The News – 17 September 2014

Overview

  • In the first study designed to assess how partially ‘humanising’ brains of a different species affects key cognitive functions, scientists report that mice carrying Foxp2 – a human gene associated with language – learned new ways to find food in mazes faster than normal mice.
  • Indigenous health and domestic violence agencies say they are grappling with how to save their services from folding under Federal Government budget changes.
  • A Perth woman who has been working on the frontline in West Africa’s fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak says the response has been woefully inadequate so far and is calling on the Australian Government to do more.


Stories Discussed
News on Health Professional Radio. Today is the 17th September 2014. Read by Rebecca Foster.

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2014/09/16/4088909.htm

Scientists have spliced a key human brain gene into mice, that demonstrated accelerated learning as a result.

In the first study designed to assess how partially ‘humanising’ brains of a different species affects key cognitive functions, scientists report that mice carrying Foxp2 – a human gene associated with language – learned new ways to find food in mazes faster than normal mice.

By isolating the effects of one gene, the research sheds light on its function and hints at the evolutionary changes that led to the unique capabilities of the human brain, the scientists say.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“No one knows how the brain makes transitions from thinking about something consciously to doing it unconsciously,” says Ann Graybiel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the study authors. “But mice with the human form of Foxp2 did much better.”

In a 2009 study, mice carrying human Foxp2 developed more complex neurons and more efficient brain circuits.

Building on that, Graybiel lead a team who took hundreds of mice genetically engineered to carry the human version of Foxp2, and trained them to find chocolate in a maze.

If Foxp2 produces the cognitive flexibility to switch between forms of learning, that may help explain its role in speech and language.

When children learn to speak, they transition from consciously mimicking words they hear to speaking automatically. That suggests that switching from declarative to procedural memory, as the humanized mice did so well thanks to Foxp2, “is a crucial part of the process,” Graybiel says.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-16/funding-doubts-have-indigenous-health-agencies-worried/5748070

Indigenous health and domestic violence agencies say they are grappling with how to save their services from folding under Federal Government budget changes.

The changes mean that existing organisations have to re-tender to continue delivering services they have been operating for more than a decade in some cases.

Board members from the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service have been meeting in rural Victoria to plan for the year ahead.

Their discussions have been overshadowed by the fact they have to re-tender for a service they have been delivering for up to 16 years in 14 locations across Australia.

The Government’s new $4.8 billion Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) amalgamates 150 programs, and existing organisations will not see funding automatically renewed.

Under the categories of jobs, land and economy, children and schooling, safety and wellbeing, culture and capability and remote Australia strategies, they will have to display evidence they are improving lives and also compete with larger, non-Indigenous organisations.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said cutting funding to Indigenous organisations was not the aim of the plan to reduce red tape and increase flexibility.

He said organisations would be able to apply for funding for multiple programs via a single application creating a much simpler system.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-16/aid-worker-calls-for-boosted-ebola-response/5748252

A Perth woman who has been working on the frontline in West Africa’s fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak says the response has been woefully inadequate so far and is calling on the Australian Government to do more.

Ali Readhead has just returned to Perth from Sierra Leone where she spent three years working for aid organisations and as a government adviser.

Last month, as the disease began to take hold of parts of West Africa, she was recruited by Sierra Leone’s health minister to support the Ebola response in the country’s capital city Freetown.

Her first job was to set up an emergency operation centre and to keep ministers and members of parliament informed about the crisis.

She said despite the good intentions of Sierra Leone’s government and aid agencies, the response was, and still is, falling far short.

Ms Readhead led an assessment of hospitals in Freetown to determine how well equipped they were to handle the wave of Ebola cases.

While she welcomed the Australian Government’s recent contribution of $1 million to the World Health Organisation’s Ebola response, Ms Readhead said there simply were not anywhere near enough people on the ground.

She has launched a petition calling on the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to send in a military team to set up a field hospital in Sierra Leone.

So far she has received more than 1,000 signatures.

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