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Flexing Senior Muscles

Surfing the Web, restoring vision and calling on the Bee Gees to save lives.

Winter 2009
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GOOGLING MAY IMPROVE brain function, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, have found. In a study in which 24 healthy adults ages 55 to 76 performed Internet searches, those familiar with the Web showed increased brain activity in areas that control decision-making and complex reasoning, areas not stimulated when the subjects engaged in reading tasks. The brain activity registered two times higher in Web-savvy adults than in those with little Internet experience, suggesting that surfing the Net is a worthwhile exercise for aging minds. The study is to appear in a spring issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

GENE THERAPY RESTORED SOME VISION to blind mice afflicted with degeneration in the rods and cones, the light-detecting cells in the retina. Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital used a virus to deliver the gene that encodes melanopsin, a light-sensitive protein, to retinal ganglion cells, which relay light signals from the rods and cones to the brain. Within a month, 10% of the cells were producing melanopsin, enabling treated mice to differentiate between dark and light areas. Researchers think a similar approach might someday partially reverse blindness in people with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.

CHOCOLATE MILKSHAKES are less pleasurable to individuals with fewer dopamine receptors than is the norm, according to an Oregon Research Institute study. Pleasure from eating comes from the release of dopamine, the body‘s feel-good hormone; when it is decreased, some people may eat more to feel satisfied. After tracking the body mass indexes of adolescent girls and college-age women for a year, the Oregon researchers found that those with less activation in the dorsal striatum—where dopamine is interpreted and the gratifying sensations are processed—were more prone to weight gain.

THE BEE GEES’ “Stayin’ Alive” helps people correctly perform CPR and remember the technique five weeks later, say researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria. The study of 10 doctors and five medical students was presented at a recent conference of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Use of the song as a timekeeping benchmark for CPR is nothing new (Alson Inaba, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at the University of Hawaii, first made the claim in 2005). But the study provides the initial evidence that the 1970s pop hit‚ with its throbbing 100 beats per minute, an almost perfect pace for performing chest compressions‚ aided recall of the emergency procedure.

AGE-RELATED FRAILTY might be reduced by a pill, researchers at the University of Virginia Health System have found. In a two-year study of 65 people ages 60 to 81, muscle mass (a correlate of strength) in the arms and legs of those who took a daily dose of the drug MK-677 increased by 20%, with no serious side effects. By mimicking ghrelin‚ a peptide that stimulates receptors for the growth hormone secretagogue‚ MK-677 boosted growth hormone and growth factor 1 to levels usually found in healthy young adults, which in turn combated muscle mass loss associated with aging. Further study into the drug’s efficacy and long-term safety are next.

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