Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 15th 2015 Contents Forget horoscopes or fortune
tellers. There s a new way to tell
your future, and it involves a much
more reliable medium: human
A new study looks at over 70 sci-
entific publications about brain
scans such as functional magnetic
resonance imaging or electroen-
cephalography, noninvasive tests
that measure brain activity.
The paper that runs in the latest
edition of Neuron concludes that
doctors might have more success
treating some patients if they exam-
ined the way a person s brain func-
Scan a brain, read a mind?
Brain scans have been used to
make basic discoveries about
human behaviour for decades, but
they are not routinely ordered to
determine someone s overall health
or course of treatment in the way
as blood test are used.
This new study suggests tech-
nology in this area has become so
advanced that approaches to treat-
ment would be more effective if
brain scans were used more rou-
For instance, when someone is
being treated for a mental disorder
such as depression or anxiety, there
is only a 50 per cent success rate
typically, according to John Gabrieli,
the lead author on this paper.
The professor of cognitive neu-
roscience at MIT believes that a
brain scan could cut out a lot of
the guesswork on what might make
the most effective treatment for a
person s depression.
"In so many situations right now,
we have almost no idea which is
the best way to promote a person s
health," Gabrieli said. Some people
may respond better to behavioral
modification. Some may respond
better to treating their depression
with drugs. Some people might
even have an adverse reaction to
certain medication. If the doctor
were to scan that person s brain
first, the scans could give the doc-
tor an objective way to decide what
treatment would work best for the
"With this kind of science, we
don t have to wait for a failure,"
Gabrieli said. "We know what will
be the best fit."
Being able to anticipate where
someone could fail might also give
a doctor an opportunity to inter-
vene before they do. For instance,
a brain scan can show the greater
likelihood of a teen getting hooked
on drugs. If doctors could know
that a teen was particularly vul-
nerable to addiction, they could
attempt steer them away from that
On a scan, you can really see the
difference between a healthy brain
and an addict s brain.
A healthy brain and an addict s
brain will look different using a
brain scan. A healthy brain will
show even blood flow and activity,
an addict s brain would show more
problems on a scan.
There could be many additional
health and education applications
for these kinds of scans, Gabrieli
Brain scans could help predict
what therapy would be most effec-
tive to help someone quit smoking.
A brain scan could help teachers
better understand which kinds of
lessons would be best for a student.
Brain scans could help a parole
board better predict whether a
criminal would reoffend if released
"Overall (this) is a very exciting
perspective," wrote Mike Gazzaniga
in an e-mail after reviewing the
Gazzaniga is the director of the
SAGE Center for the Study of Mind
at the University of California Santa
Barbara. He agrees with the authors
that this technology should and
will be used more. This is "going
to help in the thorny areas such as
psychiatric disease. I see that hap-
pening in the near future."
Brain scans will become another
effective tool to help doctors tailor
their treatment for individual
"We now commonly take blood
tests for a huge variety of disease,"
Gazzaniga wrote. "When it comes
to human behaviour, brain imaging
might well serve a similar purpose."
As the imaging has become
highly accurate and highly specific,
Gazzaniga adds the "task now is
to figure out how the individual
variation that is seen relates to a
specific person s behaviour. It is
an exciting time."
Brain scans could help predict behaviour
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
The key to learning and memory in early life is
a lengthy nap, say scientists.
Trials with 216 babies up to 12 months old indicated
they were unable to remember new tasks if they did
not have a lengthy sleep soon afterwards.
The University of Sheffield team suggested the
best time to learn may be just before sleep and
emphasised the importance of reading at bedtime.
Experts said sleep may be much more important
in early years than at other ages.
People spend more of their time asleep as babies
than at any other point in their lives.
Yet the researchers, in Sheffield and Ruhr University
Bochum, in Germany, say "strikingly little is known"
about the role of sleep in the first year of life.
They taught six- to 12-month-olds three new tasks
involving playing with hand puppets.
Half the babies slept within four hours of learning,
while the rest either had no sleep or napped for fewer
than 30 minutes.
The next day, the babies were encouraged to repeat
what they had been taught.
The results, published in Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, showed "sleeping like a baby"
was vital for learning.
On average one-and-a-half tasks could be repeated
after having a substantial nap.
Yet zero tasks could be repeated if there was little
Dr Jane Herbert, from the department of psychology
at the University of Sheffield, told the BBC News
website: "Those who sleep after learning learn well,
those not sleeping don t learn at all."
She said it had been assumed that "wide-awake
was best" for learning, but instead it "may be the
events just before sleep that are most important".
And that the findings showed "just how valuable"
reading books with children before sleep could be.
Dr Herbert added: "Parents get loads of advice,
some saying fixed sleep, some flexible, these findings
suggest some flexibility would be useful, but they
don t say what parents should do."
A study last year uncovered the mechanisms of
memory in sleep. It showed how new connections
between brain cells formed during sleep.
Prof Derk-Jan Dijk, a sleep scientists at the Uni-
versity of Surrey, said: "It may be that sleep is much
more important at some ages than others, but that
remains to be firmly established." (BBC)
Regular naps 'key
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