Stories about: biomarkers

Early brain checkups for dyslexia, autism and more

Researchers are seeking to track the brain at earlier and earlier ages (here, the brain of a newborn baby born 10 weeks prematurely). © FNNDSC 2011

For the third year running, my daughter is participating in a dyslexia study she entered at age 5, just after finishing preschool. Thinking she was part of a game, she spent about 45 minutes lying still in a rocket ship (in reality, an MRI scanner), doing mental tasks she believed would help lost aliens find their way back to their planet.

All the while, her brain was being imaged, helping a team led by Nadine Gaab of Children’s Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience to find a pattern indicating that she might be at risk for dyslexia. Such signatures might flag children who could benefit from early intervention, sparing them the frustration of struggling with dyslexia once in school.

Getting brain MRIs from young childrenwithout resorting to sedation — is a difficult feat (Gaab and colleagues shared their protocol in the Journal of Visualized Experiments). But as reported in today’s Boston Globe, Gaab and Children’s neuroradiologist Ellen Grant are pushing the envelope even further, trying to find MRI signatures of dyslexia in infants.

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The brain whisperer: Tracking EEG footprints of autism and mental illness

EEG signals may reflect underlying brain connectivity patterns in autism. This brain has less dense local clusters linked by long-range connections, which may represent a normal pattern. The brain at right has denser, more uniform local connectivity with fewer long-distance connections in some regions.

Bill Bosl is used to looking for patterns. A computer scientist trained in atmospheric physics, geophysics and mathematics, he’s invented a method for computing properties of porous materials from CT scans. At the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, he worked on remote sensing problems, reading complex wave patterns to discern the location of groundwater, oil deposits and fault lines.

Today, he’s trying to measure thought – to compute what’s going on in hard-to-understand disorders like autism, which is currently diagnosed purely on the basis of behavior.  “The mathematical methods are very similar,” he says. “You’re analyzing waves.”

The waves in this case are electroencephalograms (EEGs), those squiggly lines generated by electrical activity in the brain. In autism,

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A urine test for brain tumors?

A urine sample can tell you many things. It can reveal pregnancy, signal an infection or unmask drug use. Could it also tell you about brain tumors? Maybe.

Current image-based screening for brain tumors and other neurologic diseases is time-consuming, costly and poses some risk—especially for young children who must be sedated to hold still in the scanner. The ordeal is multiplied for children who have had brain surgery and need frequent checks for disease resurgence — especially if they don’t live close to pediatric neuroimaging facilities.

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Improving global health: texting and behavioral economics

This urine test gives a numerical readout that TB patients can text to clinicians.

The number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide is approaching 5 billion, many of them in developing countries where cell phones are the most reliable communications platform. So it’s no wonder that they’re becoming a global health tool to combat diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS.

In a recently reported trial in Kenya, for example, HIV patients who were texted weekly on their cell phones

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The latest twists in angiogenesis research

Medulloblastoma cells (green) are growing around this cerebellar blood vessel and inducing growth of new vessels nearby (red). Courtesy Matija Snuderl & Rakesh Jain.

An update last week on angiogenesis research revealed surprising twists in the story of fighting cancer by cutting off the tumor’s blood supply. The latest findings, reported by top researchers at an international pediatric oncology meeting in Boston, show that the story is much more nuanced. If big questions seem to go begging in the emerging story, you’re not alone in thinking so!

Anti-angiogenic drugs can kill some tumors by cutting off their blood supply. But surprisingly, in two animal studies using very high doses, the drugs turned some tumors more malignant and metastatic, said Rakesh Jain, PhD, by increasing the hypoxic zone; low oxygen conditions somehow promote tumor progression in these models.

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Biopharm America 2010, Day 1: “Consumer Reports” for diagnostics

As the keynote speaker at this year’s BioPharm America 2010 conference, Dr. Isaac Kohane, the Henderson Professor of Pediatrics and Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard Medical School and Chair of  the Informatics Program at Children’s Hospital Boston made a provocative point: We as consumers spend much more energy reporting on crash testing in the automotive industry than we do evaluating the predictive value of our diagnostic tests.

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On the sidelines of personalized medicine

We’re supposedly in the dawn of personalized medicine, where advances in molecular biology are providing doctors the opportunity to optimize each patient’s care. As a Technology Marketing Specialist in Children’s Hospital Boston’s Technology and Innovation Development Office, I should be enjoying the view. But I’m still waiting: how will it happen, when will it happen?

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Personalized rational medicine for all

Electrospray needle of a mass spectrometer

As a medical student at the last century’s end, I was taught to practice evidence-based medicine, to use the scientific method instead of the largely anecdotal, experiential practice of the physicians that came before. At this century’s beginning, medicine has begun yet another tectonic shift, termed personalized medicine.

Striving to use information about individual patients to their own benefit is probably as old as medicine itself.

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