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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Adventure Starts Today: our altitude research project has officially started

After a good number of days of preparation, I finally managed to fit all of the research equipment and my own clothing and survival gear into 3 sacs. The ferry for Seattle leaves in 1.5 hours and I'll be on it!

Our official sponsors for this project include: Johnson and Johnson, Stepforth Web Marketing, and the University of Victoria.  Thank-you for your help towards making this project happen.

If you are interested in following various random blog posts throughout our trip or if you're interested in learning about or signing up for our research project, you can find information on our FaceBook page:

Our blog:
Study sign-up info:

Friday, 19 August 2011

Humans vs. a can of Coke at high altitude: measuring body response to altitude

I just completed a quick and dirty video montage of our White Mountain Peak adventure and posted it on this site.  Enjoy! (FYI: I'm not saying in the video that Coke is bad at altitude.  I'm saying that I might get a sugar rush and start running around at 14,000 feet-- not good.)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The 'Renascence' of Age-Related Brain Disease: detection and intervention

A data processing methodology that is sensitive to detecting a trajectory of changed brain function (from a baseline) related to low oxygen at altitude on the side of a mountain could very likely be successful at detecting a trajectory of changed brain function related to a progression towards Alzheimer's.

I am looking for partners (private or university) to join me in a line of investigation towards doing very early detection of Alzheimer's and other age-related brain diseases.

Recently, there as been an increase in the number of publications describing research where the investigators show very promising success rates classifying the EEG of persons with Alzheimer's Dementia from matched controls.  What is notable is that the groups examined are essentially persons characterized as having mid- to late-stage Alzheimer's Dementia.  This means two things.  First, we are getting to the point where we can have a tool that helps psychiatrists, and neuropsychologists help their patients and their patient's families figure out why the patients are having difficulties doing day-to-day activities. The second thing to note is that these investigators are only doing successful classification of mid- to late- stage Alzheimer Dementia; there are no successful investigations classifying early stage Alzheimer's Dementia from controls.(None that I have found as of this date.)  The main problem is that it is next to impossible using our current behavioral and interview evaluation methods to determine who has early stage Alzheimer's dementia, or who as some kind of mild cognitive impairment, or a plethora of other things going on.  Simply, we can not do a 'classification' of early stage Alzheimer's dementia.

In contrast to a classification of early stage Alzheimer's dementia, what we can do is attempt to predict who will develop mid stage or late stage Alzheimer's dementia.  The idea is simple: for a given individual, we record their trajectory of brain function over time and then see if they are moving in the direction towards one of those unwanted brain function conditions.

To develop and demonstrate that such a system of prediction works would normally require a number of years as one measures the brain function (using EEG methods) of many people while they are healthy and then each year measures each person's brain function until a subset of those persons develops a classifiable dementia. (I'm generalizing now because what we are really interested in is identifying unhealthy changes in brain function, or identifying 'brain malfunction'.)  There is an alternative to measuring brain function over many years that can jump-start the design and evaluation of the processing methods applied to an individual's EEG data.  The trick is to measure the brain function of a large group of people while they are at their home altitude and then measure their brain function as then ascend to high altitude.  We know that when persons are not properly acclimatized, altitude causes all sorts of malfunctions in brain function due to the reduce availability of oxygen at altitude. The area of the brain that is particularly susceptible to the effects of low oxygen is the hippocampus which is very important in memory.  Interestingly, it is failing memory that is one of the key characteristics of Alzheimer's.  Hence, a data processing methodology that is sensitive to detecting a trajectory of changed brain function (from a baseline) related to low oxygen at altitude on the side of a mountain could very likely be successful at detecting a trajectory of changed brain function related to a progression towards Alzheimer's.  Hence, this analogy could be used to design a system that provides very early detection of Alzheimer's Disease.

Below is a short video clip that I put together while I was outside training for my ascent to altitude on Kilimanjaro.  (The exercise if creating these clips and posting them to the web is an effort to improve my videography, editing, and extemporaneous communication skills.  You should see a marked improvement over time.)

I have done quite a bit of reading on the topic of high altitude effects and injuries and it has been enough to put some fear into my bones.  That said, I hear about many people (and have talked with some of them) that ascend to the summit and the descend successfully with no reported change in their ability to function in the world.  My own understanding of anoxia is that is starves brain cells and even kills them depending on the severity and duration of the exposure. My colleagues recently published an article on the topic.  The issues are, for a given person: (1) what oxygen levels are a problem (this is dependent on the person's activity level as physical movement descreases blood SPO2), (2) how long is too long to go without the 'home levels' of oxygen (again, this depends on many, many individual factors), (3) what recovery do we get after damaging some neurons, (4) how do we best promote recovery?

Paper: Paper: Hypobaric hypoxia impairs spatial memory in an elevation-dependent fashion

Paper: Spatial Deļ¬cits in a Virtual Water Maze in Amnesic Participants
with Hippocampal Damage

Paper: Human spatial navigation: cognitive maps, sexual dimorphism,
and neural substrates

Paper: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves spatial learning and
memory in a rat model of chronic traumatic brain injury

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Areas of the brain particularly susceptible to anoxia are important for spatial navigation

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is particularly sensitive to anoxia, low glucose levels (the brain needs glucose to function), and glucose toxicity (too much glucose).  One of the classic ways to investigate activation of the hippocampus and it's role in allocentric processing (spatial navigation) is by use of the Morris Water Task.  This particular task dates back to Richard Morris who used the task to show that lesions of the hippocampus impair spatial learning.

Since we will probably be affecting our hippocampal function when we ascend to altitude, I thought it would be useful to describe allocentric processing (or spatial navigation) and an example of when we use it. (Some of us actually use it quite often.  And I'd swear that other people have no idea.)

In the video below, I describe how we use allocentric processing of the information around us to find the location of a hidden rock beneath the surface of a lake. Basically, we have to use our brains to triangulate where were remember the location of the rock to be based on distance from shore and the distance from various landmarks or features on shore.

The next video illustrates an eye tracking methodology that we use in the lab to help us identify where people look when they use allocentric processing while navigating a virtual 1st-person perspective environment (such as when they play a video game).

For information discussing the hippocampus, spatial navigation, and brain injury, see the following references:

Goodrich-Hunsaker, N.J., Livingstone, S.A.*(now Lee), Skelton, R.W.. Hopkins, R.O. (2010). Spatial deficits in a virtual water maze in amnesic participants with hippocampal damage. Hippocampus, 20,  481-491.
Livingstone, S.*(now Lee), Skelton, R.W. (2007). Virtual environment navigation tasks and the assessment of cognitive deficits in individuals with brain injury.  Behavioural Brain Research, 185, 21-31.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Ice Climbing: Blue Obesssion Trailer by: outskitheyeti

I rarely re-post other people's videos but I had to cross-link this one so that everybody can see what this person is doing.

(definitely watch this video on YouTube (click on the playing video) and watch it as full screen and high definition)

Thanks for the inspiration and thank-you for creating this video and making it available for all of us to see!