Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

March 1, 2013

Can nerve endings in the tongue help us treat traumatic brain injury?

PITTSBURGH — The human tongue is an extraordinary bit of flesh. It's alternately squishy and tense, at times delicate and others powerful. It helps us taste, talk and tie cherry stems, all the while avoiding two interlocking rows of sharpened enamel that know only how to gnash. Now, it seems the tongue may even serve as a gateway to the human brain, providing us with the opportunity to treat serious afflictions from multiple sclerosis to combat-induced brain injuries.

The tongue is a natural candidate for electrical stimulation, thanks in part to a high density of sensory receptors and the concentration of electrolytes found in saliva. This has allowed researchers at the Tactile Communication and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop a pattern of electrodes that can be placed on the tongue and attached to a control box. All together, the system is called a Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator (PoNS).

Once hooked in, patients undergo 20-30 minutes of stimulation therapy, or CN-NiNM (cranial nerve non-invasive neuromodulation), matched to a regimen of physical, occupational and cognitive exercises specific to the ailment being treated. Each exercise corresponds with different patterns of tongue stimulation, which in turn coax the brain to form new neural pathways. These pathways remain active even after the stimulation has been removed, meaning the therapy can have lasting effects.

After treatment with CN-NiNM, patients with multiple sclerosis have been shown to have a 50 percent improvement in postural balance, 55 percent improvement in walking ability, a 30 percent reduction in fatigue and 48 percent reduction in M.S. impact scores (a measure of physical and psychological impact of M.S. from the patient's perspective). Extraordinary numbers by any standard, but if you really want to understand the project's impact, read about Kim Kozelichki ditching her hobbled limp for a healthy jog on the University of Nebraska's Medical Center blog.

Text Only
Slate
  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 11, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014

  • Investing more money in tornado research would be a disaster

    This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding to focus on improving forecasts of "high impact weather events" like tornadoes and hurricanes "for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy."

    April 3, 2014

  • Hate With Friends, the fun new Facebook tool

    Hating movies, earworms, conventions of grammar, clothing brands, diet fads - you get the twinkle of pleasure without the glob of guilt, or the cold brush of fear. A Coldplay song doesn't know you hate it.

    April 2, 2014

  • dog-sunglasses.jpg Do animals have a sense of humor?

    Right now, in a high-security research lab at Northwestern University's Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, scientists are tickling rats. Their goal? To develop a pharmaceutical-grade happiness pill. But their efforts might also produce some of the best evidence yet that humor isn't something experienced exclusively by human beings.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_zuckerberg.jpg The logic of Facebook's multibillion-dollar shopping spree

    Yet again, Facebook has spent a gaudy sum of money to buy a hot startup. This time, it's virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR, at a purchase price of $2 billion. And don't be surprised if Mark Zuckerberg continues on his buying spree.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140325-AMX-BARISTA251.jpg Coffee's third wave? The Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft

    Do you remember when Starbucks was cool? It opened in Seattle in the 1970s as a local specialty roaster, a trendy alternative to the prevailing generic swill. But the price of conquest is cachet. What was once novel — the warm décor, the gentle music, the faux-Italian lingo — has become banal. Today's coffee snobs would rather snort Sanka than set foot inside a Starbucks

    March 26, 2014 2 Photos

  • Why our brains just cannot let this mystery go

    Why should the story of Flight 370 grip us so? This mystery seems almost designed to arouse some fundamental parts of our brain.

    March 25, 2014