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Archive for October, 2012

Introducing a light-sensitive protein in transgenic nerve cells … transplanting nerve cells into the brains of laboratory animals … inserting an optic fibre in the brain and using it to light up the nerve cells and stimulate them into releasing more dopamine to combat Parkinson’s disease. These things may sound like science fiction, but they are soon to become a reality in a research laboratory at Lund University in Sweden.

For more information: http://bit.ly/SthSQk

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by Robert T. Gonzalez

The power of suggestion can be an incredible thing, and in few way is this more apparent than with the placebo effect. Now, newly published research suggests how susceptible you are to sham treatments and dummy medicine (a sugar pill, for instance) could actually be rooted in your genetics.

LiveScience’s Tia Ghose explains:

Differences in versions of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, which determines levels of dopamine in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, are linked to differences in reward-seeking and pain perception. People with the high-dopamine version, or allele, of the COMT gene feel pain more acutely and seek rewards more strongly than those who have the low-dopamine copy.

[Researchers led by Kathryn Hall of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center] analyzed DNA from 104 patients with irritable bowel syndrome who were randomized to one of three groups: One was told they were on the waiting list for treatment, another received a placebo in the form of seemingly real, curt acupuncture, and the third group received fake acupuncture from a caring, warm practitioner who looked patients in the eye, asked about their progress, and even touched them lightly.

Patients with the high-dopamine version of the gene felt slightly better after seeing the curt, all-business health-care provider that gave placebo acupuncture. But they were six times as likely to say their symptoms improved with a caring practitioner as those with the low-dopamine gene, who didn’t improve much in any group.

In the latest issue of PLOS ONE, Hall and her colleagues note that knowing if a person is genetically predisposed to respond favorably to a sham form of treatment could prove invaluable in clinical trials designed to test the effectiveness of drugs and other therapies. After all, if everyone in your placebo group is hardwired to respond favorably to any treatment — even to a sugar pill — it could seriously skew experimental results. Conversely, if the entire placebo group is genetically predisposed to not respond to placebos, it could cast the prospective therapy in a disproportionately favorable light.

Read more about Hall’s research over at LiveScience.

[PLOS ONE via LiveScience]

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The subConch is a completely new musical instrument that can be played by using the force of your mind alone. The instrument, a conch shaped metallic sculpture, is hung from the ceiling in three steel wires. Along with the conch comes a headset that you, the performer, must wear. The headset reads the player’s mind using EEG technology allowing control over pitch and other audio characteristics. To gain this control the user must sit down and follow a three minute training program. When finished he or she will have the ability of complete cognitive control. Read more…

The subConch is an interactive installation currently in development by Mats J. Sivertsen. The installation will be exhibited in art galleries and used in musical performances.

Follow the progress on the blog pages
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Read the artist statement
View the video documentation
Report bugs and comment on the software

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