Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Biology Current Event
Christina Brumbaugh

Zimmer, Carl. "Studying Oversize Brain Cells for Links to Exceptional Memory." The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

A study involving eighty-year olds sparked new research concepts for the anatomy of the brain. Known as “SuperAgers,” these senior citizens received amazing results on memory tests given to them by a Northwestern graduate, Dr. Gefen. Their scores were equivalent to those of the average fifty year old’s, if not better. With their consent to donate their brains to medical research post-mortem, Dr. Gefen has had the opportunity to observe the inner workings of their brains “in life and death.” An abundance of von Economo neurons and a thick band of neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex were present according to a high-resolution CAT scan. The SuperAgers had five times as many of them as the average individual. Researchers have been trying to identify the purpose of these spindle-shaped “oversized brain cells.” John M. Allman of CalTech, for example, believes that they provide “long distance transmission of nerve impulses,” which aid the functioning of the frontal lobe. There is uncertainty as to how the von Economo neurons form to begin with, but scientists are developing numerous tests today to learn more. New knowledge could provide life-changing cures to some of today’s most common brain diseases.
Statistics from the article show how a lack of von Economo neurons are detrimental to the functioning of the human brain. Because alcoholics have sixty percent fewer neurons than the average person, their memories may perform poorly earlier in life. Learning more about these oversized brain cells may not only confirm their purpose but also help to treat or maybe cure brain deterioration. The more information gathered, the more of a chance there is to prolong the lives and to stop the destruction of these apparently beneficial cells. To speed up the process of discovering more about their role and how they form would only facilitate this process. As embryonic stem cells are capable of forming any type of cell in the human body, a possible solution could be using these versatile cells to form more von Economo neurons to bring back declining memories.
Throughout the article, the author used much scientific vocabulary to explain the research he presented. His choice of facts were well-used, serving to inform the reader of necessary evidence to better their comprehension. However, to open this article to a wider audience, these terms could have been better defined or eliminated. The author was successful in keeping the reader’s interest by consistently making connections to the bigger picture, such as talking about a possible cure for Alzheimer’s disease. He also was able to gather statistics from prestigious figures to heighten the significance of his claims.

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