Posts Tagged ‘brain’

A peek at new brain research

Friday, August 5th, 2011

researchIs it possible to get the adult central nervous system (CNS) cells to regenerate neurons (nerve cells) after aging or injury? Current state of the science says no. However, a team of scientists led by a March of Dimes-supported researcher at Duke University Medical Center believes they’ve found a kind of “fountain of youth” that sustains the production of new neurons in the brains of rodents, which could also be present in the human brain. The existence of a vital support system of cells around stem cells in the brain could explain why stem cells by themselves don’t generate neurons in a lab dish, a major roadblock in using these stem cells for repair of CNS injuries.

“We believe these findings will have important implications for human therapy,” says Chay Kuo, M.D., Ph.D., George Brumley Jr. assistant professor of Cell Biology, Pediatrics and Neurobiology, and senior author of the study. Dr. Kuo is the recipient of a Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award from the March of Dimes.

The study is the cover story in the July issue of Neuron, published online July 14, 2011.  If reading scientific journals is not your thing, here’s what it says in a nutshell.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that the generation of new neurons depended on what Dr. Kuo calls the “ugly sibling” of the stem cells, the neighboring ependymal cell. These ependymal cells — not the neural stem cells themselves — maintain a special structure that keeps neural stem cells “neurogenic,” or able to make new neurons.

Currently, however, when neural stem cells are harvested for growth in culture, these ependymal cells are not removed along with them — and Dr. Kuo’s team believes this can be a problem.

Neural stem cells in a lab dish don’t continue to make neurons as they do inside the brain, Dr. Kuo says. Instead, they often produce astrocytes, a cell type that may not be helpful to re-implant into a brain. Uncontrolled astrocyte growth can lead to brain tumors.
“There is this fountain of youth inside the adult brain that actively makes new neurons,” Dr. Kuo says. “Yet we don’t know how this fountain is constructed or maintained. Understanding the environmental control of neuron production in the adult brain will be crucial for future therapeutic strategies using human stem cells to replace neurons.”

We should note that this is an animal study not yet confirmed in humans, but it holds great promise for the future. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.

Cell phones – bad for baby?

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

cell-phonePeriodically we hear concern about the impact that radiation from cell phones may have on our health. There are a few conflicting studies and the bottom line is we don’t know much.

A study from Denmark published in 2008 showed an association between prenatal and (to a lesser extent) postnatal exposure to cell phones and behavioral problems in children aged 7 years.  The percentage of children with related behavioral problems, though, was small.

And now a recently released study in Spain showed only small differences in the neurodevelopment scores of children exposed to cell phones while still in the womb. The babies exposed to cell phones had higher mental development scores and lower psychomotor development scores (muscular activity associated with mental thought).  The conclusion of this study is that there is not much evidence that a pregnant woman using her cell phone will have a negative effect on the early nervous system development of her baby.

So, it remains unclear whether there is any adverse effect of prenatal exposure to cell phones on fetal development and children’s behavior. With the rapidly increasing use of cell phones in adults and even young children, it is important for additional studies to determine the possible effects of cell phone use. Studies need to examine the higher exposures received by the child’s brain compared with the adult brain; and the vulnerability of the developing central nervous system into the teen years.

In the meantime, pregnant women can limit their cell phone use and parents can limit their children’s cell phone use as well as avoid talking on a cell phone when a child is around until more studies can be done.

FDA concerned about BPA, chemical used in plastics

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

plastic-baby-bottleThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns about BPA, a chemical used in plastics. BPA is used to make plastics clear, strong and hard to break. Some baby bottles, dishes and toys contain this chemical. BPA stands for bisphenol A.

Some studies have linked BPA to developmental problems in the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children.

The FDA and other organizations are conducting in-depth studies about BPA. Until we have more answers, the FDA has several recommendations for parents, including:

* If plastic baby bottles and infant cups contain BPA, discard them if they have scratches.

* Do not put boiling or very hot liquids, such as formula, into plastic bottles or containers that contain BPA.

* Read the label to see if a plastic container is dishwasher safe. Don’t put it in the dishwasher unless it is.

Plastic products for babies are now available that do not contain BPA.

Timberland boots for kids recalled

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

timberland-bootTimberland has recalled about 21,000 pairs of Classic Scuffproof Boots sold in toddler size 4 through junior size 7. The logo stamped on the inside of the boots has high levels of lead. Lead is a strong poison that can damage children’s brains.

For more information, visit the Web site of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Valproate sodium and related products linked to birth defects

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement about the increased risk of birth defects when a fetus is exposed to valproate sodium and related products (valproic acid and divalproex sodium).

The birth defects are neural tube defects, craniofacial defects, and cardiovascular problems. A neural tube defect is a defect of the brain and spinal cord. A craniofacial defect affects the face and the skull.

Valproate sodium and its related products may be used to treat migraine headaches, certain seizures and other conditions. If a woman is taking any of these products, she should talk to her health care provider, preferably before she gets pregnant. The risk of birth defects is especially high during the first trimester.

Pregnancy: How many weeks are best for baby?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

pregnant2Did you know that it’s usually best for the baby if pregnancy lasts 39-40 weeks?

Today, researchers published a study showing that many women are confused about the length of  full-term pregnancy. This isn’t surprising since there’s a lot of mixed up info out there.

In the study, one out of every four women thought a full-term pregnancy lasts 34-36 weeks. Half of the women said it’s 37-38 weeks.

Only one out of every four gave the “right answer”: 39-40 weeks. That is the time recommended by most medical experts.

What’s the most important thing that happens during the last few weeks of pregnancy? The baby’s brains and lungs are still developing. It’s usually best if that development happens inside mom’s uterus, rather than outside in the world.

To learn more, read the March of Dimes article “Why at least 39 weeks is best for your baby.”

This new study was published in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Babies Ready to Rock

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

musical-beatYou know when you hear a new song you like and your foot starts tapping to the beat? You instinctively know when the next beat is coming and you’re just having a good time grooving to the music. Well, it looks like babies can carry the beat, too!

The USA Today published an article about a study on how babies can actually get the rhythm of a beat. Since babies can’t snap their fingers or tap their toes, the authors of the study measured the brain activity of a group of newborns. They found that when a rhythmic beat played, the babies’ brains expected the beat continue. If the beat stopped or fell off rhythm, their brain activity showed the error in the musical pattern.

So the next time you hear your favorite song, don’t be afraid to turn the dial up a little bit so your baby can enjoy it, too. Like Stevie Wonder once sang, “they can feel it all over.”

The last weeks of pregnancy really count: Here’s why

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Scientists have known for a long time that premature birth can lead to problems with a baby’s brain development.

A research team, led by Dr. Joann Petrini of the March of Dimes, has learned that early birth increases the risk of cerebral palsy, developmental delays and mental retardation. The surprising finding is that this risk is true even for babies born as late as 34-36 weeks. The researchers published their study today in The Journal of Pediatrics.

A full-term pregnancy is 39 weeks. But more and more births are being scheduled early for non-medical reasons. Wouldn’t it be nice if the baby could be born when Grandma is in town? Or before the obstetrician goes on vacation?

But early births can cause problems for both mom and baby. If possible, it’s best to stay pregnant for at least 39 weeks.

There are lots of important things happening to your baby in the last few weeks of pregnancy. If you can, give your baby all the time he needs to grow before he’s born.

Those last weeks of pregnancy are hard. You’re tired, you’re not sleeping, you ache. It seems as if you’ve gained a million pounds. As my sister used to say with a long sigh, “I can’t see my feet any more.” But staying pregnant until 39 weeks matters: for you and for your baby.

The March of Dimes Web site has a helpful drawing, showing the difference between the brains of babies born at 35 and 39 weeks. Take a look. And tell us what you do to make those last hard weeks of pregnancy a little easier.

Steroids and preemies

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Often when women go into preterm labor, they are given drugs called steroids to help the underdeveloped lungs of the baby.  Also, premature babies sometimes get these drugs after birth. Lung disease is a serious threat to a baby born too early.

Steroids have helped save the lives of millions of babies. But a new study has found that one type of these drugs called glucocorticoids may damage a baby’s brain and cause developmental problems. The research was done with mice at the Washington University School of Medicine. So it may or not apply to human babies.

In 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that glucocorticoids not be given to babies after birth. But sometimes women at risk of preterm birth still get these drugs. The decision can be difficult, “If I don’t take the drug, my baby may die. If I do, he may have some brain damage.”

The researchers believe that glucocorticoids may be needed in some cases to save a baby’s life. But they hope that, in the future, new drugs will be available that pose no risk to the brain.

The Web site of Washington University has more information.