We know maps can lead us to some of our favorite destinations, but did you know they may also put us on the road to better health?  Now, new research in brain mapping may help find treatments to some of the most common neurological and memory disorders.

Dr. Mayank Mehta is one of a number of researchers at UCLA studying the secrets of the human brain.

"We hope this could help us understand what goes wrong in Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Mayank Mehta, UCLA Professor of Neurology, Physics, and Astronomy, told Ivanhoe.

Mehta mapped neuron patterns that form when rats do simple tasks in hopes of learning more about how different sections of the brain communicate.

"The brain has its own dynamics, its own laws of physics.  If that goes wrong, clearly it will play a role in loss of memory, such as Alzheimer's or PTSD," Dr. Mehta explained.

Diseases that Dr. Arthur Toga says may one day be treated with targeted therapies using brain mapping.  

"Our ability to look at a living brain of an individual that has a disease, or has had a traumatic brain injury, has allowed us to target exactly what has happened and suggest various therapies," Arthur Toga, Director of the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, told Ivanhoe.

For the first time, Dr. Toga's team has mapped the progression of Alzheimer's in the brain. 
"The net result is almost a four dimensional map showing you the trajectory of loss of tissue," Dr. Toga said.

While understanding and unlocking the secrets of the brain may take many years, researchers say it will be worth it when those secrets lead to treatments and possible cures.  

"Well, every few months is a bigger breakthrough," Dr. Toga said.

Researchers say they'd eventually like a large library of brain maps that will help them compare brains of people who suffer from similar diseases. This library will help doctors across the world give personalized treatment to each patient.

BACKGROUND:  Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.  It is not a normal part of aging, although aging is the greatest risk factor.  Up to five percent of people with the disease have early onset, which appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s.  However, it is a progressive disease that gets worse over time.  In early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.  It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.  Patients with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others.  However, survival can range from four to twenty years, depending on age and other health conditions.  (Source: www.alz.org)

ALZHEIMERS'S & THE BRAIN:  Changes in the brain begin long before the first signs of memory loss.  The brain has 100 billion nerve cells.  Each nerve cell connects with others to form communication networks.  Groups of nerve cells have special jobs, some of which are involved with learning, thinking, and remembering.  Others help with hearing and smell.  Brain cells operate like tiny factories.  They receive generate energy, supplies, construct equipment, and get rid of waste.  Cells also process and store information and communicate with other cells.  Researchers believe Alzheimer's disease prevents parts of a cell's factory from running well.  As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.  (Source: www.alz.org)

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  There is not a cure for Alzheimer's, but there are drugs and non-drug treatments available that can help with cognitive and behavioral symptoms.   Researchers are looking for new treatments to alter the course of the disease and improve patients' quality of life.  Now, researchers at UCLA have been developing this brain mapping project.  "This is a project born of frustration, basically. For many years, all of us who study brain structure and function have struggled with the fact that no two brains are the same -- not in shape or size and certainly not in function," Dr. John Mazziotta of the International Consortium for Brain Mapping, based at the University of California, Los Angeles, was quoted as saying. "But how different they were and how to compare them was not known."  They have been collecting brain images from all sorts of people living in seven nations on four continents.  The brain atlas maps the brains in multiple dimensions.  It charts brain activity.  (Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3077071/ns/health-alzheimers_disease/t/brain-atlas-seeks-define-normalcy/)   


Mark Wheeler
Senior Media Relations Rep
UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations

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