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Dissecting Brains (HD) 

On Wednesdays at Hammersmith Hospital in London, a few recently preserved human brains are dissected according to an international protocol and stored in a tissue bank for further research. The brains have mostly been donated by people with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis (both degenerative and incurable diseases of the central nervous system), but control samples of healthy brains are required too. This documentary is a modified version of one which appears in the Brains exhibition at Wellcome Collection, with an added commentary from the neuropathologist, Steve Gentleman. It conveys the craft discipline exercised by scientists in their quest to understand these often-tragic conditions.

01 January 2014

Migrating Neurons

A promising new treatment for diseases like Parkinson’s may lie in the use of neural stem cells. They could be transplanted into damaged brain tissue and grow to replace the neurons [nerve cells] lost to the ravenous disease. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with this plan; the new cells are reluctant to migrate away from their graft site. Scientists believe this is because newly transplanted cells are attracted to the existing brain cells nearby. On the right is a bright cluster of cells that have not migrated. However, if the chemicals that cause this attraction are blocked, the new cells are happy to move further away, into other brain areas (shown on the left by a spread of green branches). Enabling migration would allow neural stem cells to travel further afield and replace neurons that have been destroyed by neurological disease.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

Image by Julia Ladewig, Philipp Koch and Oliver Brüstle
University of Bonn, Germany
Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature 2013
Research published in Nature Neuroscience, November 2013

Parkinson’s treatment can trigger creativity.

Parkinson’s experts across the world have been reporting a remarkable phenomenon — many patients treated with drugs to increase the activity of dopamine in the brain as a therapy for motor symptoms such as tremors and muscle rigidity are developing new creative talents, including painting, sculpting, writing, and more.

Prof. Rivka Inzelberg of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine first noticed the trend in her own Sheba Medical Center clinic when the usual holiday presents from patients — typically chocolates or similar gifts — took a surprising turn. “Instead, patients starting bringing us art they had made themselves,” she says.

Inspired by the discovery, Prof. Inzelberg sought out evidence of this rise in creativity in current medical literature. Bringing together case studies from around the world, she examined the details of each patient to uncover a common underlying factor — all were being treated with either synthetic precursors of dopamine or dopamine receptor agonists, which increase the amount of dopamine activity in the brain by stimulating receptors. Her report will be published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience. […]