brain health


Roundup: ‘Brain Atlas’ Paves Way for Treatment Advances; Deaths from Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers Rising Globally; and More News

Scientists: New Cell Maps of the Brain to Help Advance Treatments for Disorders

Scientists say they have mapped more than 3,000 types of brain cells as part of a human brain atlas – the most extensive mapping of the human brain’s structure -- that was published this month in 24 different papers across three scientific journals.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funded the studies, states that the detailed map “allows for a deeper knowledge of the cellular basis of brain function and dysfunction, helping pave the way for a new generation of precision therapeutics for people with mental disorders and other disorders of the brain.”

The National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, or The BRAIN Initiative, was launched in 2017 and has identified  similarities and differences in how cells are organized and how genes are regulated in the human brain and the nonhuman primate brain. 

“Mapping the brain’s cellular landscape is a critical step toward understanding how this vital organ works in health and disease,” said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “These new detailed cell atlases of the human brain and the nonhuman primate brain offer a foundation for designing new therapies that can target the specific brain cells and circuits involved in brain disorders.” 

The primary goal of the project is to create comprehensive inventory of the cells in the brain — “where they are, how they develop, how they work together, and how they regulate their activity — to better understand how brain disorders develop, progress, and are best treated,” states the NIH in a news release.

Ed Lein, Ph.D., a  neuroscientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle who led five of the studies, said the findings were made possible by new technologies that are able to probe millions of human brain cells collected from biopsied tissue or cadavers.

"You can use this map to understand what actually happens in disease and what kinds of cells might be vulnerable or affected," Mr. Lein told NPR.

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers are Putting More People at Risk of Death Globally, New Study Warns

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is causing a greater number of deaths globally than melanoma, the more serious form of skin cancer, according to a study presented this month in Berlin at the European Academy of Dermatology and Neurology Congress 2023.

Although non-melanoma skin cancers are less deadly than melanomas, their prevalence is so high that the number of deaths is higher, the new study’s authors found. In 2020, there were nearly 1.2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer worldwide, compared to 324,635 cases of melanoma. The researchers also find that NMSC is underreported --  “and that the true impact of this disease may be even higher than estimated,” states a news release on the study.

Non-melanoma skin cancers usually develop in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), and are often named after the type of skin cell from which they develop. The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are: basal cell carcinoma, which accounts for about 75 percent of skin cancers; and squamous cell carcinoma, which represents about 20 percent of skin cancers.

The study, which was based on data from the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer, found a high incidence of skin cancer in fair-skinned and elderly populations from the U.S., Germany, U.K., France, Australia and Italy. However, even countries with a high proportion of dark phenotypes were not immune to the risk of death from skin cancer.

"Although NMSC is less likely to be fatal than melanoma skin cancer, its prevalence is strikingly higher,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Thierry Passeron, of the Nice University Hospital in France, in a statement. “In 2020, NMSC accounted for 78 percent of all skin cancer cases, resulting in over 63,700 deaths. In contrast, melanoma caused an estimated 57,000 fatalities in the same year. The significantly higher incidence of NMSC has, therefore, led to a more substantial overall impact."

Non-melanoma skin cancers slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin. In comparison, melanoma skin cancers develop in the melanocytes (cells that produce melanin). NMSC is less likely to spread to other parts of the body and can be treated more easily.

“There is an ongoing need to develop awareness campaigns that educate the general public about the risks of sun exposure and other relevant risk factors,” said lead study author, Professor Passeron. “These campaigns should be tailored to at-risk populations, including those with fair skin, outdoor workers, the elderly and individuals who are immunosuppressed. Importantly, these efforts should also extend to populations that may not typically be considered at high risk, such as darker-skinned populations.”

Younger Women are Outpacing Men in Getting Diagnosed with Lung Cancer, New Research Finds

A disparity is emerging among rates of lung cancer diagnoses in the U.S.: Women between the ages of 35 and 54 are being diagnosed with lung cancer at higher rates than men in that same age group. This is the finding of a new study published by the American Cancer Society in JAMA Network.

The findings contradict a common perception that lung cancer occurs mostly in middle-aged or older men who have smoked for many years. Overall, the rates of lung cancer have been falling in the U.S. There were about 65 new cases of lung cancer for every 100,000 people in 1992. By 2019, that figure had dropped to about 42.

The cited disparity in the new study is not large — about one or two more cases among every 100,000 women in that age range compared to men. But researchers emphasize that more studies are needed.  Overall, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death nationwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 197,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.

The new study found that cigarette smoking did not necessarily affect women more than men. However, smoking is, by far, the leading cause of lung cancer. The survival rate for lung cancer that has not spread is now more than 50 percent in the U.S, but lung cancer is often diagnosed in later stages after it has spread.

“Further research is needed to elucidate reasons for the higher lung cancer incidence in younger women,” the study authors wrote.. “Meanwhile, cigarette smoking cessation efforts should be intensified among younger and middle-aged women, and lung cancer screening encouraged among eligible women at both health care professional and community levels.”

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