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Is brain-training finally coming of age as a dementia tool?

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With populations living longer and surviving diseases that in the past would have been fatal, another age-related condition has become more prevalent – dementia.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 55 million people are living with the disease around the world – but can anything be done to prevent it?

The Alzheimer’s Society estimates that there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, a figure that is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

At the moment, there is no cure for the condition and no real way of treating it, although research is continuing all the time.

Its main symptoms are focused around cognitive function, and are listed by the NHS as:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks
  • Struggling to follow a conversation
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes

However, while there is no cure or treatment as yet, some fields of research believe that brain training can help prevent dementia from occurring in the first place.

What is brain training?

Just as we exercise our bodies to keep them healthy, so many scientists believe we need to exercise our minds too – a case of use it or lose it.

As such, they encourage taking part in regular mental activities designed to help maintain or even increase a person’s cognitive abilities, such as attention, reasoning and problem solving.

Such activities include puzzles such as sudoku or crosswords, playing video games, staying socially engaged and taking part in creative pursuits, such as painting or music.

Indeed, only a few years ago headlines were full of the news that regularly doing crosswords regularly would protect puzzlers from dementia – so how accurate is it?

Does it work?

The Alzheimer’s Society says no, at the moment, although obviously there is no harm in keeping the mind as active as possible in older age.

“So far, no studies have shown that brain training prevents dementia. However, this is a relatively new area of research and most studies have been too small and too short to test any effect of brain training on the development of cognitive decline or dementia.

“Evidence suggests that brain training may help older people to manage their daily tasks better, but longer term studies are needed to understand what effect, if any, these activities may have on a person’s likelihood of developing dementia.”

However, the original idea did come from observational studies that suggested that people who took part in cognitively stimulating activities may have a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older age.

But with no control, it is impossible to say that the brain training activities were directly responsible for lower rates of dementia.

How can brain training help?

While brain training cannot definitely prevent dementia, it can sharpen cognitive skills. As the Alzheimer’s Society says: “Some studies have found that cognitive training can improve some aspects of memory and thinking, particularly for people who are middle-aged or older.”

A 2019 study for the charity also found that older adults who regularly took part in word and number puzzles have better brain function, according to research in more than 19,000 participants, led by the University of Exeter and King’s College London.

However, it did not definitively link better brain function with reduced risk of dementia.

These findings were echoed by a further study involving more than 2,800 adults aged 65 and older, who attended up to 10 hour-long brain-training sessions for five to six weeks. The sessions focused on improving memory, reasoning and the speed of processing information.

People who took part in the training showed improvement in these skills that lasted for at least five years, and they also improved at everyday tasks, such as the ability to manage money and do housework – beneficial at any age.

Conversely, further studies suggest that mental decline can be faster, post-diagnosis, in those people who have taken part in brain training.

Some research has noted that, once people have started displaying Alzheimer’s symptoms, mental decline may actually speed up in those who kept their minds engaged. One theory behind this is that it is possible that being mentally active bolstered the brain at first, so symptoms did not show until later.

In conclusion

Sadly, there is no definitive evidence to say that regular crosswords or other puzzles can actively prevent dementia.

However, just like our physical bodies, there is research to suggest that the more we boost our brain power throughout our lives, the better.

Puzzles also have real mood-boosting effects, increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, memory, and concentration, which is released with every success as we solve the puzzle.

So, while they may not prevent dementia in any significant way, brain training puzzles have a host of other benefits for our minds and mental health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Evening exercise benefits elderly hypertensives

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Evening exercise benefits elderly hypertensives

A study conducted at the University of São Paulo with 23 volunteers found that aerobic exercise performed in the evening benefits elderly hypertensives more than morning exercise.

Aerobic training is known to regulate blood pressure more effectively when practiced in the evening than in the morning.

Researchers who conducted a study of elderly patients at the University of São Paulo’s School of Physical Education and Sports (EEFE-USP) in Brazil concluded that evening exercise is better for blood pressure regulation thanks to improved cardiovascular control by the autonomic nervous system via a mechanism known as baroreflex sensitivity.

Leandro Campos de Brito, first author of the article, commented: “There are multiple mechanisms to regulate blood pressure, and although morning training was beneficial, only evening training improved short-term control of blood pressure by enhancing baroreflex sensitivity.

“This is important because baroreflex control has a positive effect on blood pressure regulation, and there aren’t any medications to modulate the mechanism.”

In the study, 23 elderly patients diagnosed and treated for hypertension were randomly allocated into two groups: morning training and evening training. Both groups trained for ten weeks on a stationary bicycle at moderate intensity, with three 45-minute sessions per week.

Key cardiovascular parameters were analysed, such as systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate after ten minutes’ rest. The data was collected before and at least three days after the volunteers completed the ten weeks of training.

The researchers also monitored mechanisms pertaining to the autonomic nervous system, which controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and other involuntary bodily functions, such as muscle sympathetic nerve activity, which regulates peripheral blood flow via contraction and relaxation of blood vessels in muscle tissue, and sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity, assessing control of blood pressure via alterations to muscle sympathetic nerve activity.

In the evening training group, all four parameters analysed were found to improve: systolic and diastolic blood pressure, sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity, and muscle sympathetic nerve activity. In the morning training group, no improvements were detected in muscle sympathetic nerve activity, systolic blood pressure or sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity.

“Evening training was more effective in terms of improving cardiovascular autonomic regulation and lowering blood pressure. This can be partly explained as due to an improvement in baroreflex sensitivity and a reduction of muscle sympathetic nerve activity, which increased in the evening. For now, all we know is that baroreflex control is the decisive factor, from the cardiovascular standpoint at least, to make evening training more beneficial than morning training, since it induces the other benefits analysed. However, much remains to be done in this regard in order to obtain a better understanding of the mechanisms involved,” said Brito, who is currently a professor at Oregon Health & Science University’s Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences in the United States, and continues to investigate the topic via circadian rhythm studies.

Baroreflex sensitivity regulates each heartbeat interval and controls autonomic activity throughout the organism.

“It’s a mechanism that involves sensitive fibres and deformations in the walls of arteries in specific places, such as the aortic arch and carotid body. When blood pressure falls, this region warns the brain region that controls the autonomic nervous system, which in turn signals the heart to beat faster and tells the arteries to contract more strongly. If blood pressure rises, it warns the heart to beat more slowly and tells the arteries to contract less. In other words, it modulates arterial pressure beat by beat,” Brito explained.

In previous studies, the EEFE-USP research group showed that evening aerobic training reduced blood pressure more effectively than morning training in hypertensive men (read more at: agencia.fapesp.br/34194), and that the more effective response to evening training in terms of blood pressure control was accompanied by a greater reduction in systemic vascular resistance and systolic pressure variability (read more at: agencia.fapesp.br/37432).

“Replication of the results obtained in previous studies and in different groups of hypertensive patients, associated with the use of more precise techniques to evaluate the main outcomes, has strengthened our conclusion that aerobic exercise performed in the evening is more beneficial to the autonomic nervous system in patients with hypertension. This can be especially important for those with resistance to treatment with medication,” Brito said.

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Revolutionising cancer treatment: intracellular protein delivery using hybrid nanotubes

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Revolutionising cancer treatment: intracellular protein delivery using hybrid nanotubes

A new hybrid nanotube stamp system has been developed which revolutionises precision medicine with high efficiency and cell viability rates for cancer treatment.

Precision medicine and targeted therapies are gaining traction for their ability to tailor treatments to individual patients while minimising adverse effects. Conventional methods, such as gene transfer techniques, show promise in delivering therapeutic genes directly to cells to address various diseases.

However, these methods face significant drawbacks, hindering their efficacy and safety. Intracellular protein delivery offers a promising approach for developing safer, more targeted, and effective therapies. By directly transferring proteins into target cells, this method circumvents issues such as silencing during transcription and translation and the risk of undesirable mutations from DNA insertion. Additionally, intracellular protein delivery allows for precise distribution of therapeutic proteins within target cells without causing toxicity.

A group of researchers led by Professor Takeo Miyake at Waseda University, Japan in collaboration with the Mikawa Group at the RIKEN Institute have now developed a hybrid nanotube stamp system for intracellular delivery of proteins. This innovative technique enables the simultaneous delivery of diverse cargoes, including calcein dye, lactate oxidase (LOx) enzyme, and ubiquitin (UQ) protein, directly into adhesive cells for cancer treatment.

The researchers explored the therapeutic potential of delivering LOx enzyme for cancer treatment. “Through our innovative stamp system, we successfully delivered LOx into both healthy mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) and cancerous HeLa cells. While MSC cells remained unaffected, we observed significant cell death in HeLa cancer cells following LOx treatment with viabilities decreasing over time. Our findings highlight the promising efficacy of intracellularly delivered LOx in selectively targeting and killing cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells, offering a targeted therapeutic strategy for cancer treatment,” explains Miyake.

Finally, the team successfully delivered 15N isotope-labeled UQ proteins into HeLa cells using the HyNT stamp system. This delivery allowed for the analysis of complex protein structures and interactions within the cells. In addition, optical and fluorescence imaging confirmed the presence of delivered UQ in HeLa cells, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy matched the intracellular UQ protein concentration with that of a solution containing 15N-labeled UQ. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of the stamp system in delivering target proteins for subsequent analysis.

The results demonstrate the remarkable capability of the HyNT stamp system in delivering LOx and UQ into a substantial number of adhesive cells, as required for regenerative medicine applications. The system achieved a notably high delivery efficiency of 89.9%, indicating its effectiveness in transporting therapeutic proteins into the target cells with precision. Moreover, the cell viability rate of 97.1% highlights the system’s ability to maintain the health and integrity of the treated cells throughout the delivery process.

The HyNT stamp system offers transformative potential in intracellular protein delivery, with applications spanning from cancer treatment to molecular analysis. Beyond medicine, its versatility extends to agriculture and food industries, promising advancements in crop production and food product development. With precise cell manipulation and efficient delivery, the HyNT stamp system is poised to revolutionize biomedical research, clinical practice, and diverse industries, paving the way for personalized interventions and shaping the future of modern medicine.

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Heat waves damage humans’ vital organs, shows new study

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Researchers from the University of California, Irvine have found evidence of the molecular causes of the damaging impact heat stress causes on the gut, liver and brain in the elderly.

The researchers suggest these findings point to the potential of developing precise prognostic and therapeutic interventions.

These organs have a complex and multidirectional communication system that touches everything from our gastrointestinal tract to the nervous system. Whether it is our brain affecting hunger or the liver influencing mental health, understanding the gut-liver-brain communication or “axis” is crucial to protecting human health.

Their study, which was conducted on mouse models, is published in the journal Scientific Reports, a Nature Portfolio journal. It is one of the first to fill the knowledge gap on the effects of heat stress on a molecular level of this crucial biological conversation.

“Inflammation in the brain and spine contributes to cognitive decline, compromises the ability to form new neurons and exacerbates age-related diseases,” said corresponding author, Saurabh Chatterjee, a professor of environmental & occupational health at the UC Irvine Program in Public Health. “By investigating the effects of heat stress on the gut-liver-brain crosstalk, we can better protect our increasingly vulnerable aging population.”

Using RNA analysis and bioinformatics to analyse elderly, heat-stressed mice, Chatterjee and his team found evidence of heat stress-affected genes in the brain and liver. A significant increase in the production of ORM2, a liver-produced protein, was observed in the heat-stressed mice. The control group of unstressed mice did not show a change, providing proof of organ dysfunction in the heat-stressed mice.

Researchers believe that increased secretion of ORM2 is a coping mechanism that may be due to gut inflammation and imbalance. In addition, ORM2 may impact the brain through a leaky blood-brain barrier, emphasizing intricate multi-organ crosstalk.

Additionally, the study shows the potential to use ORM2 for targeted biomarker interventions to prevent liver disease in heat exposure. This observation advances molecular insights into the pathophysiology of adverse heat events and will serve as a foundation for future research.

“Our findings have the potential to be used for the development of prognostic and therapeutic markers for precise interventions,” said Chatterjee. “In a dynamically changing global landscape, the imminent threat of climate change is evident in rising temperatures, raising concerns about intermittent heat waves. Our heating planet is undoubtedly leading to acute and chronic heat stress that harms the health of our aging population.”

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