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Being overweight ‘can exacerbate Alzheimer’s’

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“We need to start thinking about brain health and preventing these diseases much earlier.” 

Being overweight may exacerbate Alzheimer’s disease, new research has revealed.

Researchers found that obesity may contribute toward neural tissue vulnerability, which can make the effects of the disease worse.

The study also said that maintaining a healthy weight could help preserve brain structure in people who are already experiencing mild effects of Alzheimer’s.

The pioneering multimodal neuroimaging study, from the University of Sheffield and University of Eastern Finland, also highlights the impact being overweight in mid-life could have on brain health in older age.

“The diseases that cause dementia such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia lurk in the background for many years, so waiting until your 60s to lose weight is too late,” says study lead author Professor Annalena Venneri, Professor of Clinical Neuropathy at the University of Sheffield.

“It is important to stress this study does not show that obesity causes Alzheimer’s, but what it does show is that being overweight is an additional burden on brain health and it may exacerbate the disease.

“We need to start thinking about brain health and preventing these diseases much earlier.”

In the study, researchers examined MRI brain scans from 47 patients clinically diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia, 68 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 57 cognitively healthy individuals.

The novel study used three complementary, computational techniques to look at the anatomy of the brain, blood flow and the fibres of the brain.

The international team compared multiple brain images and measured differences in local concentrations of brain tissues to assess grey matter volume – which degenerates during the onset of Alzheimer’s – white matter integrity, cerebral blood flow and obesity.

In mild dementia patients, a positive association was found between obesity and grey matter volume around the right temporoparietal junction.

This suggests, say researchers, obesity might contribute toward neural vulnerability in cognitively healthy individuals and those with mild cognitive impairment.

The study also found that maintaining a healthy weight in mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia could help preserve brain structure in the presence of age and disease-related weight loss.

Joint author of the study, Dr Matteo De Marco from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute, adds: “Weight loss is commonly one of the first symptoms in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as people forget to eat or begin to snack on easy-to-grab foods like biscuits or crisps, in place of more nutritional meals.

“We found that maintaining a healthy weight could help preserve brain structure in people who are already experiencing mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia.

“Unlike other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, people don’t often think about the importance of nutrition in relation to neurological conditions, but these findings show it can help to preserve brain structure.”

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Spinal cord patients see improvement in motor functions in new trial

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After being injected with stem cells, patients reported an improvement with their motor skills

Intravenous injection of bone marrow derived stem cells (MSCs) in patients with spinal cord injuries led to significant improvement in motor functions, new research has found.

For more than half of the patients, substantial improvements in key functions — such as ability to walk, or to use their hands — were observed within weeks of stem cell injection, the study from Yale University reports.

No substantial side effects were observed, they added.

The patients had sustained non-penetrating spinal cord injuries, in many cases from falls or minor trauma, several weeks prior to implantation of the stem cells.

Their symptoms involved loss of motor function and co-ordination, sensory loss, as well as bowel and bladder dysfunction.

The stem cells were prepared from the patients’ own bone marrow, via a culture protocol that took several weeks in a specialised cell processing centre.

The cells were injected intravenously in this series, with each patient serving as their own control. Results were not blinded and there were no placebo controls.

Yale scientists Jeffery D. Kocsis, professor of neurology and neuroscience, and Stephen G. Waxman, professor of neurology, neuroscience and pharmacology, were senior authors of the study, which was carried out with investigators at Sapporo Medical University in Japan.

Key investigators of the Sapporo team, Osamu Honmou and Masanori Sasaki, both hold adjunct professor positions in neurology at Yale.

Professor Kocsis and Professor Waxman stress that additional studies will be needed to confirm the results of this preliminary, unblinded trial.

They also stress that this could take years, but despite the challenges, remain optimistic.

“Similar results with stem cells in patients with stroke increases our confidence that this approach may be clinically useful,” notes Professor Kocsis.

“This clinical study is the culmination of extensive preclinical laboratory work using MSCs between Yale and Sapporo colleagues over many years.”

“The idea that we may be able to restore function after injury to the brain and spinal cord using the patient’s own stem cells has intrigued us for years,” adds Professor Waxman.

“Now we have a hint, in humans, that it may be possible.”

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Inpatient rehab

Family hail ‘amazing’ care at neurorehab centre

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Fraser Millar and his family

A family whose beloved husband and father had a stroke are fundraising for the neurological centre where he currently resident, after being impressed by the “amazing” standards of care.

Fraser Millar needed life-saving brain surgery in November last year and is now in Woodlands Neurological Care Centre in York, receiving intensive rehabilitation to aid his recovery.

Woodlands, a level two neurorehabilitation centre which is part of Active Care Group, specialises in maximising recovery and independence and sets patients rehabilitation goals that promote re-enablement and enhance quality of life.

Now, Fraser’s family – wife Debs and children Alex and Ryan – are fundraising on behalf of Woodlands, to purchase therapy equipment which will benefit people who are undergoing rehabilitation at the centre.

To remember the long walks Fraser and Debs used to enjoy so much, Debs and daughter Alex are walking the equivalent 230 mile distance from York to Perth in Scotland, where Fraser is from.

Having set a target of £500, the total now stands at over ten times that amount, with over £5,680 being raised at the time of writing.

Family, friends and work colleague donations have come from as far afield as Canada and Australia, from people inspired by the Millar family’s story, which has been widely shared on social media and is touchingly accompanied by the hashtag #comeondad.

“We feel the team at Woodlands have become extended members of our family, they’ve been amazing,” says Alex.

“One of dad’s hobbies is cooking, he’s an amazing chef and loves to watch cookery programmes on TV in the kitchen at home. Woodlands staff noted this on his arrival day and within 20 minutes dad was watching The Hairy Bikers in his room and he continues to watch various culinary programmes!

“Staff there make a huge effort to make dad comfortable, take great care of his needs and interact with us brilliantly, we’re so thankful and extremely happy he’s having the best care.

“We’re raising money to say a huge thank you and while we’re doing it for dad, it’s great that it will benefit other patients too.”

Debs and Alex initially set a target of completing their walk by March 7, which is Debs’ birthday, but typical of their determination, they had already finished by February 24. Their fundraising target has also been vastly exceeded, with donations continuing to come in by the day.

“We initially thought our family and close friends would help with our fundraising cause, but the charity page was quickly circulated and within hours are target was met and the figure kept rising, we couldn’t believe it! We are incredibly thankful for every donation,” says Alex.

“We feel so touched and overwhelmed to have had such amazing support for dad. We walked the long miles but the generous donations kept us going and without them we wouldn’t be in the position to present Woodlands with the equipment they deserve.”

To add support to the Millar family’s fundraising on behalf of Woodlands Neurological Care Centre, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/woodlands-neurological-rehabilitation-centre

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Could sesame seeds help protect against Parkinson’s?

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There is currently no cure of Parkinson's, but research like this could help change that

A chemical commonly found in discarded waste from the sesame seed oil manufacturing process could have protective effects against Parkinson’s disease, new groundbreaking research has found.

Sesaminol, abundant in the empty shells of sesame seeds which are discarded after the fatty oils are extracted, could have a role to play in protecting against neuron damage in the brain, researchers from Osaka City University have revealed.

“Currently there is no preventive medicine for Parkinson’s disease, we only have coping treatments,” says OCU Associate Professor Akiko Kojima-Yuasa.

Professor Kojima-Yuasa led her research group through a series of experiments to understand the effects of sesaminol on in vitro and in vivo Parkinson’s disease models.

Parkinson’s disease is caused when certain neurons in the brain involved with movement break down or die due in part to a situation called oxidative stress – neurons in the brain come under extreme pressure from an imbalance between antioxidants and reactive oxygen species (ROS).

The team found in cell-based in vitro experiments that sesaminol protected against neuronal damage by promoting the translocation of Nrf2, a protein involved in the response to oxidative stress, and by reducing the production of intracellular ROS.

In vivo experiments brought Professor Kojima-Yuasa’s team what the University have hailed as equally promising results.

The impairment of movement due to Parkinson’s disease is the result of damaged neurons producing less dopamine than is naturally needed.

The team showed that mice with Parkinson’s disease models show this lack of dopamine production. However, after feeding the mice a diet containing sesaminol for 36 days, the research team saw an increase in dopamine levels.

Alongside this, a rotarod performance test revealed a significant increase in motor performance and intestinal motor function.

With the first-ever medicine for Parkinson’s disease potentially being the naturally occurring food ingredient sesaminol, and this ingredient being found in the naturally occurring waste of the sesame seed industry, Professor Kojima-Yuasa and her team are ready to take their work to the clinical trial phase and connect the consumption/production chain in a way that, as she puts it, “prevents diseases with natural foods to greatly promote societal health.”

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