Brains in a dish fight Zika, a wireless device that decodes brain waves, an estrogen-like drug for MS.

Minibrains and Zika

(NPR, 11/13/16, Jon Hamilton)

Minibrains are helping researchers learn how the Zika virus can disrupt human brain formation in the early stages of fetal development. At Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, Thomas Hartung, a researcher and experimental toxicologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said tiny clusters of brain cells grown in a lab dish replicate part of the cell diversity and connectivity of the human brain. Hartung’s team presented details of their Zika findings this week at the neuroscience meeting, and are already planning minibrain studies of other disorders, including autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.

Speechless No More

(Scientific American, 11/17/16, R. Douglas Fields)

A 59-year-old woman paralyzed by locked-in symdrome due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is communicating for the first time in eight years thanks to a wireless device that is decoding her brain waves. The wireless device enables the woman to select letters on a computer screen using her mind alone to share her thoughts. The woman was left completely paralyzed by a disease that attacked the neurons that make her muscles move. Unable to breathe on her own, a tube in her neck pumps air into her lungs and she requires round-the-clock assistance from caretakers. Scientists from Utrecht University in the Netherlands developed the device. They presented their findings this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting. Devices that couple neural activity to computers have been used experimentally before to help patients with a range of neurological disorders, including locked-in syndrome, though none have been used with on a patient with such extensive disabilities.

Advances in MS

(Medpage Today, 11/17/16, Kristina Fiore)

An estradiol analog called NDC-1308 was found to activate oligodendrogenesis, the body’s natural process of remyelination, making it a potential therapy for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Last year, scientists from Endece, the Mequon, Wis.-based company that developed the drug, reported mouse data at the Society for Neuroscience meeting showing how NDC-1308 reproduced remyelination in the cuprizone model of MS. This year, the team investigated how NDC-1308 repairs demyelinated axons via in vitro experiments.

 

                                   —Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery