Research Bytes

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Researchers have developed a new way to stimulate neuron production in the adult mouse brain, demonstrating that neurons acquired in the brain’s hippocampus during adulthood improve certain cognitive functions. The research appeared in the journal Nature.

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Research has found that slowing down the aggregation of vitamin A in the eye may help prevent vision loss caused by macular degeneration. Rather than changing the way the eye processes the vitamin, the research team focused on changing the structure of vitamin A itself. The research has implications for treating age-related macular degeneration, a top cause of blindness, and Stargardt’s disease, the most common cause of juvenile macular degeneration.

Columbia researchers have found that under stressful conditions, neural stem cells in the adult hippocampus can produce not only neurons, but also new stem cells. The brain stockpiles the neural stem cells, which later may produce neurons when conditions become favorable. This response to environmental conditions represents a novel form of brain plasticity. The findings were published online June 9, 2011, in Neuron.

The Columbia Stem Cell Initiative is a community of researchers and clinicians working with stem cells to tap the potential of the cells to improve human health. The culmination of this effort is a new online presence designed to raise the visibility of Columbia stem cell research among clinicians, scientists, patients and their families, and the general public.

“Silent strokes” can be the first sign of cerebrovascular disease, but older people who regularly exercise may be less likely to develop the small brain lesions. That is the finding of a study published in the June 8, 2011, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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A small clinical trial has shown that a new delivery method that pumps chemotherapy drugs directly to a brain tumor has potential to shrink the tumors and increase survival.

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Columbia researchers have illuminated how a genetic variant may lead to schizophrenia by causing a disruption in communication between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex regions of the brain, areas believed to be responsible for carrying out working memory. Findings were published in Nature.

An international research team led by Columbia successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa. This strategy could potentially become a new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, a leading cause of blindness that affects approximately one in 3,000 to 4,000 people, or 1.5 million people worldwide. The study appeared in the journal Transplantation (March 27, 2010, print issue).

Say the words “stem cells” and most people envision new therapies that replace brain cells lost to disease or worn-out hearts. In atherosclerosis, however, too many stem cells are a bad thing, according to a new study published online in Science.

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When Dominique Toran-Allerand, M.D., Sc.D., started studying the effects of estrogen in the brain some 40 years ago, her research was considered so unconventional as to be unbelievable. One of her first papers, she recalls, was met with a four-page single-spaced rejection letter from the Journal of Brain Research.