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Feb 25
Sleep problems may indicate multiple
Scientists have found that multiple sclerosis (MS) may be identified at least five years earlier as the patients were more likely to undergo treatments for nervous system disorders like pain or sleep problems, according to a study.

MS results from the body's immune system attacking myelin -- fatty material that enables rapid transmission of electrical signals -- which disrupts the communication between the brain and other parts of the body, leading to vision problems, muscle weakness, difficulty with balance and coordination, and cognitive impairments.

"The existence of such `warning signs` are well-accepted for Alzheimer`s disease and Parkinson`s disease, but there has been little investigation into a similar pattern for MS," said lead researcher Helen Tremlett from the Division of Neurology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

"We now need to delve deeper into this phenomenon, perhaps using data-mining techniques. We want to see if there are discernible patterns related to sex, age or the `type` of MS they eventually develop," Tremlett added.

For the study, published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, the team examined health records of 14,000 people with multiple sclerosis and compared them to the health records of 67,000 people without the disease.

Fibromyalgia -- a condition involving widespread musculoskeletal pain -- was found more than three times in people who were later diagnosed with MS as compared to those who did not.

Irritable bowel syndrome was almost twice as common in people who developed the disorder. Migraine headaches and any mood or anxiety disorder, which includes depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder were also found in higher rates among the group.

Further, higher rates of these illnesses also correspond with higher use of medications for musculoskeletal disorders, nervous system disorders, and disorders of the genito-urinary tract, along with antidepressants and antibiotics.

The findings may enable physicians to diagnose the disease earlier and start the treatment, thus possibly slowing the damage it causes to the brain and spinal cord.

Feb 25
Smelling coffee may boost your analytical skills for GMAT
If you love the fragrance of coffee, there are high chances of better performance in analytical tasks, a new study has found.

According to the researchers, smelling a coffee-like scent -- which has no caffeine in it -- has an effect similar to that of drinking coffee, suggesting a placebo effect of coffee scent.

The findings also suggested that the scent of coffee alone may help people perform better on the analytical portion of the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) -- a computer adaptive test required by many business schools.

"It`s not just that the coffee-like scent helped people perform better on analytical tasks, which was already interesting," said co-author Adriana Madzharov from the Stevens Institute of Technology in the US.

"But they also thought they would do better, and we demonstrated that this expectation was at least partly responsible for their improved performance," Madzharov added.

For the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the research team administered a 10-question GMAT algebra test in a computer lab to about 100 undergraduate business students.

The participants were divided into two groups. One group took the test in the presence of an ambient coffee-like scent, while a control group took the same test -- but in an unscented room.

The researchers found that the group in the coffee-smelling room scored significantly higher on the test.

The team also designed a follow-up survey -- conducted among more than 200 new participants -- quizzing them on beliefs about various scents and their perceived effects on human performance.

The participants believed they would feel more alert and energetic in the presence of a coffee scent, versus a flower scent or no scent; and that exposure to coffee scent would increase their performance on mental tasks.

The results suggest that expectations about performance can be explained by beliefs that coffee scent alone makes people more alert and energetic.

Previous studies have also suggested that coffee may lessen the risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia.

Feb 25
Married People Less Likely To Experience Dementia
A new study has found that married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.
On the other hand, divorcees are about twice as likely as married people to develop dementia, the study indicated, with divorced men showing a greater disadvantage than divorced women.

"This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults in the US continues to grow. As people live longer and their marital histories become more complex, marital status is an important but overlooked social risk/protective factor for dementia," said Hui Liu, Professor at Michigan State University.

For the study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, the researchers analysed nationally-representative data from the Health and Retirement Study, from 2000-2014.

The researchers analyzed more than 15,000 respondents aged 52 and older and measured their cognitive function every two years.

They categorized people into four groups: divorced or separated, widowed, never married, and cohabiters. Among them, the divorced had the highest risk of dementia.

The researchers also found differing economic resources only partly account for higher dementia risk among divorced, widowed and never-married respondents but did not account for higher risk in cohabiters.

In addition, health-related factors such as behaviors and chronic conditions slightly influenced risk among the divorced and married, but did not seem to affect others.

Feb 11
Tiny Robotic Thread Can Slip Through Brain's Blood Vessels
Researchers have developed a magnetically steerable, thread-like robot that may actively glide through narrow, winding pathways like the brain's tiny blood vessels.

The study, published in the journal Science Robotics, revealed that the magnetically controlled device could one day deliver clot-reducing therapies in response to strokes or other brain blockages, Xinhua reported.

"If acute stroke can be treated within the first 90 minutes or so, patients' survival rates could increase significantly," said Xuanhe Zhao, Associate Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"If we could design a device to reverse blood vessel blockage within this 'golden hour,' we could potentially avoid permanent brain damage. That's our hope."

To clear blood clots in the brain, surgeons currently need to insert a thin wire through a patient's main artery, usually in the leg or groin, and manually rotate the wire up into the damaged brain vessel, guided by a fluoroscope that images the blood vessels using X-rays.

However, the procedure is physically taxing, requiring surgeons who must be specifically trained in the task, to endure repeated radiation exposure.

The researchers from MIT created a robotic thread core made from bendy, springy nickel-titanium alloy, and they coated the wire core in a rubbery paste filled with magnetic particles.

They then bonded the magnetic covering with a kind of hydrogel that gives the thread a slippery, friction-free surface but does not affect the responsiveness of the magnetic particles, according to the study.

The researchers tested the thread in a life-size silicone replica of the brain's major blood vessels modeled after scanning an actual patient's brain. Those silicone vessels also have clots and abnormal sacs.

They filled the vessels with a liquid simulating the viscosity of blood, then successfully manipulated a large magnet around the model to steer the robot through the vessels' winding, narrow paths.

The team demonstrated that the thread's wire core can also be replaced with an optical fiber that can activate the laser once the robot reached a target region to clear blockages.

They are preparing to test the robotic thread in vivo, according to the researchers.

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