Snapshots from Neuroscience 2015. This week in Abstract Science.

This week we attended Neuroscience 2015, the Society for Neuroscience’s Annual Meeting, in Chicago, IL. We spent the week blogging about orphan diseases, imaging tools for researching HD and using multiple models to study MS, but so much more happened at the conference. Here, we recap some interesting topics that were presented.

Premature Brain Connections

(NPR, 10/19/15, Jon Hamilton)

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that pre-term infants have abnormal brain connections, which could explain why they are more likely to develop autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study, presented at Neuroscience 2015, used two different types of magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain functions of full-term and pre-term infants. The researchers are continuing to monitor the brains of the children to see which ones actually develop disorders. Another study presented by researchers from Wayne State University found that some of the brain connection differences found in preemies at birth may also be present during pregnancy.

Wired to Improve Paralysis

(MIT Review, 10/20/15, Antonio Regalado)

Scientists from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland took one step closer toward using a wireless system to transmit brain signals through the air to electronics sewn into the limbs of paralyzed people. In work presented at Neuroscience 2015, the researchers said the electronics were able to get around a paralyzed man’s spinal injury and permit him to use an implant in his brain to move his arm and hand. While the man’s movements are very rough, it nonetheless represents the first time signals collected in the brain have been conveyed directly to electrodes placed inside someone’s arm to restore movement.

A Cancer Drug for PD?

(Forbes, 10/21/15, Emily Mullin)

Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center found that a leukemia drug improved cognition, motor function and non-motor function, such as constipation, in a small group of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD.) The findings from the Phase 1 study, presented at Neuroscience 2015, represent the first time a therapy appears to reverse cognitive and motor decline in patients with Parkinson’s disease, according to the researchers. Larger studies will be needed to assess the drug’s true impact, which scientists think may work in PD patients by turning on a low-level biological process that clears away malfunctioning proteins in the brain.

Politics Disrupting Science

(Modern Healthcare, 10/21/15, Andis Robeznieks)

Appearing before a captive audience at Neuroscience 2015, NIH Director Francis Collins talked about some of the early progress emerging from the BRAIN Initiative, which has invested US$85 million this year in neurotechnology research. But Collins said the ability of the NIH—the largest funder of biomedical research in the world—to support groundbreaking research is threatened by the political discord in Washington. Congress’ failure to pass a budget could lead to another government shutdown.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery