Memory Strengthened by Stimulating Key Site in Brain

ScienceDaily (Feb. 8, 2012) — Ever gone to the movies and forgotten where you parked the car? New UCLA research may one day help you improve your memory.

UCLA neuroscientists have demonstrated that they can strengthen memory in human patients by stimulating a critical junction in the brain. (Credit: © rolffimages / Fotolia)

UCLA neuroscientists have demonstrated that they can strengthen memory in human patients by stimulating a critical junction in the brain. Published in the Feb. 9 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the finding could lead to a new method for boosting memory in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease.

The UCLA team focused on a brain site called the entorhinal cortex. Considered the doorway to the hippocampus, which helps form and store memories, the entorhinal cortex plays a crucial role in transforming daily experience into lasting memories.

“The entorhinal cortex is the golden gate to the brain’s memory mainframe,” explained senior author Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Every visual and sensory experience that we eventually commit to memory funnels through that doorway to the hippocampus. Our brain cells must send signals through this hub in order to form memories that we can later consciously recall.”

Fried and his colleagues followed seven epilepsy patients who already had electrodes implanted in their brains to pinpoint the origin of their seizures. The researchers monitored the electrodes to record neuron activity as memories were being formed.

Using a video game featuring a taxi cab, virtual passengers and a cyber city, the researchers tested whether deep-brain stimulation of the entorhinal cortex or the hippocampus altered recall. Patients played the role of cab drivers who picked up passengers and traveled across town to deliver them to one of six requested shops.

“When we stimulated the nerve fibers in the patients’ entorhinal cortex during learning, they later recognized landmarks and navigated the routes more quickly,” said Fried. “They even learned to take shortcuts, reflecting improved spatial memory.

“Critically, it was the stimulation at the gateway into the hippocampus – and not the hippocampus itself – that proved effective,” he added.

The use of stimulation only during the learning phase suggests that patients need not undergo continuous stimulation to boost their memory, but only when they are trying to learn important information, Fried noted. This may lead the way to neuro-prosthetic devices that can switch on during specific stages of information processing or daily tasks.

Six million Americans and 30 million people worldwide are newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease each year. The progressive disorder is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older.

“Losing our ability to remember recent events and form new memories is one of the most dreaded afflictions of the human condition,” said Fried. “Our preliminary results provide evidence supporting a possible mechanism for enhancing memory, particularly as people age or suffer from early dementia. At the same time, we studied a small sample of patients, so our results should be interpreted with caution.”

Future studies will determine whether deep-brain stimulation can enhance other types of recall, such as verbal and autobiographical memories. No adverse effects of the stimulation were reported by the seven patients.

Fried’s coauthors included first author Nanthia Suthana, as well as Dr. Zulfi Haneef, Dr. John Stern, Roy Mukamel, Eric Behnke and Barbara Knowlton, all of UCLA. The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Dana Foundation.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences, via Newswise. The original article was written by Elaine Schmidt.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Nanthia Suthana, Zulfi Haneef, John Stern, Roy Mukamel, Eric Behnke, Barbara Knowlton, Itzhak Fried. Memory Enhancement and Deep-Brain Stimulation of the Entorhinal Area. New England Journal of Medicine, 2012; 366 (6): 502 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1107212

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Malaysia paved with gold?

Malaysia is not paved with gold


Many Cambodians, who work two jobs in their homeland to make ends meet, see Malaysia as a country where life is good and where one can earn a lot of money.

MY guide Sey, an affable but quiet Cambodian man, asked how old I was. I had spent the whole day scrambling about the famed temples surrounding Angkor Wat. I was elated but bushed.

A temple guidebook in one hand and a bottle of mineral in the other, I grinned and asked him to guess.

Working for a living: Nepalase workers laying grass in the field. Many migrant workers choose to come to Malaysia in hope of a better future.

“Wrong!” I squealed at each attempt. After a few guesses, I showed him my passport.

He stared at me, and was silent. After a few seconds, he spat out: “Life in your country must be good. I am younger than you, and I look 20 years older.”

Sey is a graduate in hospitality and communications. He is 30 and cares for two families. He is in Siem Reap in the morning to guide tourists, and in the evenings and weekends is back at home, about two hours away, where he toils on a small patch of vegetables and does odd jobs.

His story is not unusual. Many young Cambodians work two jobs.

In the beginning, it was good. He found a job at a hotel, and worked his way up to the front desk. One day, he found his position had been filled by the child of someone important. “In Cambodia, to get jobs, you must know people. But I always ask why? Why? I am educated. I speak English. Is it like that in your country?”

He looked at me and asked, “Can you find me a job in your country?”

I stared at him.

“I hear in Malaysia you can become rich. Many Cambodians have gone there and earned a lot of money.”

I croaked: “Sey, if you come to my country as you are, you will be dooming yourself to a life of slavery. If you are not a high ranking government official or professional, or have business interests, you will end up as a waiter in some low-end restaurant or as a labourer in a construction site; and you may never see your money because some agents are cheats.

“Even worse, you might have to sell your body to unscrupulous men and women.”

He gawped at me. I had to be the worst ambassador Malaysia ever produced.

But no way could I promise heaven to a young man whose future may be doomed further. Perhaps I have too many activist friends. I have seen too many secretly taped videos of migrant men, women and children being abused. I love my country, but I am not blind to its dark side.

I looked at Sey. He looked so heartbroken I wanted to kick myself. I have never believed in destroying anyone’s dreams, but if this young man – whose intention was to just earn some money to help his families – comes here and ends up abused, I would not be able to live with myself.

It’s a lucrative job, hiring migrant labour, and my father, who had seen the ugly side of the building of our country, told me if I got myself involved in a maid or labour agency, I would be condoning human slavery.

My father does not tell me much, but from the few things he has hinted at, I know that only a person whose God is greed and power can stomach this.

One time, I had to pass Mont Kiara, and there were a couple of men comforting a worker whose head was bleeding profusely. The mandor was shouting at them to get back to work.

I sat in my car, transfixed by the sight. I told my friends what I saw, and one sniffed at me: “Your sentiments are idealistic. This country would not be built if not for these workers.”

And there was that other time when I went to a supermarket and the man who helped me with my groceries spoke to me in perfect English. He was a Bangladeshi and an engineering graduate and had come here to earn money. I couldn’t believe my ears. An engineer was pushing my trolley?

And there was also Rosa, the cleaner I befriended when I was a student pursuing my Masters in the UK. She cleaned up the rooms and houses in the area. She was from South America. She and her husband were graduates, too.

Before I left for Malaysia, she had written her favourite poet’s works on a sheet of paper. Alas, I lost that piece of paper over the years.

I was at the Bayon temple the next day but instead of pretending to be an archaeologist, I sat at one of the corners of the temple and thought of Sey. The grass is always greener on the other side, yes?

Sey and I communicate once in a while via e-mail. I told him that on my next visit I would want to see temples that tourists had not mauled yet. I can’t stand tourists, they should be shot.

“But you are a tourist, too. Hahaha!” he replied. By the way, he wrote in his e-mail, his patch was flowering and they were able to sell some of the vegetables he had grown. It’s still a hard life, farming.

Malaysia – so many Dick Whittingtons (a character in an English tale who went to London to seek his fortune) looking for that road paved with gold.

Swiss VAT plant proposed for Penang

Swiss firm to open new plant in Penang


GEORGE TOWN: A Swiss semiconductor company has chosen Penang to open its first manufacturing plant in Asia.

VAT Manufacturing Malaysia Sdn Bhd will be built on a 3.035ha in Batu Kawan and is expected to commence production by December this year.

VAT executive vice-president Quality and Procurement Andreas Scheibe said it was a big step for VAT to open its first branch in Asia.

“A lot of our customers in the United States have moved to Asia, so we decided to move as well to be able to better serve our customers,” said Andreas.

An artist’s impression of the proposed VAT plant in Penang.

“After surveying several Asian countries, we chose Penang because it is the only one that meets our requirements,” he said.

VAT is the world’s leading supplier of vacuum valves for state-of-the-art applications in the semiconductor industry, for manufacturing flat screens and solar panels, as well as for coating optical systems and tools.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said that he was delighted that VAT had chosen Penang over China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

“We are proud that our human resources, suppliers in mechanical and electronic components, infrastructure and logistics support as well cost of living comply with the requirements of VAT,” he said.

Lim was speaking at the sale and purchase signing ceremony between VAT and Penang Development Corp at his office at Komtar yesterday.

He added that the new facility, with investments totalling US$25mil (RM75mil) was expected to generate 100 new jobs.

The law’s great mysteries

Law Library DVDs

Reflecting on the law By SHAD SALEEM FARUQI

A breathtaking variety of approaches to the law light up the legal firmament in so many spectacular ways that one cannot fail but be impressed.

EVERY judge, lawyer and law teacher has to grapple with some central and eternal riddles that surround the law. The most basic, unanswerable (and embarrassing) question is “what is ‘law’?” Is there some universal concept of law or are there many varied conceptions?

In its simplest form, law could be defined as rules of conduct or norms or standards of behaviour. However, the rich reality is that rules exist in many forms and originate from many sources. Many tributaries contribute to the legal main.

> At the dawn of human history, rules of conduct existed primarily by way of custom and traditions of the tribe or community.

> As formal religions took hold, legal norms began to be prescribed by religion, ethics and morality.

> With the rise of the political state, law came to be attributed to the commands of the state or the political sovereign.

> In modern society, the legislative mono­poly of the state is complemented by innumerable civil society groups and other centres of authority like business and professional guilds. Their precepts and practices constitute an important alternative source of informal legal practice.

> A large part of social, professional and economic life is governed by the private law of contract, the law of the association and the contractual rules at the workplace which are predominantly dictated by non-state actors.

> In an increasingly globalised world, the dictates of international organisations and the treaties and agreements between multi-national parties regulate much of our beha­viour. The sovereign state is in decline and more and more international laws are lapping at our shores.

> When disputes arise, we go to courts, tribunals or mediatory or conciliatory bodies. Their decisions are generally holistic and are based on a multiplicity of competing sources. Rarely does a judge decide on the basis of a lone rule. He reads a statutory provision in the context of provisions from other statutes and he supplements formal rules with informal standards that enrich our life and legal system. Like a painter, he enriches the legal canvas with religious, moral, social, economic and historical colours. Law becomes what he, the interpreter, declares it to be and not what the legislator actually prescribed.

Clearly, there is a multiplicity of competing sources in the majestic network of the law. Which source is legally acceptable and which not? Which rules qualify as law and how do we distinguish legal rules from other types of rules? Within the multiplicity of sources, is there a clear hierarchy of superior and inferior norms?

There are many other eternal questions that surround the law.

What is the basic or essential foundation on which law rests? Is it reason or revelation, coercion or consent, morality or utility, history or psychology?

What is the relationship between law and morality and law and justice? Are flagrantly immoral and unjust laws legally valid? In the definition of law, is moral content relevant? Can a horrendously unjust legal order like the Nazi system satisfy the nomenclature of legality? Is morality a criterion of validity or a factor contributing to compliance and continuity?

Must law be defined by reference to who makes the law, i.e. by the law’s source, or by reference to how it was made, i.e. by reference to procedures accepted in a society?

Must law be defined by reference to its functions in society so that any rule that performs regulatory and normative functions qualifies to be called law?

Why is law obeyed? Is it because we have been psychologically conditioned to believe that we have a duty to obey the law? Or do we obey the law because of the fear of sanction?

If fear is the sole motivation behind obedience, then how is the law of the state distinguishable from the law of the evil gunman? If there is a moral or utilitarian duty to obey the commands of the state, is this duty absolute or conditional to the state’s performance of its social contract?

What are the aims and functions of law in society? Is law about order or about freedom? Is it about stability or about change? Is it a heathen word for power or is its job to balance the might of the state with the rights of the citizens?

Does law mould society or does society mould the law?

What is the role of the judiciary in the legal system? Are judges law finders or law makers? If judges contribute building blocks to the law, is such law-making undemocratic and undesirable?

To none of the above issues are there any simple, single answers. Much depends on the philosophical approach one adopts. There is a breathtaking variety of such approaches and they light up the legal firmament in ways so spectacular that no one can fail to be impressed.

Among the prominent approaches are naturalism, legal positivism, historicism, realism, Marxism, post-modernism, feminism and the perspectives of anthropology, critical legal studies and sociology.

Naturalism stands for idealism in the law. It links law with substantive and procedural justice. It supports inalienable rights.

Positivism focuses on law’s link with the state. It rejects higher sources.

Historicism and anthropology de-emphasise formal sources. They see law as an evolutionary product of custom and the spirit of the people.

Realism defines law by reference to judicial decisions. It sees judges as the central agent of law’s interpretation and evolution.

Marxism, feminism, critical legal studies view law as class ideology and as the preserver of the unjust status quo. They seek reform and change.

At this moment in Malaysian history when transformation is being sought through the law, one must be hopeful, yet cautious.

Laws are as good as the people who administer them. Justice is not in legislation but in administration.

> Shad Faruqi is emeritus professor at UiTM and visiting professor at USM.

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