Archive for May, 2017

An illustration of the ear and its anatomy, including the inner ear.

Growing the Inner Ear: Healing the Hearing Impaired?

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An illustration of the ear and its anatomy, including the inner ear.

The solution to inner ear issues may be near.

As adults grow older, they become more likely to develop hearing and balance disorders. Hearing loss can result from a multitude of factors, including bacterial and viral infections, environmental and work-related noise exposure, genetics, medication toxicity and trauma.

Some of these conditions affect the cochlea, which is the inner ear. As the innermost part of the vertebrate ear, this section of the body is responsible for sound detection and balance. If this part of the body is damaged, your ability to hear suffers greatly.

New research at the Indiana University School of Medicine has developed a way to grow inner ear tissue from human stem cells. The researchers’ findings may lead to better methods of treating hearing loss. Find out how they were able to achieve this success and what it means for the those with hearing impairments.

Research Into the Inner Ear

“The inner ear is only one of few organs with which biopsy is not performed and because of this, human inner ear tissues are scarce for research purposes,” said Eri Hashino, Ph.D., Ruth C. Holton Professor of Otolaryngology at IU School of Medicine. “Dish-grown human inner ear tissues offer unprecedented opportunities to develop and test new therapies for various inner ear disorders.”

In the past, researchers have had difficulties growing inner ear tissue. Traditionally, scientists cultivate human stem cells in a flat layer on a culture dish. However, this method proved unsuccessful in producing viable tissue. Research leads, Karl R. Koehler and Dr. Hashino, instead tested a different culturing technique called three-dimensional culture.

The three-dimensional culture is a technique that grows stem cells in a floating ball-shaped aggregate. This method allows the cells to grow more naturally. They incubate in an environment similar to the body. Through expert guidance, the scientists were able to create structures called “organoids.” These structures contain sensory and supporting cells akin to the ones in the inner ear.

What Does This Research Mean for the Future?

“This is essentially a recipe for how to make human inner ears from stem cells,” said Dr. Koehler, lead author of the study and whose research lab works on modeling human development. “After tweaking our recipe for about a year, we were shocked to discover that we could make multiple inner ear organoids in each pea-sized cell aggregate.”

“We also found neurons, like those that transmit signals from the ear to the brain, forming connections with sensory cells,” Dr. Koehler said. “This is an exciting feature of these organoids because both cell types are critical for proper hearing and balance.”

Dr. Hashino and his colleagues hope to use this new knowledge to study diseases and disorders that affect hearing. In addition to learning more about the ear, the scientists hope to develop new therapies and drugs.

“We hope to discover new drugs capable of helping regenerate the sound – sending hair cells in the inner ear of those who have severe hearing problems,” Dr. Hashino said. If successful, then this is another step towards healing people with hearing impairments.

Patient in deep sleep on a medical bed in hospital ward.

Deep Sleep: Staying Young While Your Old

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Patient in deep sleep on a medical bed in hospital ward.

Staying healthy as an older adult calls for deep sleep.

Growing older is always an adjustment as the human body’s needs tend to change. Also, the elderly is more susceptible to debilitating conditions, like wakefulness and the inability to sleep. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Sleep is always necessary. In fact, a recent study at the University of California – Berkeley found that deep sleep can fight off mental and physical ailments, keeping the body effectively younger.

Do Older Adults Need Sleep?

Teenagers and children require more sleep than adults. The CDC even recommends that adolescents should receive 8-10 hours and school-aged children should be getting 9 to 12 hours a night. For adults, 18 and older only, the CDC suggest 7 or more hours of sleep per night. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need it at all. Sleep is critical for anyone. When you put your sleep health in jeopardy, your body reacts accordingly.

What Happens When You Don’t Receive Enough Deep Sleep?

According to the researchers at UC Berkeley, quality sleep is important for the elderly. The scientists linked Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke in the elderly to a lack of sleep.

“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said the article’s senior author, Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”

Other studies show that poor sleep can cause older adults cognitive functions to weaken. Furthermore, adults start to experience inadequate sleep around their 30s. By the time these people age, their lack of sleep will affect their health more and more.

Why Natural Sleep Is Important

Modern medicine has come far, but it cannot replace natural sleep. The researchers at UC Berkeley state that pills used to aid sleep do not provide the same benefits as regular deep sleep. The brain needs deep sleep to replenish most of its functions.

It is hard for older adults to sleep naturally because of a change in their brain chemistry. The brain doesn’t produce the necessary waves that promote deep curative sleep. Also, the elderly receives less of the neurochemicals that grant us the ability to switch from sleep to wakefulness effectively.

“The parts of the brain deteriorating earliest are the same regions that give us deep sleep,” said article lead author Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

“The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line kneejerk response to sleep problems,” Walker said. “Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.”

Hopefully, the researchers and doctors looking into sleep can find a way to improve the quality sleep health in older adults. This research will help prevent cognitive issues and prevent developing diseases in the future.

A young child aged around 3, 4 or 5 fast asleep, with untreated sleep apnea.

Untreated Sleep Apnea: The Harm to Your Child’s Brain Cells

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A young child aged around 3, 4 or 5 fast asleep, with untreated sleep apnea.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to a decrease in brain function.

There are several key signs of sleep apnea that you should look for in your child. For example, snoring may seem like a common occurrence, but it is usually a sign of something obstructing the airways. You may also want to look out for recurring daytime sleepiness. Untreated sleep apnea can cause your child’s health to deteriorate over time. In fact, scientists have found that the disorder has the potential to harm a child’s brain cells if left unchecked.

Untreated Sleep Apnea and Developing Conditions

Conditions that affect your breathing often seem like a minor inconvenience rather than a pressing matter. However, the truth is that sleep disorders affect you over an extended period of time. The longer you wait to treat the problem, the worse your symptoms become. The disorder can even develop into chronic diseases. Some researchers have even associated untreated sleep apnea with diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

Brain Cells Affecting Mood and Cognition

At the University of Chicago Medical Center, scientists performed a study examining the sleep and brain patterns of children with and without severe sleep apnea, both ages 7 to 11 years old. The children stayed overnight at the university’s pediatric sleep laboratory while undergoing neuro-cognitive testing and MRI scans.

What they found was a significant difference between the two groups of kids. Those with moderate to severe sleep apnea had reductions in grey matter, a major part of the central nervous system. The children who slept with trouble showed no signs of reduced brain activity.

“The images of gray matter changes are striking,” said one of the study’s senior authors, Leila Kheirandish-Gozal, MD, director of pediatric clinical sleep research at the University of Chicago. “We do not yet have a precise guide to correlate loss of gray matter with specific cognitive deficits, but there is clear evidence of widespread neuronal damage or loss compared to the general population.”

Grey matter is brain cells that aid in a variety of essential functions. These functions include the brain’s ability to control movement, memory, emotions, speech, perception, decision-making and self-control. Grey matter is found in several regions of the brain including the frontal, prefrontal, and parietal cortices, as well as the temporal lobe and the brain stem.

Are Their Consequences to Lost Grey Matter

“MRI scans give us a bird’s eye view of the apnea-related difference in volume of various parts of the brain, but they don’t tell us, at the cellular level, what happened to the affected neurons or when,” said co-author David Gozal, MD, professor of pediatrics, University of Chicago. “The scans don’t have the resolution to determine whether brain cells have shrunk or been lost completely,” he added. “We can’t tell exactly when the damage occurred. But previous studies from our group showed that we can connect the severity of the disease with the extent of the cognitive deficits when such deficits are detectable.”

This study brings up a lot of questions. The scientists hope that more advanced brain scanning methods can help them measure if the lost grey matter has any effect on children. Future will determine definitive answers.

A woman is suffering from a sleep disturbance.

Bone Formation at Risk Due to Prolonged Sleep Disturbance

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A woman is suffering from a sleep disturbance.

Sleep disturbance can weaken bone development.

It always seems like sleep escapes us, and when we don’t receive enough this can negatively affect our health. Sleep disturbance has long been associated with the development of harmful conditions. While a lack of sleep can seem like no big deal, depriving yourself of the proper amount will only make things worse. Some researchers are still discovering links between certain diseases and a lack of sleep. Recently, the University of Colorado found that prolonged sleep disturbance can lead to lower bone formation.

Bone Formation

Our bones are the structure of our body, giving us shape and supporting mobility. They also provide a variety of benefits that most are unaware of. For example, the bones produce blood that the body uses and they protect the internal organs from damage.

Like many other parts of the body, the bones replace old cells with new ones. Bone formation allows for the development of new and healthy bones. When this process in disturbed, the bones become weaker and more prone to damage. This condition is called osteoporosis.

Why Sleep Disturbance Is a Risk

Researchers at the University of Colorado tested 10 healthy men for three weeks. During that time, the subjects stayed at a lab to be monitored. In order to mimic sleep restriction, the men were tasked with sleeping four hours later than they did the previous day. They were also only allowed to sleep for 5.6 hours per 24-hour period.

Behavior like this is common for people who work late shifts or travel a lot. Odd work hours can force some to sleep at different times for short periods of time and people who travel are likely to suffer from jetlag. This sleep disturbance interferes with the circadian rhythms. This is our body internal clock, which tells us when we should sleep. The results of the study showed that after three weeks, all the men had significantly reduced levels of a bone formation marker called P1NP.

What Researchers Had to Say

“This altered bone balance creates a potential bone loss window that could lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures,” lead investigator Christine Swanson, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Aurora, Colo., said. Swanson completed the research while she was a fellow at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore., with Drs. Eric S. Orwoll and Steven A. Shea.

“If chronic sleep disturbance is identified as a new risk factor for osteoporosis, it could help explain why there is no clear cause for osteoporosis in the approximately 50 percent of the estimated 54 million Americans with low bone mass or osteoporosis,” Swanson said.

“These data suggest that sleep disruption may be most detrimental to bone metabolism earlier in life when bone growth and accrual are crucial for long-term skeletal health,” she said.

This study is a shining example of why people should try to get more sleep. The CDC believes sleep health is important and found that more than 25 percent of the U.S. population receives an inadequate amount of sleep. To find out how much sleep you need, visit the CDC’s sleep guidelines.

Dementia - Medical Concept on Red Background with Blurred Text and Composition of Pills, Syringe and Stethoscope.

Hearing Could Be an Early Indicator of Dementia

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Dementia - Medical Concept on Red Background with Blurred Text and Composition of Pills, Syringe and Stethoscope.

Can scientists detect dementia before it’s too late?

As we grow older the risk of developing debilitating conditions increases. As a result, staying healthy becomes more and more of a pressing concern for older adults. The truth is that the body doesn’t work as well as it used to and some of our functions may potentially fail as we age. Thankfully, scientists and researchers are always looking into how to treat and detect these situations before they arise.

Take dementia for instance. There are several causes of this degenerative disorder, including neurological diseases, vascular disorders, brain injuries, and more. However, there is one commonality that patients with these diseases share – their age. Approximately 5 percent to 8 percent of adults over 65 have some form of dementia. Even worse, that risk doubles every five years after people reach the age of 65.

One important aspect of treating this disease is detecting it early. Researchers have found a new way to determine if patients are affected by the disease.

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia comes in two different forms. The first is cortical dementias, which usually shows up in the form of Alzheimer’s or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This form of dementia can cause server memory loss, cognitive issues and may impair your ability to remember words.

The second form of dementia is subcortical. The diseases that are most commonly associated with this are Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and HIV. Patients with these diseases are very likely to difficulty thinking quickly or starting a task.

Detecting the Disorder

The hard part about detecting dementia is that these changes may not appear at first or can develop slowly over time. This can lead to some people not detecting signs of the disorder until it is too late. The biggest indicator of the condition in its early stages is memory and thinking problems. Now, scientists at the Baycrest-University of Memphis are saying that hearing and communication issues are a sign as well.

The brainstem and the auditory cortex are the regions of the brain known to process speech. Once thought to resistant to dementia’s effects, the region has shown trouble processing speech from sound to words. In order to look more into this change, researchers used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the brain’s electrical activity in the brainstem and auditory cortex. With 80 percent accuracy, they were able to predict mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that can develop into Alzheimer’s.

“This opens a new door in identifying biological markers for dementia since we might consider using the brain’s processing of speech sounds as a new way to detect the disease earlier,” says Dr. Claude Alain, the study’s senior author and senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and professor at the University of Toronto’s psychology department.

Dr. Alain continues, stating that “Losing the ability to communicate is devastating and this finding could lead to the development of targeted treatments or interventions to maintain this capability and slow progression of the disease.”

There is no cure for dementia but with continued study, scientists can find new and innovative ways to help people with the disease live normally.

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