Body & Brain

The brain 'sees' Braille, plus engineered urethras and baseball practice swings in this week's news

Tissue-engineered urethras Using cells from a person’s own body, scientists have rebuilt urethras for five boys age 10 to 14 who had defects in the urinary tube. The researchers used cells from each boy to bioengineer urethras by growing the cells on a tubular scaffold and then surgically installed the living-tissue tube in each patient. Three boys had urethras damaged by trauma and two had had failed urethra repair surgery. Three months after the reconstructive surgery, the bioengineered urethras had developed normal cell structure. Several years after implantation, they continue to function. Scientists at Wake Forest University and the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City and others collaborated on the study, which appeared online March 8 in Lancet . — Nathan Seppa fMRI scans a rat Researchers now know what’s going on in the brain of a live rat. For the first time, a brain imaging technique called functional MRI scanned an awake rat. Previous experiments relied on brain scans of anesthetized animals, but anesthesia can dramatically affect brain activity. In addition to finding connection similarities between the rat brain and the human brain, the new method, published March 9 in the Journal of Neuroscience , may prove useful for screening therapies for neurological disorders, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester write. — Laura Sanders Erectile woes and NSAIDs Men who frequently use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen might be more prone to developing erectile dysfunction, a study published online February 21 in the Journal of Urology shows. Scientists analyzed information in mail questionnaires returned from more than 80,000 men age 40 to 69. Nearly half had used NSAIDs, and 29 percent reported encountering moderate or severe erectile dysfunction. Men who used NSAIDs five times a week were about one-fifth more likely to report erectile dysfunction than nonusers. Another analysis showed that men with severe erectile dysfunction were 38 percent more likely than men without it to have used NSAIDs. — Nathan Seppa Brain ‘sees’ Braille Words have a special place the brain, regardless of whether they’re read with the eyes or the fingers. In a brain imaging study, researchers expected to see activity in “touch” brain regions as people born blind read Braille. But instead, a region called the “visual word-form area” became active. The activity in blind people was similar to the brain response of sighted subjects as they read words. The visual word-form area of the brain probably responds to all words, regardless of how they’re read, an international team of researchers reports March 8 in Current Biology . — Laura Sanders Sleep deprivation’s risks Hitting the casino after pulling an all-nighter may be a risky strategy. After staying up all night, people were more likely to go for broke, gambling to win big bucks. When people were fully rested, though, they adopted a more conservative betting strategy, trying to prevent losses. Activity in part of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with positive outcomes, changed as sleepy people bet more aggressively. Sleep deprivation seems to change optimism levels, making sleepy people think that winning is more likely, Vinod Venkatraman of Duke University and colleagues report March 9 in the Journal of Neuroscience . — Laura Sanders Baseball assumption shattered Swinging a weighted bat before hitting doesn’t enable a baseball hitter to swing any faster, researchers report in the February Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research . Scientists at three universities asked 22 collegiate baseball players to take three swings each with a test bat, followed by two easy swings with each player’s game bat, unweighted. Each player then hit three balls off a tee. The routine was repeated every day for 10 days. The tests bats included six bats variously weighted, two normal bats without weights and two underweight bats. None affected bat speed substantially, with swings ranging from 87.7 to 89.2 miles per hour off the tee. — Nathan Seppa

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