Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – October 31, 2014

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By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D

photo credit: Ian Ruotsala via photopin cc

Research Policy

Brain-Training Companies Get Advice From Some Academics, Criticism From Others

Media attention has exploded recently over brain games such as Lumosity and CogMed.  These companies often make claims that their games can enhance intelligence and slow cognitive decline.  Although the groups advertise they base their games on research studies from top universities, their advertisements are not well-founded on science, asserts a group of 70 researchers in a critique of some of the statements made by the brain-training industry. Sometimes brain game companies even promote their products by showing photos and names of collaborating scientists without their permission. According to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, this was the case for Susanne M. Jaeggi, an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of California at Irvine.  Dr. Jaeggi briefly collaborated with Lumosity several years ago, hoping the company’s web platform would facilitate data collection on an experiment she and her research partners had designed. Although Jaeggi terminated the project after running a few subjects, her name is still in Lumosity’s materials, and she has found her photo on other companies’ websites, used without her permission, to hint that she endorses their products.    The critique was signed by professors of neuroscience, psychology, and gerontology.  Professors from the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, wrote that there was “little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.” Not all researchers agree, however. Lumping all brain game companies together is “a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” said Michael Merzenich, a professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, and chief scientific officer of the brain-training company Posit Science, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education article describing the statement as “irresponsible.”  Roberto Cabeza, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and another signatory on the statement, says that his view is that it’s fine to play such games for fun, but “if you’re doing it like a chore” to postpone cognitive aging and dementia there are other, better established methods of keeping the brain sharp, such as exercising.  Bottom line is that the $120 you might be tempted to spend on a commercial brain games subscription might be better spent on a gym membership. (Rebecca Koenig, Chronicles of Higher Education)


Biology – Stem Cell Research

Scientists grow ‘miniature stomachs’ from stem cells, which could patch up ulcers one day

Scientists grow ‘miniature stomachs’ from stem cells, which could eventually be used to patch ulcers. The study, conducted at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center published in Nature this week, was the first time scientists were able to use human stem cells to generate functional 3D stomach tissue. In addition, the researchers replicated what occurs in the real stomach when they injected the ulcer-causing H.Pylori bacteria. According to the lead author James Wells, “whatever the mouse stomach did at any given stage, our mini-stomach did as well, and at basically the same time, and it developed into a strikingly stomach-like architecture.” Eventually the hope is that a patient’s own cells can be used to grow patches of tissue to repair damage in the stomach, intestine, or colon. (Rachel Feltman, Washington Post)


Human Health and Nutrition

Sweet Stuff
How Sugars and Sweeteners Affect Your Health

Time to take out the candy for tonight’s ‘Trick-or-Treaters’?   Maybe it would be better to offer something not so sweet or to try the Halloween Candy Buyback program featured on today’s NPR’s blog “The Salt.”  NIH pediatricians, such as Kristina Rother, and other sweetener experts agree that Americans eat way too much sugar and it contributes to the obesity epidemic and cardiovascular problems. The leading culprits are soft drinks and sweetened juices, but sugar is also added to foods to make them taste better. On a list of ingredients, they may be listed as sucrose (table sugar), corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit-juice concentrates, nectar, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweeteners, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, or other words ending in “-ose,” the chemical suffix for sugars. It turns out that 15% of the American diet is made up of added sugar and this percentage is equivalent to 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day.  ( Vicki Contie, Carol Torgan, NIH News in Health)


Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!


Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 31, 2014 at 4:29 pm

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