Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mouse innards in 3D

Pretty pictures, here, courtesy of Discovery News.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Brains in space

NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain)

One of the latest images from the Hubble Space Telescope is this gorgeous picture of a brain in space. Actually, it's a cloud of star-forming gas in the Large Magellanic Cloud, and astronomers call it N-11 or the Bean Nebula. The bright blue stars in the image are newborns: you can read more about the image and what it shows at the Hubble site.

Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for pointing out the resemblance to a brain.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Brain that Changes Itself

If you're in Australia, here's an interesting program to watch tonight:

The Brain That Changes Itself at 19:30pm, Tuesday 15th June, 2010
Based on the best-selling book by Toronto psychiatrist Dr Norman Doidge, this documentary presents a case for reconsidering how we view the human mind. Dr Doidge travels across the USA to meet some of the pioneering brain researchers. He also visits the people who have been most affected by this research - the patients - people once thought of as incurable who are now living normal lives. (From Canada in English) (Documentary) G CC WS

Find out more at SBS.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him...

A project at the Swiss Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne has announced that a synthetic brain is about 10 years away. Cool!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Elf5 and breast cancer

Last night's Tuesday Talk at Culture at Work was by Dr Chris Ormandy of the Garvan Institute in Sydney. He discussed his latest research into breast cancer, with lots of images of gorgeous mouse mammaries (not furry porn, but microscope images of branching milk ducts in mice of various ages and stages of lactation). In particular, we learned about the gene called Elf5 that seems to have a role in switching off the proliferation of cells in the mammary ducts and may therefore be a clue to stopping the growth of cancer.

Once again, I was struck by the resemblance of structure at the microscopic scale to macroscopic features on Earth and in space (I have blogged about this before).

Dr Ormandy showed alveolar proliferations that look like bunches of grapes on a vine or clusters of cherry blossoms on a branch, and branching mammary ducts that looked like river deltas or the root system of a tree. When I asked him about the similarities of the structures at all scales, he said, "It's all about maximising surface area. Whenever you need to transport liquid efficiently around a system, you use a branching formation." (That may not be an exact quote -- I didn't write it down because my hands were full with a glass of wine. Which might be another reason why it's not an exact quote.)

This NASA image is of a Russian river delta in summer: perhaps you are looking at Mother Earth's mammary gland.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coffee is good for you

According to, epidemiological and animal studies have shown that caffeine may help prevent neuro-degeneration associated with Alzheimer's disease. This calls for a celebratory cappuccino!
Key findings presented in "Therapeutic Opportunities for Caffeine in Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases":

* Multiple beneficial effects of caffeine to normalize brain function and prevent its degeneration
* Caffeine's neuroprotective profile and its ability to reduce amyloid-beta production
* Caffeine as a candidate disease-modifying agent for Alzheimer's disease
* Positive impact of caffeine on cognition and memory performance

Via The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.