The greatest threat to humanity is all in our minds – Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s affect millions, while one in six of us will die with dementia. Andrew Preston put squeamishness aside to observe the brain scientists who are on one of civilization’s most ambitious quests: to prolong life itself.
“With a donation of a heart you see an immediate benefit, but with the brain it takes time,” says Dr Al-Sarraj.
“There are research projects which are about to break through to halt the progress of Alzheimer’s. Then you would at least be able to plan your life while you still have some mental capacity. If we can stop its progress then it could become like diabetes so that people can live with it. I will be 60 in a few years’ time and if I get dementia I will be out, but maybe in the next generation people will get dementia but be able to deal with it and keep working for a further 15 or 20 years. ”
Dr Al-Sarraj will donate his brain for research, as will Dr Dexter.
“Years ago there was a lot of bad publicity about organs being taken without consent,” says Dr Dexter, “but since the Human Tissue Act in 2004 everything is now much more regulated.”
“If you tell the public the truth, take the mystery out of it and explain exactly why it’s important to donate, then I’m sure more people would sign up. I think once I’ve finished working here I would donate. But if I died while I was still here then I would be asking my colleagues to dissect me and I don’t think that’s fair.”
In the meantime, do they have any tips on how to look after our brains?
As for looking after his own, he admits, “I take flavonoid pills which I get from America, including tangeretin, which is present in the peel of tangerines, and which protects neurons and can slow down the aging process, and also selenium which boosts the immune and anti-oxidant system.”
Both Dr Dexter and Dr Al-Sarraj claim exercise and keeping an active mind are important.
“If once you stop working you don’t do anything you could succumb to neuro-generation quickly”™ claims Dr Al-Sarraj.
“Keep yourself busy and mentally agile by exercising your brain. You need to be challenged as a person. As for supplements like antioxidants and vitamins we need to know more. I don’ t take any but if you go to a conference of neuroscientists, people won’t actually openly say they take anything to keep their brain in good order. But ask anyone there who doesn’t take them to put up their hand, and no hands will go up.”
As he respectfully places the remaining brain tissue back in its container in Room E349, the dissection complete, Dr Gentleman points out yellowy deposits on a blood vessel going into the base of the brain, which could be signs of a high fat diet or smoking. His advice is moderation.
“Don’t smoke, obviously, plus think about diet and exercise. In the Alzheimer’s field it’s becoming clearer that it’s those general lifestyle factors that affect your subsequent risk of deterioration. It’s not going to protect you completely but you do lower the risk.”
http://www.dailymail.co.uk, By Andrew Preston
Share and Enjoy
You might think it’s obvious that one person is smarter than another.
But there are few more controversial areas of science than the study of intelligence and, in reality, there’s not even agreement among researchers about what this word actually means.
Unlike weight and height, which are unambiguous, there is no absolute measure of intelligence, just as there are no absolute measures of honesty or physical fitness.
Nonetheless, over the decades, legions of scientists have devised tests that can show that one person is smarter than another just as surely as Olympic events can shed light on how much you can lift or how far you can jump.
Now my team at the UK Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge has come up with the ultimate test of intelligence.
Like many researchers before us, we began by looking for the smallest number of tests that could cover the broadest range of cognitive skills that are believed to contribute to intelligence, from memory to planning.
But we went one step further. Thanks to recent work with brain scanners, we could make sure that the tests involved as much of the brain as possible – from the outer layers, responsible for higher thought, to deeper-lying structures such as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory. Here’s a longer explanation of the theory and evidence that we used when devising the tests.
The result is a set of tests that probe what might be called your 12 pillars of wisdom. In all, they take about half an hour to complete. Now we’ve teamed up with New Scientist and the Discovery Channel to give you the chance to take the test for yourself.
Do take part! You can see how sturdy your pillars are. And you will help us to place the concept of intelligence on a firmer footing.
Newscientist, Oct 27, 2010