Advertisement

Hold That Thought

In the memory circuits of the aging brain and the signaling pathways of pain, science is trading mystery for mastery.

By | September 1, 2011

ANDRZEJ KRAUZ

Futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil is 63 years old. Every day he swallows 150 pills to keep himself tuned up and ready to take advantage of revolutionary advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology—advances that he predicts will “open the gates of immortality” in the next 25 years, he says in a Big Think video. “By mid-century, we may all be kept healthy and young by billions of nanorobots inside of our bodies” where they will act to back up information (memories) in our brains, among other crucial jobs.

Supplements, lifestyle changes, nanorobots, freezing oneself to be resurrected when cures for getting old are discovered: baby boomers seem desperate for knowledge about how to circumvent a normal occurrence—aging. In this issue of The Scientist, two of our features are devoted to a subject that causes boomers a lot of angst: the aging brain. Carol Barnes writes about memory changes in the brain that occur during normal aging in "Secrets of Aging." For Barnes, “understanding memory, and how it changes with age and in disease, [is] the key to understanding the aging brain.” She reports that technical advances in the monitoring of gene expression in large numbers of single cells have made it possible to identify cell types in the hippocampus that are altered during normal aging. Because these differ from hippocampal cell populations altered in Alzheimer’s disease, Barnes maintains that Alzheimer’s is not the end result of normal aging.

Every month in this magazine, I’m struck by the overlap of ideas in articles that address seemingly disparate subjects.

But Alzheimer’s is a disease that continues to confound researchers. The risk of developing it is clearly associated with aging. Somewhere between 2.5 and 5 million Americans suffer from the disease, and it is a growing scourge: according to NIH’s National Institute on Aging, the number of people 65 and older “is expected to grow from 39 million in 2008 to 72 million in 2030.” This becomes scary when coupled with the fact that the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease doubles for every 5-year interval beyond age 65.

Sue Griffin, author of our second feature about the aging brain, has spent her career examining the role that inflammation plays in Alzheimer’s epidemiology. In "What Causes Alzheimer’s?" she describes accumulating evidence that immune cells native to the brain—the microglia—are closely associated with the early stages of the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of the disease, and thatthese microglia release inflammatory cytokines, which damage neurons. Consequently, the protective benefits of anti-inflammatory drugs are now being evaluated.

Every month in this magazine, I’m struck by the overlap of ideas in articles that address seemingly disparate subjects, and this issue is no exception. Though their hypotheses are separated by centuries, both Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) and Geoffrey Burnstock try to explain the underpinnings of mysterious energies. Galvani’s quest to understand “animal energy” is outlined in our Foundations column; in his Thought Experiment, Burnstock hypothesizes that purinergic signaling—rather than the vital energy, qi, that forms the basis of Chinese medicine—underlies the effectiveness of acupuncture. Of course, whether the 2,000-year-old practice works at all is a perennial hot-button subject, as attested in an article about alternative medicine in the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine.

Finally, two scientists whose mathematics shook up the field of evolutionary biology are profiled in this issue. Our Reading Frames essay, by Oren Harman, recounts the story of George Price, who developed an equation in the late 1960s to account for altruism. Another shake-up is described in Scientist to Watch: young mathematical biologist Corina Tarnita’s publication last year, together with eminent Harvard colleagues Martin Nowak and E.O. Wilson, posits that the long-accepted theory of inclusive fitness is mathematically flawed.

In October we will happily mark the magazine’s 25th year by publishing a special anniversary issue of The Scientist with a look back at research achievements in six areas—neuroscience, synthetic biology, omics, conservation biology, nanomedicine, and the funding of science. Eric Kandel, Walter Bodmer, Craig Venter, Stephen Friend, and Tom Lovejoy (among others) opine about their fields and what to expect in the next quarter decade.

Mary Beth AberlinEditor-in-Chiefeic@the-scientist.com

Advertisement
Keystone Symposia
Keystone Symposia

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You

You

Processing...
Processing...

Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo

Comments

Avatar of: JHolland

JHolland

Posts: 10

September 7, 2011

As a 63 year old, I am as interested as anyone re our aging brains.  I have found that a good exercise regime, reduced stress, some interesting natural health kelp/grasses' drinks paired with good nutrition have increased my mental sharpness while reducing my hip size.  I have been on anti-inflammatory drugs for 20 years for RA and am doing well on all fronts even with a stint of chemo-therapy in 2004 which did a job on  my neuro-pathways. Of course, this is quite subjective.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 7, 2011

As a 63 year old, I am as interested as anyone re our aging brains.  I have found that a good exercise regime, reduced stress, some interesting natural health kelp/grasses' drinks paired with good nutrition have increased my mental sharpness while reducing my hip size.  I have been on anti-inflammatory drugs for 20 years for RA and am doing well on all fronts even with a stint of chemo-therapy in 2004 which did a job on  my neuro-pathways. Of course, this is quite subjective.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 7, 2011

As a 63 year old, I am as interested as anyone re our aging brains.  I have found that a good exercise regime, reduced stress, some interesting natural health kelp/grasses' drinks paired with good nutrition have increased my mental sharpness while reducing my hip size.  I have been on anti-inflammatory drugs for 20 years for RA and am doing well on all fronts even with a stint of chemo-therapy in 2004 which did a job on  my neuro-pathways. Of course, this is quite subjective.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 13, 2011

take some testosterone.  I had identical hormone replacement therapy last year (I am a woman and was told my levels were low) and noticed an incredible increase back to my previous vocabulary, decisiveness, able to move forward and not minding so much how my actions impacted others.  I was too nicey to the point that it hurt me.  What I didn't like was the nagging want to have sex thoughts coming at me.  I stopped just for that reason alone.  When you are not with someone, that drive is not welcome.   Like any equilibria, mine did change though.  I do have more aggressive thoughts now.  I never had those before, being a woman of german polish russian descent.  Now I do.  Not so sure we can have peace on earth if I was so impacted by only three months of hormone therapy.  But I can attest to the powerful impact hormones have on brain chemistry.  I am a chemist and a professor.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 13, 2011

Thank you for your interesting response, Kresskem. If it gives me a great sex drive, a little more body hair, superb thinking skills, decisive action [I do admit that I try not to create problems for other people due to my actions] and more compound wordage, I am all for it. However, I think being social, volunteering in the community, better food closer to the garden, and a good exercise routine are what will separate some of us from the dull-witted, soap-opera-watching fat slobs in my age group.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 13, 2011

Can you elaborate on your kelp grass drinks?  Do you make your own, or purchase them?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 13, 2011

take some testosterone.  I had identical hormone replacement therapy last year (I am a woman and was told my levels were low) and noticed an incredible increase back to my previous vocabulary, decisiveness, able to move forward and not minding so much how my actions impacted others.  I was too nicey to the point that it hurt me.  What I didn't like was the nagging want to have sex thoughts coming at me.  I stopped just for that reason alone.  When you are not with someone, that drive is not welcome.   Like any equilibria, mine did change though.  I do have more aggressive thoughts now.  I never had those before, being a woman of german polish russian descent.  Now I do.  Not so sure we can have peace on earth if I was so impacted by only three months of hormone therapy.  But I can attest to the powerful impact hormones have on brain chemistry.  I am a chemist and a professor.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 13, 2011

Thank you for your interesting response, Kresskem. If it gives me a great sex drive, a little more body hair, superb thinking skills, decisive action [I do admit that I try not to create problems for other people due to my actions] and more compound wordage, I am all for it. However, I think being social, volunteering in the community, better food closer to the garden, and a good exercise routine are what will separate some of us from the dull-witted, soap-opera-watching fat slobs in my age group.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 13, 2011

Can you elaborate on your kelp grass drinks?  Do you make your own, or purchase them?

Avatar of: Kresskem

Anonymous

September 13, 2011

take some testosterone.  I had identical hormone replacement therapy last year (I am a woman and was told my levels were low) and noticed an incredible increase back to my previous vocabulary, decisiveness, able to move forward and not minding so much how my actions impacted others.  I was too nicey to the point that it hurt me.  What I didn't like was the nagging want to have sex thoughts coming at me.  I stopped just for that reason alone.  When you are not with someone, that drive is not welcome.   Like any equilibria, mine did change though.  I do have more aggressive thoughts now.  I never had those before, being a woman of german polish russian descent.  Now I do.  Not so sure we can have peace on earth if I was so impacted by only three months of hormone therapy.  But I can attest to the powerful impact hormones have on brain chemistry.  I am a chemist and a professor.

Avatar of: JHolland

JHolland

Posts: 10

September 13, 2011

Thank you for your interesting response, Kresskem. If it gives me a great sex drive, a little more body hair, superb thinking skills, decisive action [I do admit that I try not to create problems for other people due to my actions] and more compound wordage, I am all for it. However, I think being social, volunteering in the community, better food closer to the garden, and a good exercise routine are what will separate some of us from the dull-witted, soap-opera-watching fat slobs in my age group.

Avatar of: Kresskem

Anonymous

September 13, 2011

Can you elaborate on your kelp grass drinks?  Do you make your own, or purchase them?

Avatar of: JHolland

Anonymous

September 16, 2011

I use "KYO", a green, energy powder, which can be mixed with fruit juice and "Essential Greens", which I combine with unsugured yogurt.  If I am in a hurry, I add both of them to yogurt.  "EG" does not suspend well which is why it gets mixed with a solid.  Lastly, I had serious problems with fatigue and this is now history.  I am flying.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 16, 2011

I use "KYO", a green, energy powder, which can be mixed with fruit juice and "Essential Greens", which I combine with unsugured yogurt.  If I am in a hurry, I add both of them to yogurt.  "EG" does not suspend well which is why it gets mixed with a solid.  Lastly, I had serious problems with fatigue and this is now history.  I am flying.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 16, 2011

I use "KYO", a green, energy powder, which can be mixed with fruit juice and "Essential Greens", which I combine with unsugured yogurt.  If I am in a hurry, I add both of them to yogurt.  "EG" does not suspend well which is why it gets mixed with a solid.  Lastly, I had serious problems with fatigue and this is now history.  I am flying.

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement
Panasonic
Panasonic

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist