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Living Lab Radio: Researching A Drug To Treat CTE, Ice On Mars, And More

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is hit by Jacksonville Jaguars safety Barry Church (42) as he breaks up a pass during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. Repeated head injuries, such as the one Gronkowski suffered as a result of this hit, can lead to the brain disease CTE. Researchers are working to develop possible treatments for CTE.
Steven Senne/AP

Research moves closer to a treatment for CTE brain damage: Pro Football Hall of Famers are among those touting a new Flag Football Under 14 campaign, advocating for youth athletes to play flag football, or another sport, until the age of 14. This once again highlights the risk of a degenerative brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in football. CTE is caused by repeated head trauma, and it can cause memory loss, aggression, and eventually, dementia. There’s currently no treatment or cure. The only sure prevention is to avoid repeated hits to the head, such as those that occur in tackle football.

Now, two different research groups have published work implicating a protein known as tau in the development of CTE. Tangled masses of erroneously modified tau proteins are associated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS (Lou Gerig’s Disease). One of the new studies found that the version of tau found in the brains of CTE patients is the same as the one involved in ALS.

Michael Strong, Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Distinguished University Professor at Western University, said that gives researchers a huge boost in developing possible treatments for CTE. 

“We already know the drug panel that we would need to test,” Strong said.

Those drugs could interrupt the process that leads to tau tangles, preventing brain damage. Strong said he’s hopeful that human trials could be just a handful of years away.

New England’s newest fishery plan has science at its core: New England’s fishery managers have released a sweeping new plan for managing the ocean ecosystems off New England’s coasts. Habitat Omnibus Amendment 2, as it’s known, has been 14 years in the making. As with any new fishing rule, it’s been controversial, with critics among both the fishing industry and environmental advocates. It has also been hailed as a groundbreaking application of ocean science.

The plan designates a number of areas in which fishing will be restricted to protect the physical structure of the sea floor. It’s all based on a model that synthesizes state-of-the-art maps and video surveys of the seafloor, the habitat preferences of individual species, and what’s known about the environmental impacts of different fishing gear.

With dozens of different species to consider — from cod, to scallops, to lobsters — it’s an enormous juggling act. Michelle Bachman, lead fishery analyst for habitat with the New England Fishery Management Council, said that if there are critics on both sides, that probably means the council has done its job. She noted that no one is pretending this plan is either perfect or final.

In fact, one of the most notable features of Amendment 2 is that it sets aside two areas specifically for further research and experimentation to address the open, and often contentious, questions about the effect of habitat protections on commercial fisheries. The entire amendment will likely be reviewed and revised in 10 years.

Images reveal 3D structure of ice on Mars: We’ve known for a decade or more that there is water — albeit frozen — on Mars. Now, a new analysis of satellite images reveals the whereabouts of eight substantial ice deposits. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has published the findings in the journal Science, saying that there’s ice under a third of the surface of Mars. Some of the ice is just a few feet below the surface, while other deposits are under 300 feet of rocks and dust. This is important information for those who are working on sending humans to Mars. It could also be a trove of information about the climate history of the red planet. We talk with the lead author of the study, USGS scientist Colin Dundas.

Olympic Gold Medals May Depress The Stock Market: Economists have long suspected that the Olympics can induce a feel-good effect that results in an economic boost. But a new study suggests there’s something else going on, as well.

Yes, people purchase items from sponsor companies, and that creates revenue. But it appears that, in addition to the feel-good effect, the Olympics — particularly gold medals — have a distracting effect that can actually lower trade volumes on the stock market the following day. 

It’s a result that surprised researchers, said lead author Jessica Wang, a lecturer in Accounting and Finance at Nottingham Trent University.

The strength of the distraction effect varies from sport to sport, and country to country. It’s particularly strong in the U.S. 


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