NIH-SUPPORTED STUDY SHOWS PROMISE FOR BLOOD TEST FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton
National Institute of Aging August 15, 2014
Preliminary findings from a study by National Institute on Aging (NIA) scientists and colleagues showed that a blood test for Alzheimer’s-related proteins may accurately predict who might be at risk for the disease years before symptoms develop. The test measured the levels of several tau and amyloid proteins—the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease—in exosomes, microscopic organelles shed by brain cells.
The study by Dimitrios Kapogiannis, Ph.D., and Edward Goetzl, M.D., both of the NIA Intramural Research Program, Baltimore, and researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; University of Kentucky, Lexington; Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; University of California, San Francisco; and the University of Rochester, N.Y., appeared online in the August 15, 2014 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia. The work was funded by NIA, the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and Nanosomix, Inc.
Compared to those free of the disorder, the blood test showed people with Alzheimer’s had higher elevations of three proteins (p-5396-tau, p-181 tau, and Ab42) in exosomes. The test was 96 percent accurate in distinguishing between these two groups. Significantly, the investigators also found elevated levels of these proteins in blood samples collected from cognitively healthy older people who later developed dementia within one to ten years.
While this case-controlled study needs to be replicated, it offers intriguing insights into novel ways to detect Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages. The work was funded by NIA, the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and Nanosomix, Inc.
SMARTPHONE BEATS PAPER FOR SOME WITH DYSLEXIA
Seeing words two and three at a time improves focus, helps with comprehension
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton August 25, 2014 National Science Foundation – Science Nation
Matthew Schneps is a researcher at Harvard University with a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He also happens to have dyslexia, so reading has always been a challenge for him. That is, until he got a smartphone. Schneps soon found that for him, a smartphone was easier to read than a paper or a book. But, was it just him? Or, had he stumbled onto something that could help others with dyslexia?
Schneps was at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at the time, specializing in how people learn science. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), he decided to put his smartphone theory to the test. The faculty and about 100 students at the Landmark School near Boston volunteered to take part. The high school specializes in helping students overcome learning disabilities, such as dyslexia.
Schneps and his team monitored students with dyslexia while the students read to see if reading off smartphones and tablets would improve the students’ comprehension of STEM subjects–science, technology, education and math. He found that reading off an iPod benefitted those dyslexic students who exhibit signs of visual attention deficits. What helped was to show only two or three words on a line. Schneps says that in this age of electronic publishing, his research lends new hope to one out of every five people who currently struggles with reading. For many, simply reconfiguring the layout of the text on an electronic reader may make all the difference.
“NSF’s investment in this educational research project reflects our commitment to advancing the learning and participation of students with disabilities in the STEM fields,” says Mark Leddy, a program director, who manages NSF research on disabilities and STEM education within the agency’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources.
Schneps is now the director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning, a collaboration between the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The results of his research are available on the web at http://readeasy.labvislearn.org, as well as in two papers in the open access journal PLOS One: E-Readers Are More Effective than Paper for Some with Dyslexia and Shorter Lines Facilitate Reading in Those Who Struggle.
The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1131039, Investigating a Framework for STEM-Reading to Support Secondary School Students with Reading Disabilities.
Miles O’Brien, Science Nation Correspondent Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer
BABIES ARE BORN SCIENTISTS
New research methods reveal that babies and young children learn by rationally testing hypotheses, analyzing statistics and doing experiments much as scientists do
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton National Science Foundation Science Nation
Encouraging play and asking for explanations prompts scientific thinking in young children.
Very young children’s learning and thinking is strikingly similar to much learning and thinking in science, according to Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Gopnik’s findings are described in an issue of the journal Science.
New research methods and mathematical models provide a more precise and formal way to characterize children’s learning mechanisms than in the past. Gopnik and her colleagues found that young children, in their play and interactions with their surroundings, learn from statistics, experiments and from the actions of others in much the same way that scientists do.
“The way we determine how they are learning is that we give them, say, a pattern of data, a pattern of probabilities or statistics about the world and then we see what they do,” said Gopnik.
For example, in a series of experiments Gopnik and her colleagues used machines with the ability to light up and play music and asked young children to make them go.
“We found that like scientists, they tested hypotheses about the machines and determined which one was more likely,” said Gopnik.
But before we rush to put toddlers on an earlier academic track, Gopnik’s research shows that encouraging play, presenting anomalies and asking for explanations prompts scientific thinking more effectively than direct instruction.
“Everyday playing is a kind of experimentation–it is a way of experimenting with the world, getting data the way that scientists do and then using that data to draw new conclusions,” said Gopnik.
“What we need to do to encourage these children to learn is not to put them in the equivalent of school, tell them things, or give them reading drills or flash cards or so forth. What we need to do is put them in a safe, rich environment where these natural capacities for exploration, for testing, for science, can get free rein.”
Gopnik’s research was supported by NSF through the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate. In her paper Gopnik described the work of Laura Schulz of MIT, also supported by NSF through the Education and Human Resources directorate. Schulz’s studies show that children’s play involves a kind of intuitive experimentation where they examine things and events to discover cause and effect underlying them. She published her paper in Science last year, 16-Month-Olds Rationally Infer Causes of Failed Actions.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.