Neuroplasticity

Thursday, 27 October, 2016

CBC radio – How ‘plastic’ brain can heal from traumatic injuries

CBC “The Brain’s Way of Healing” – The Nature of Things (1 hour documentary)

//Seven years ago Dr. Norman Doidge introduced neuroplasticity to the world – the idea that our brains aren’t rigidly hardwired as was once believed, but that they can change, and can be rewired.  Indeed, what is unique about the brain is that its circuits can, through mental experience and activity, form, unform, and reform in new ways.

Now he’s back with a new film, The Brain’s Way of Healing, that will show that not only can the brain change, but that we can use our knowledge of how the brain forms new connections to help it heal in ways we never dreamed possible.

The Brain’s Way of Healing is about neuroplasticity’s next step — healing the brain using totally non-invasive methods, including patterns of energy to resynchronize the brain’s neurons when illness or injury causes them to fire improperly. It’s revolutionary and in some instances shocking — we’ll see people’s lifelong afflictions improved, or, in some cases cured almost miraculously. But these are not miracles, and Dr. Doidge explains the science behind these improvements. […]//

Ref: 1) Moshé Feldenkrais

2) Feldenkrais Method


Focused Ultrasound Thalamotomy will ‘revolutionize’ treatment of brain diseases

Wednesday, 24 August, 2016
20160824 Dr. Michael Schwartz and Dr. Nir Lipsman

20160824 Dr. Michael Schwartz and Dr. Nir Lipsman

CBC News had a great Facebook LIVE Q&A session with neurosurgeons Dr. Michael Schwartz and Dr. Nir Lipsman from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. And a great news report (with video)  “No scalpel, no drill: Medical procedure to treat uncontrollable hand tremor a ‘game changer’“. Here is an excerpt,

“The technology “will open up a new era that will revolutionize the way brain diseases will be treated, eventually benefitting millions of patients,” says Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of physical sciences at Sunnybrook Research Institute. He also helped develop the technology. […]

Doctors hope to apply the technology in the treatment of other diseases like Parkinson’s and epilepsy.”

(Note: In the LIVE Q&A you can hear neurosurgeon Dr. Nir Lipsman talk about Parkinson’s disease and this new procedure at timecode 3:03.)

Here is a video “Neurosurgery – with sub-titles, ending with MR image” with subtitle text.

Reference: New England Journal of Medicine, August 25, 2016 “A Randomized Trial of Focused Ultrasound Thalamotomy for Essential Tremor” (PDF file)

P.S. On a personal note, it may be way too early to speculate but I do wonder how far can the procedure go (its first pilot study published in 2013 as reported in NEJM), I do wonder openly/hopefully if one day it could be used to help patients with glioblastoma like my friend Maria’s husband Sean had unfortunately suffered. Well, after a quick search, I managed to find this 2014 study reported in NIH, “First noninvasive thermal ablation of a brain tumor with MR-guided focused ultrasound


Paris Calgary friends Google Hangout the day after Paris Attacks

Monday, 16 November, 2015
Peace for Paris posted by jean jullien - 20151113

Peace for Paris posted by jean jullien – 20151113

Heart Broken in Paris

My heart broke Friday (Nov 13th, 2015) as I saw the tragedies of Paris attacks unfolded in live (minute by minute) news reports via Guardian. Since then, I’ve been reading/watching news/analysis (ref 1ref 1bref 2ref 4ref 8ref 9), a simple symbol of peace, and also realized other cities had being attacked in recent days (ref 3ref 3b).

On Saturday morning out of the blue, Paris called! More precisely, my super cool Paris friend Laurent (now cool *and* magical, more on this later) pinged me online and we ended up having a wonderful Google Hangout and video chatted for a few lovely minutes. He in Paris, France. Me in Calgary, Canada. The day after horror in Paris.

Paris Calgary Friendship in the age of Google Hangout

To set things up a little. How did a guy from Paris, France and someone from Calgary, Canada become friends? Well, Laurent and I first met in 2011 and then we became good friends over the years thanks to the magic of Google Hangout. (Laurent: fourth icon at the bottom counting from the right in this 2011 screen capture, me: the 6th icon counting from the right).

Over the years, Laurent and I love to talk about good food (Ferran Adrià, elBulli, street food), fashion, and even Christian Louboutin shoes (the designer is his family friend and has promised introduction one day)! So on Saturday morning, in the dark hours of Paris, less than 24 hours after the Paris Attacks, we defiantly talked about food. Yes, we “defiantly” talked about food, good Paris food! Our little #beepyou to the terrorist gunmen. Lives are short and we were determined to live our lives to the fullest without being changed by those #beepers. (note: I am not naive, it is a given that world governments need to come up with effective strategies and appropriate actions needed to be taken carefully in the coming days, weeks, and months without being reactive and doing exactly the things the terrorists expect us to do in fear. Those discussions are for another day.)

Tres Tres Bon on Paris Premiere

But on this Saturday morning, we talked our shared love of Paris food, defiantly! Laurent told me about the Tres Tres Bon” TV show on the “Paris Premiere” TV channel is a French food site (with video), where I can find many less touristy places to hunt for good food in Paris when I visit. (And we talked more than just food since then, see bottom note with links.)

Paris Premiere - French food site

Paris Premiere – French food site

After browsing around Tres Tres Bon, I found a fascinating video about yam’Tcha that put a smile on this native Cantonese speaker’s face immediately as I saw the Chinese connection/inspiration (you see yam’Tcha sounds like Cantonese words for going for Chinese Dim Sum)! Of course, I expected and confirmed from the video that yam’Tcha‘s food come with some French creative twist!

yam'Tcha - screen capture via Paris Premiere

yam’Tcha – screen capture via Paris Premiere

Mending Broken Hearts metaphorically and literally

Yes, my heart is still broken as I watched families of a victim spoke (ref 5 – video)? And I know my heart will keep on breaking as more stories of lives cut short started to be reported in the coming days and weeks. But try we must, to live our lives to the fullest, without fear, and with kindness that we had before this tragedy. If we allow the terrorists to rob our kindness towards Syrian refugees and others refugees in need from around the world, or take away our respect and love of our fellow peaceful Muslim Canadians (or citizens of your countries), then the terrorists would have truly won in creating a hate filled world where we are all closed off, with locked up borders, spying on each others with total mistrust, and unfounded fear of each others. Is this the kind of world we want to leave to our future generations?

Finally, my talk of mending broken hearts is both metaphorical and literal. My friend Laurent actually had a major heart incident in June 2014 and had to be implanted with a total artificial heart (TAH info from US nih.gov) 17 months ago. So Laurent is literally being kept alive by the magic of a cutting-edge TAH as he awaits a new heart. I am not a medical doctor/researcher but here is a medical and technical post about his TAH that we hope may help other people who are waiting for heart transplant.

One of the machines that keeps my friend Laurent alive in Paris. The other machine is a total artificial heart (TAH) implanted inside him. Photo credit: Laurent

Let me quote a Facebook friend’s status from this morning as she concluded with “Paris is alive and well, despite everything.

Walking around Paris is very, very therapeutic for me today and I wish you could be here to experience it as well. It would make you feel better. Kids are playing. The sun is shining. Cafes are full of people having coffee. There’s a million Chinese tourists with selfie sticks. Yes, when you catch the eye of someone, there’s a silent and solemn communication. But being here is SO SO SO much better than what you are seeing on the news. Paris is alive and well, despite everything.

Our broken hearts may seem impossible to heal but Read the rest of this entry »


Mending Broken Paris Hearts – Meet the Man with No Pulse

Monday, 16 November, 2015
Total Artificial Heart (video screen capture sample) Photo credit: SynCardia Systems

Total Artificial Heart (video screen capture sample) Photo credit: SynCardia Systems

I wrote a lengthy post (partly to try to mend our broken Paris hearts metaphorically) after a Google Hangout with my super cool and magical Paris friend Laurent  on the Saturday morning post-Paris Attacks. With Laurent‘s permission and help in providing some photos, this is a medical and technical post about why he is “magical” to me. And how a heart can be “mended” literally.

You see, Laurent had a major heart incident in June 2014 so he had to be implanted with a temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH info from US nih.gov) 17 months ago! He is literally being kept alive by the magic of a cutting edge TAH as he awaits a new heart. (I included the above sample picture. It may not be the exact model inside Laurent but it is a good picture and will give you some idea.) Note that a temporary TAH is approved for “bridge to heart transplantation” and is NOT supposed to be a “destination therapy“.

(Important Disclosure/Warning: I am not a medical doctor or researcher. I do not work for and am not related to SynCardia Systems nor Stanford University. Please always consult your own heart doctors and healthcare professionals for their expert advices. I am not an expert of artificial heart devices, and I don’t even play a doctor like House M.D on TV!)

After you read the above Important Disclosure/Warning, I want to say, as a tech-geek, I really enjoy my chat with Laurent and appreciate the photos and links he provided. Laurent’s and my hope is that this post may be of some use to some people waiting for their heart transplants or in similar predicament. Of course, at the end of the day, all errors and mistakes in this post are mine. And consult your own heart doctors and healthcare professionals for their expert advices!

The following is a picture of Laurent’s SynCardia Systems Companion 2 Hospital Driver (C2 Driver) docked with a companion Caddy (pdf fact sheet and 2013 PR press release).

One of the machines that is keeps my Paris friend Laurent alive.

One of the machines that is keeps my Paris friend Laurent alive. The other is his total artificial heart (TAH). Photo credit: Laurent

The C2 Driver‘s pushes air in and out of the two artificial ventricles of Laurent’s total artificial heart (TAH) implant. A side “benefit” of a total artificial heart is Laurent has no pulse which means a flat electrocardiogram if he does one.

With permission, here is a photo of two tubes going in.

Two tubes connected to the total artificial heart (TAH). Photo credit: Laurent

Two tubes connected to the total artificial heart (TAH). Photo credit: Laurent

And here is a photo of an emergency standby machine, Read the rest of this entry »


University of Calgary research leads to brain cancer clinical trial (with video)

Tuesday, 14 October, 2014
Interview pix with lead researcher Artee Luchman, PhD, and oncologist Dr. Greg Cairncross.

Interview pix with lead researcher Artee Luchman, PhD, and oncologist Dr. Greg Cairncross.

Please see embedded my in-depth video interviews with lead researcher Artee Luchman, PhD, and oncologist Dr. Greg Cairncross (director of SACRI) in the following press release from the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) and Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute (SACRI).

note: The researchers’ Clinical Cancer Research paper can be found at this link, “Dual mTORC1/2 Blockade Inhibits Glioblastoma Brain Tumor Initiating Cells In Vitro and In Vivo and Synergizes with Temozolomide to Increase Orthotopic Xenograft Survival“.

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October 14, 2014

University of Calgary research leads to brain cancer clinical trial

Researchers at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) and Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute (SACRI) have made a discovery that could prolong the life of people living with glioblastoma – the most aggressive type of brain cancer. Samuel Weiss, PhD, Professor and Director of the HBI, and Research Assistant Professor Artee Luchman, PhD, and colleagues, published their work today in Clinical Cancer Research, which is leading researchers to start a human phase I/II clinical trial as early as Spring 2015.

Researchers used tumour cells derived from 100 different glioblastoma patients to test drugs that could target the disease. When these human brain tumour-initiating cells were inserted into an animal model, researchers discovered that when using a drug, AZD8055, combined with Temozolomide (TMZ) – a drug already taken by most glioblastoma patients – the life of the animals was extended by 30 per cent.

“Shutting off vital tumour growth processes can lead to the death of human brain tumour-initiating cells. Our research has identified a key process in brain tumour growth that we were able to target with AZD8055,” says Luchman from the university’s Cumming School of Medicine and a member of the HBI.

Interview w Artee Luchman, PhD, Lead Researcher – UC research leads to brain cancer clinical trial 

Researchers used the new therapy to inhibit a pathway in the cancer cells known as mTOR signaling – putting the brakes on this pathway, combined with the current standard therapy, caused more of the cancer cells to die. Scientists are now working with investigators at the NCIC Clinical Trials Group (NCIC-CTG) to start a Canadian clinical trial that may eventually include glioblastoma patients across the country.

“Discovering new pathways and therapies that can be tested in the clinic provides the greatest hope for brain cancer patients and their families,” says Weiss, leader of the university’s Brain and Mental Health strategic research priority.

Interview w Dr. Greg Cairncross, oncologist – UC research leads to brain cancer clinical trial 

Glioblastoma is the most common and deadly form of brain cancer among adults. The progression and complexity of the tumours are often difficult to treat. The median survival for patients is 15 months, with less than five per cent of patients surviving beyond five years.

University of Calgary researchers including Luchman, Weiss and Dr. Greg Cairncross – director of SACRI, and leader of the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) ‘Therapeutic Targeting of Glioblastoma research program at the university – are now working with cancer researchers Dr. Warren Mason (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto) and Dr. Lesley Seymour (Director of the NCIC Clinical Trials Group’s Investigational New Drug Program), and drug manufacturer AstraZeneca, to plan a clinical trial testing a similar, but newer, drug related to AZD8055 (called AZD2014), in combination with TMZ, in patients with glioblastoma.

“This is an important initiative – to test new drugs, being developed for other types of cancers in the laboratory to identify which are most promising for testing in patients with glioblastoma. NCIC CTG is excited to partner in the development of this clinical trial, which will be funded by a grant from the TFRI as well as grants from Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute to NCIC CTG,” says Seymour.

The study was funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions and the Canadian Stem Cell Network.


Ignorant talk of “Boys using girls bathroom” illuminated by BBC doc “Me, My Sex and I”

Thursday, 28 February, 2013

Me My Sex And I - 2011 BBC doc

Two news items have been hotly discussed online recently:

New Massachusetts rules allow transgender students to choose their own bathroom“, Yahoo News (The Daily Caller), Feb 25, 2013

His or Hers? Transgender child locked in school bathroom debate“, CTV News, Feb 28, 2013

So I thought to spend a few minutes to look up an insightful documentary I watched in 2011 to try to illuminate the important issue that there are NO 100% male or 100% female. I am NOT 100% male. The real scientific reasoning is complex but not that difficult to understand. The human stories and the human impact take more compassion to appreciate and accept.

Here is the insightful BBC documentary “Me, My Sex and I” last broadcast on Oct, 2011. Someone posted the https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87XvVdLaWT8 that you can watch (video is flipped but you can still get most of the important points).

NOTE: I moderate comments on this post, any comments that appear to be made without watching the documentary or understanding the issues first will be deleted.

Update 2015, Aug 5th: If this link doesn’t work (deleted as per BBC/others request), just search for the documentary title in YouTube and you may find it.

Me, My Sex and I


Interview with Dr. Naweed Syed, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Neurochip co-lead researcher

Friday, 17 August, 2012

Interview with Dr. Naweed Syed, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Neurochip co-lead researcher

Earlier this month I had a fascinating interview with Dr. Naweed Syed, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, head of University of Calgary Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy. Dr. Syed is one of the lead researchers behind neurochip − “a microchip with the ability to monitor several functions of the brain.Neurochip is “a novel lab-on-a-chip technology that, through an ultra-sensitive component built directly on the microchip, also enables direct imaging of activity in brain cells.”

In one fascinating part of the interview, Dr. Syed talked about Parkinson’s patients who have really bad tremors and don’t respond to drugs anymore. Currently, surgeons insert a deep brain stimulation electrode to allow the patients to stimulate the electrode themselves which release dopamine to stop the tremors. Unfortunately, the electrode can continue to stimulate the brain cells beyond the limit. Resulting in what is known as excitotoxicity. (Too much dopamine constantly being produced and brain cells being over excited.) In essence, nobody is there to tell the electrode when the stimulation is enough and can be stopped to avoid damage because there is no loop going back to tell it. Dr. Syed suggests implanting a two-way link where machines (capacitors and transistors) and the brain cells can talk to each other to better control the stimulation loop and avoid/reduce the problem of excitotoxicity.

Have a watch of my extensive interview with Dr. Syed to hear of his explanations and the background info in his own words for the latest advancement in research in neurochip.

As an alumnus of University of Calgary, it makes me really proud to see cool research done in Calgary, Alberta. At the same time, near the end of the interview, I asked Dr. Syed about the challenges of getting the required funding for the research program to succeed and to keep doing cutting edge researches right here in Calgary. Given the achievements his team has made so far, I would hate to see any of these world class scientists leaving Canada to go to United States/China, etc because our three level of governments and private industry partners are not putting in the needed funding to keep doing these ground-breaking researches that can lead to better medical devices, better drugs, etc right in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

On a personal note, a very close friend has Parkinson’s and I hope the device Dr. Syed talked about can be developed, tested, and approved soon so that my friend and other Parkinson’s patients can benefit.

News references:

University of Calgary, UToday “New advances for neurochip

CTV News (with video), “U of C researchers achieve major milestone

Calgary Herald, “New microchip helps take detailed images of brain – University of Calgary researchers achieve new milestone


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