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					Magnets 'help regrow brain cells'
Magnets may offer a way to
boost mental performance,
US research suggests.

Scientists in New York
promoted the growth of new
neurons in the brains of mice
using a magnetic stimulus in
the region associated with
memory.                          Magnetic stimulation can be used for
                                 conditions such as depression

Presenting the results at the American Academy for
Neuroscience conference, the researchers said the results
may lead to treatments for Alzheimer's.

However, if proven the technique is more likely to be a way
of slowing progression of the disease than a cure.

Experts said the work was encouraging but would need to be
replicated in humans.

Trans cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been used to
treat certain disorders, including depression and
schizophrenia and to rehabilitate people after stroke.

It used a magnetic coil to introduce electrical fields in the
brain, which activates or deactivates groups of neurons.

To look at the effect of TMS          The work is particularly
on growth of neurons, Dr          encouraging for the use of
Fortunato Battaglia and Dr        brain stimulation in chronic
                                  disease such as stroke and
Hoau-Yan Wang at City             dementia
University in New York, gave
mice the therapy for five days    Professor Vincent Walsh
and then examined their
brains, New Scientist magazine   reported.

They found large increases in the proliferation of stem cells -
immature cells that go on to develop into nerves and other
kinds of tissue - in a part of the brain called the dentate
gyrus hippocampus.

These cells divide throughout life and are believed to play a
crucial role in memory and mood regulation.

In particular they found one receptor in the cells was
activated.

A subsequent study which is due to be published shortly
showed that the activity of this receptor declines in mice and
humans with Alzheimer's disease.

Brain recovery

Taking the two studies together, Dr Battaglia said there were
important implications for neurorehabilitation.

"When you have a stroke there is an area that is damaged
and there are several ways your brain can recover.

"One is that the area which is not damaged will have to work
more and it's that we can promote with brain stimulation."

He added that the hippocampus is much deeper in the brains
of humans so it would be important to make sure the
technique could produce the same effect as in mice.

"But it might improve symptoms or delay progression of
things like Alzheimer's disease," he added.

Professor Vincent Walsh from the Institute of Cognitive
Neuroscience at University College London said the findings
were a good first step.

"There are lots of examples of TMS enhancing function in
some way but we have never been able to explain the
mechanics of how it might work.

"The work is particularly encouraging for the use of brain
stimulation in chronic disease such as stroke and dementia.

"The challenge now is to find ways of combining stimulation
with drug therapies."

Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the
Alzheimer's Society said: "This is a potentially interesting
piece of work, but is a preliminary study in mice.

"Further research is now needed before we can find out if
TMS is a useful treatment approach for Alzheimer's disease in
humans."