With advances in technology and medicine, our understanding of the brain—and how to study it, improve it, and even fix it—is expanding. Here are 8 of the biggest brain-related breakthroughs we witnessed in 2018.
1. New Alzheimer’s Drug May Slow Decline A company called Eisai and its U.S. partner Biogen presented some impressive results to the Alzheimer’s Association annual meeting in July. An experimental drug called BAN2401 was found to produce a 47% reduction in cognitive decline in 18 months. The lab-engineered immune system protein works by removing amyloid plaques from the brain. At its highest dose, the drug cleared the plaques from the brains of the patients by 93%. The companies are currently working on an advanced Phase 3 clinical trial, which is the final stage before they seek full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
2. Cognitive Skills Training Increases Post-test Scores and Behavior for Students with ADHD In a randomized controlled study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, a team of researchers at the Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research examined the transfer effects of cognitive skills training on brain skills and behavior in children with ADHD. Specifically, the research looked at a one-on-one cognitive training program’s effects on memory, visual and auditory processing, processing speed, reasoning, attention, overall IQ, and behavior for students ages 8 to 14. The results showed greater pre-test to post-test change in scores on all variables for the treatment group versus the control group with statistically significant differences noted in working memory, long-term memory, logic and reasoning, auditory processing, and IQ score.
3. Concussion Symptoms in Young Children Last 3x Longer Than Older Teens and Adults Researchers from the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine found that concussions can have a prolonged effect for children under age 13. They found that while an adult might take only a week to recover from a concussion’s symptoms, young children could take two to three weeks. The researchers theorized that the prolonged symptoms might be due to the fact that children are more vulnerable to conditions like ADHD, stress, anxiety, and depression.
4. Largest Brain Imaging Study Ever Identifies Drivers of Brain Aging In the largest brain study of its kind, researchers looked at 62,454 brain SPECT scans from more than 30,000 people to investigate factors that accelerate brain aging. The scans came from a wide span of ages, from 9 months old to 105 years old. Accelerated aging was interpreted by comparing the scan to the actual chronological age of the person. Researchers studied 128 brain regions in an attempt to predict the chronological age of the person. They found that among other disorders, alcohol, schizophrenia, and cannabis use were related to the brain aging faster.
5. ThinkRx Produces Changes in Brain Connectivity for People with TBI A study published in the Journal of Neuroimaging found that brain connectivity and changes in brain connectivity were evident after completing a robust cognitive training program called ThinkRx. The subjects had varying degrees of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and for all cases, neuropsychological testing and qualitative outcomes measures, increased. Normalization of DMN connectivity, including decreased hyper-connectivity and reoccurrence of anticorrelated activity was evident in the most severe TBI case. At the group level, significant training-induced changes in neural connectivity were identified.
6. ADHD Tied to Increased Concussion Risk for Kids Compared to other youth, children, teens and young adults with ADHD may be more than four times more likely to sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBI). This comes from a study that examined national health insurance data on more than 73,000 youth with ADHD, ages 3 to 29 years old, as well as a control group of similarly aged people without ADHD. While only 2.2% of the control group had a TBI, about 9.8% of the group with ADHD had experienced a TBI. The researchers point out that impulsivity is “very much linked with risky health behaviors.”
7. Researchers Close in on CTE Diagnosis in Living Humans Although diagnosing CTE is currently only possible post-mortem, researchers believe they’re getting closer to being able to diagnose the neurodegenerative brain disease in living humans. At the CTE Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine, researchers are happy to see the stigma of CTE being lifted because former players and their families are less reluctant to donate their brains. Now, brains arrive at the facility almost every day. This gives the researchers more opportunities to study CTE and they’re learning more about white matter structural changes and inflammatory changes, which is giving them new insight that may soon help them study the disease in living people.
8. Aging Brain Can Still Grow, Regenerate Cells Where once researchers told us that the brain stops growing, a new report says that may not be true. Research published in Cell Stem Cell examined the brain tissue of healthy older men and women and found they can generate just as many new brain cells as younger people. This was even found to be true in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is important for memory, emotion, and cognition. The researchers also found that the better the blood flow to the area of the brain, the greater the chance of cell regeneration.