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Brain News Round-Up: Unraveling the Brain

Here’s how the latest research offers hope for the treatment of stroke, ALS/FTD, post-COVID conditions, and more.

Recent discoveries have given researchers new insights into how the brain works. Scientists are making a detailed atlas of brain cells and developing treatments for long-haul COVID. They examined the safety of a drug for stroke, and even grew “mini-brains” to help understand diseases of the nervous system. These studies don’t just help researchers investigate how the brain functions. They could also potentially translate into effective future treatment strategies.

NIH BRAIN Initiative Unveils Detailed Atlas of the Mammalian Primary Motor Cortex

The NIH BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network has developed an atlas of the part of the brain that controls movement. The researchers cataloged cell types across the brains of mice, monkeys, and humans. While doing this, mapping their spatial relationships and creating genetic profiles. This groundbreaking study is the joint effort of more than 250 scientists across three continents. It could set the stage for a better understanding of brain function and how brain-based disorders, such as addiction, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease, develop. Learn more about the brain motor cortex map here.

New Research May Help People with Long-Haul COVID-19

Most people with COVID-19 recover within a few weeks. But about 10 to 30 percent of coronavirus patients find that post-COVID conditions continue to affect them months after infection. These include symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, and other forms of cognitive dysfunction. While the exact cause of long-haul COVID-19 is not clear, researchers have developed several hypotheses. One is that the virus attacks through the olfactory bulb, a structure that transmits smell information to the brain, and prompts abnormal molecular mechanisms. Learn more about the potential causes of long COVID and treatment for different symptoms.

Clot-Busting Drug May Be Safe for People with Stroke and Unruptured Aneurysms

Thrombolytic or clot-busting drugs are often used to provide emergency treatment for stroke by breaking down the blood clot that’s restricting normal blood flow to the brain. But these clot-busting drugs are generally deemed risky for patients with an unruptured aneurysm. An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of a blood vessel in the brain that can cause potentially fatal bleeding in the brain if ruptured. A recent study, however, shows that thrombolytic therapy may be safe for use. This finding may widen the use of clot-busting drugs to help prevent stroke-induced disability. But for people who have large aneurysms, additional consideration should be taken regarding treatment. Read more about this research on clot-busting drugs and stroke here.

Scientists Have Grown Tiny Brains to Cure a Deadly Neurological Disease

Researchers at the University of Cambridge are growing “mini-brains” that model brains with both amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), two neurodegenerative diseases that often overlap. These organoids—pea-sized collections of brain cells that help scientists learn about full-grown human brains—were developed in previous studies, but this is the first time that scientists have grown them for almost a year. This study could help researchers understand the early development of the two connected nervous system disorders, providing hope for preventing or delaying disease progression in the future. Learn more about this new study and what it means for ALS/FTD treatment.