hash table in a simplistic fashion is not valid.

    Furthermore, the point I was trying to make in the end is this: I don't believe reviving a bunch of previously dead braincells would achieve anything towards increasing mental performance. The functions and structures of the brain by the time this is relevant are already in place, and the sudden addition of a bunch of braincells would, IMHO, be like malloc()'ing 200kb more space for your hash bucket points, a waste of time at best, since the hash algorithm never goes there anyway.

    In a system as complex as the brain, it is quite possible that such a revival would have seriously adverse effects as the new braincells struggle the adjust to the weightings of the network around it, often firing spontaneously where previously there was no fire at all, and in large numbers, this could do extremely weird, if not entirely bad, things.

    In the single case of the treatment of certain brain diseases, I believe it may be effective, because entire sections of the brain may die out, and having anything here is better than nothing, but for the case of mental capability, I suspect the technology is of little use.
  • I'm not sure if studies have been done, but I doubt Alzheimer's rates go up drastically with education levels.

    The data are not great, but the relevant studies actually suggest a higher incidence of Altzheimer's in poorly educated people.

  • by WombatControl ( 74685 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @12:38PM (#1681761)
    Ah... I can just see it now. Imagine, if we can someone revive or reactivate dead brain cells, what kind of world would we have?

    - Farrah Fawcett would finally get that Nobel Prize for her work on superstring theory that clearly shows the interrelations between the weak force and this year's hemlines.

    - AOL becomes the Internet center for reasonable discussion and carefully crafted thought.

    - Oprah's latest book club selection: "The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius".

    - Network executives realize their impact on civilization, build an advanced spacecraft, and then hurl themselves into the sun. "Crusade" is renewed for four and half more seasons.

    - Cheech & Chong for President!

    Let's hope they actually get this work in humans. I recommend that they begin testing immediately. They could begin testing on lawyers - no one will bother to stop them, although one never knows if the data collected from them will be applicable to humans... :)

    No lawyers were harmed in this post. I'll try harder next time.
  • by fornix ( 30268 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @12:45PM (#1681764) Homepage
    Does anyone happen to know if there was ever any research done which points towards an atrophy in brain cells caused by Alzheimers as opposed to it simply destroying brain cells?

    Yes. The brain, as a whole, atrophies because of the loss of cells. The brain cells, on the other hand, do not atrophy, but rather become derranged (e.g. neurofibrillary tangles and plaques) and/or die. Under the microscope, Altzheimer's disease looks much different than simple nonspecific loss of brain cells. The neurons are dying in a very peculiar way.

  • Artificial Neural Networks (ANN's) can be trained so intensively that they lose their ability to generalize. For example, if you train a network to recognize a photograph of a telephone pole, it should be able to recognize it during differing light conditions, different orientations, etc. An overtrained network will not generalize, but will only recognize a single instance of a telephone pole and ignore all the others.

    One way to improve the generalization of neural networks is to feed them a bit of random data every once in a while.

    During sleep it appears that random signals are being emitted into the rest of the brain by the brain stem. Sometimes you might be aware of the random signals, and put them into an imaginative framework called a dream. Anway, what do you suppose those random inputs periodically injected into a brain could be doing????

    It's all speculation, but still fun to think about.

  • Soma thoughts:

    1) Smart pills: People are generally non-compliant medicationwise...I see people every day who have (or had) the means to deliver themselves from imminent morbidity/death, but do not. I hesitate to use the term "choose" because they really have the best intentions but their actions belie some lack of will or something. I posit that mere neuronal fluffiness is not motivation enough for anyone to do anything about. It reminds me of the ironic* mope of the Life Extension crowd in the late 80's, "I forgot to take my Hydergine."

    2) You can forestall the detriment and up your charm points just by cross training your brain NOW so you have a higher baseline functionality. Remember the awesome global mental shift that occurred when you learned to play chess? Where is the challenge and growth now? Go out there and schmooze and dance and paint and juggle and use that other lobe. At least get so you can memorize 16 digit credit card numbers over people's shoulders.

    (not one of those pi-memorizing MENSA types)

    *True irony, not like "rain on your wedding day."
  • "Scientific discoveries by those under 25."

    The conclusion that your declining is wrong in my opinion.

    Why do you suppose people under 25 were making those discoveries? Well, you graduate from college at age 21 or 22, then if you do a Masters you'll be 23 to 24 years old after you complete that. So,
    by the time you're WELL into your Doctoral research you'll be 25 years old provided you don't slack too much.

    Anyway, Doctoral students don't research in a vacuum. They are mentored by OLDER professors who often have long running research programs (that they GUESS WHAT started when they were Doctoral students themselves - heh heh). Anyway, these Older professors say to these Doctoral students "Why don't you take a look at this little gem..." meaning some line of inquiry which the old guy doesn't have time to track down because he's busy with his other work.

    In short, the mentor feeds ideas to the young person who is cracking his ass 24 hours a day to get a Doctorate. The old guy is busy thinking a bit, drinking a bit, playing golf, driving kids around, vacationing, sabbaticalling, tenuring, politicking, etc.

    If the old guy would put his nose to the grindstone like the young guy he'd make just as many important scientific studies. But it's hard work, and after you've got your tenure...the rest is human nature. Leave a few things for the younger students.

  • Now is as good a time as any to throw on the table a little hypothesis I've been thinking about.

    In all our struggles to understand the brain, I don't think very many have approached it from the following direction: could it be that the patterns we develop in hardware and software are subconsciously based on the way our brain functions? And if so, could we not use our own complex creations to learn more about ourselves?

    For example, dead cells reviving sounds similar to garbage collection in Smalltalk and Java. The concepts of input/output, memory, and a central processing unit are all obviously modeled on ourselves. Even packet-based communication is modeled on our own form of speech: instead of attaching a wire to each other's heads, we broadcast a few words and hope they arrive correctly. A conversation is like a TCP/IP connection in that the connection is only perceived.

    So, as technology advances and new solutions are discovered, we intuitively better understand ourselves. If the hypothesis is correct, brain research is being indirectly benefitted by the advancement of computer science!
  • (See Previous Article) :-)

    We all take pink lemonade for granted.
  • 'Flowers for Algeron' to be exact, although I may have messed up the spelling.

  • I want something now that would restore me to the level of intellectual and learning ability I had when I was 25. At the time I didn't put it to good use, but now (mhmm hmm years later) I think I could really use some extra brain cycles, plus I would have the wisdom to utilize them in a somewhat more constructive manner.

    Seriously, I am wondering why they want to restrict this to alzheimers patients. There is no doubt that our intellectual capacity lessens over time and that we peak in our early twenties. It doesn't mean we get stupid, but we certainly do take a little longer to make connections between things or learn something new. To be able to gain both the wisdom of age and the mental vigor of youth would be truly wonderful!

    And besides the above, how far are we from being able to pump up cerebral functioning to new levels? The gene therapy mentioned in the article merely revives new cells. Is there something that could add more? Or that could make the ones we have more effective? Dang it, I wanna be a genius instead of merely bright...


  • by Eric Seppanen ( 79060 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @10:46AM (#1681793)

    There's hope for me yet.

    But do "revived" brain cells help you do useful things? Or, perhaps, are those simply "idiot" cells that the more advanced brain cells have killed out of mercy? It sure would be disappointing to go get my "brain cell revival" treatment, and find out that those were the brain cells that thought BASIC was cool.

    Or maybe those are "evil" cells that want me to kill and devour my roommates?
  • They say those that have full memory of every event in their live are often driven insane by the experience. Me? I thought it was kind of funny.

  • by Bald Wookie ( 18771 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @01:07PM (#1681804)
    In fifty years, we will have immortality.

    Hmmmm, I'm thinking that maybe I should become a divorce attorney...

    Gee your honor, I know, the whole till death do us part thing. I just didnt figure it would take a thousand years. Plus there is this hot little 90 year old at work your honor. I just want to prove I still got it, you know. I havent had a date in 300 years...

  • A couple points that interst me:

    1. What happens to modified NGF generating cells after the job is done? I wonder if it is regulated. Do they die off? If so, is there a clean up mech. within the brain? (blood brain barrier is almost impervious... although there are studies that show some of the smaller peptids do pass through (e.g. prions).) If not, might they grow like a cancer?(skin cells do multiply quickly)

    2. What could be the adverse effects of too much NGF? (having too much of any growth factor that I can recall cause rather severe negative effects.)

    With this in mind, couldn't it be more effective to just inject the NGF rather than the cells into the brain? (this way, you can regulate the doses + not worry about the side effects as much).

    Over all, I still believe that mastering gene -> protien regulation (where we could reproduce such a thing with cells we create) will be a key to many of the issues. We can generate cells to produce any protein of our liking, but AFAIK no regulation has been mastered. (e.g. CTLs expressing modified TCRs which recognize hiv infected cells, but expression levels not great enough to overwhelm the disease).

    Prehaps a receptor for the product that triggers a reaction to turn on another gene, (which produces a protien) that inhibits the the production of the inital product. (enough babbling)

  • for not mentioning bill gates or microsoft in relation to this article.

    I guess it was too much to hope for.
    Some people here have one tracked minds.
  • That's easy. You said what you were going to say anyways, so that's redundant. If you had said something other than what you were going to say, it wouldn't have been redundant. Now do you understand?
  • Drinking doesn't kill brain cells, it merely prunes them. One of my hobbies during college was Brain Cell Topiary, in which the object was to rearrange my neurons into decorative shapes. It is comforting to know that I can hope to escape any detrimental effects of my hobby thanks to modern monkey research.
  • by plunge ( 27239 ) on Tuesday September 14, 1999 @10:49AM (#1681820)
    Okay- let's put a few of the stories over the past few weeks together. We have this story, on brain regeneration and reinvigoration. We have the story you just pointed out- spinal cord regeneration. And we have successful head transplants on monkeys- the central drawback of which is that the spine is still severed. Guess what all this equals? Almost certainly increased life spans for rich people. Within 10 years, we're going to be dealing with moral questions that we never even dreamed of before. Scary and wonderful stuff....
  • That's kinda something I was wondering.

    Do they get restored in a "blank" state, ready
    to be reprogrammed (by the brain), or are would
    they just make people's minds even more confusing - I'm sure that if parts of my brain suddenly gained an extra 10% of "blank", things'd seem
    hellishly spacey for a while.

    Of course, it could just be the mental equivalent of getting an old HD repaired.
  • I had always been of the belief that the reason learning ability and linking slows down as one ages is not due to the loss of brain cells as such, but more the fact that you've already got a lot of information stored in there and it takes longer to make leaps and jumps around in it.

    For a programming analogy take your average hash table, the first bunch of inserts and recalls are 1 step, because the bucket at the hash point is empty, so its the first reply you get, but as you fill up a hash table, you begin to get collisions, so you have to do step-searches through the buckets, or jump to overflow lists etc, slowing everything down. The hash is more useful because it contains more data, but to get any data out of it takes a longer time, and to insert new data in also takes a longer time.

    Admittedly the brain is of a considerably different structure to that of your average hash table, but it seems an appropriate analogy to me.
  • The gene therapy mentioned in the article merely revives new cells. Is there something that could add more?

    Possibly. It may be possible to refresh your brain using stem cells. [] And more stem cells. [] And yet more. []

  • What if this technology were used with head transplants (reported a week or two or three ago here on Slashdot)? We're one step closer to immortality. Scientists and Doctors would use cloning to create the rest of the body, transplant the head to the new body, and revive dying brain cells. The only technology we're really missing out on now is reconnecting the spinal cord and all the nerves, and I'm sure that will be developing soon enough. It's incredible to think that maybe by the end of my lifetime (I'm 18 now) the technology will exist to extend my life another 80 or 90 or 300 years. I'm sure I speak for a lot of us when I say that I'd love to see what technology develops after my "regular" life span has come to an end. It would be incredible to be able to extend life using this technologies. Incredible.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein