Scientific Discoveries this Week – 10/26/14

Austin, Texas: A new study has found that the brain mechanisms engaged when people allow their minds to rest and reflect on things they have learned before may actually boost later learning. Researchers at University of Texas at Austin have concluded that mental rest strengthens and consolidates memories from recent learning tasks that will in fact boost future learning. Margaret Schlichting, a graduate student researcher, and Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, gave participants in the study two learning tasks in which participants were asked to memorize different series of associated photo pairs. Between the tasks, participants rested and could think about anything they chose. Brain scans showed that threads of information were making connections that helped in absorbing information for a later use. Preston suggests that this can be applied to everyday learning. Teachers or professors can spark initial thinking of what students already know before actually teaching a new topic, in order to help students’ transition and connect their knowledge with new topics.

Australia: The St.Vincent’s Hospital Lung Transplant Unit has carried out the world’s first distant procurement of hearts donated after circulatory death (DCD hearts). This just means that the hearts were resuscitated and then successfully transplanted into patients with heart failures. According to St Vincent’s Heart/Lung Transplant surgeon, Professor Kumud Dhital, who performed both transplants, “It is interesting to note that DCD hearts were utilized for the first wave of human heart transplants in the 1960’s with the donor and recipient in adjacent operating rooms. This co-location of donor and recipient is extremely rare in the current era leading us to rely solely on brain dead donors, until now.”

Japan: Simulating the behavior of a single particle can be quite a challenging task in physics. So, Dr. C. M. Chandrashekar, a post-doctoral researcher in Professor Thomas Busch’s Quantum Systems Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, is running simulations and carrying out analytical studies to understand how single quantum particles travel. He has found out a few behaviors of the particles. When a particle travels forward (in a lattice) and approaches a junction, it can go right or left. But under the rules of quantum mechanics, the particle does not have to choose, so it can follow both directions and end up in two places at once. At the end of the simulation, Dr. Chandrashekar is able to combine data taken into a probability distribution, a graph that represents the probability of where a particle might be located.

St. Louis, Missouri: Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has described a way to convert human skin cells directly into a specific type of brain cell affected by Huntington’s disease. This new process does not pass through a stem cell phase, unlike other techniques. This can avoid the production of multiple cell types. Also, the researchers tested these cells on mice and data shows that the converted cells can survive at least six months after injection into the brain. “Not only did these transplanted cells survive in the mouse brain, they showed functional properties similar to those of native cells,” said Andrew S. Yoo, PhD, assistant professor of developmental biology. To study the cellular properties associated with the disease, the investigators now are taking skin cells from patients with Huntington’s disease and reprogramming them into neurons. They also plan to inject healthy reprogrammed human cells into mice with a model of Huntington’s disease to see if this has any effect on the symptoms.

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