Seniors relax by the sea in Andernos, Southwestern France,
June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

ScienceDaily.com, GoogleNews.com, by Kate Kelland  —  LONDON, Sep. 9, 2010 (Reuters) — Daily tablets of large doses of B vitamins can halve the rate of brain shrinkage in elderly people with memory problems and may slow their progression toward dementia, data from a British trial showed on Wednesday,

Scientists from Oxford University said their two-year clinical trial was the largest to date into the effect of B vitamins on so-called “mild cognitive impairment” — a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Experts commenting on the findings said they were important and called for larger, longer full-scale clinical trials to see if the safety and effectiveness of B vitamins in the prevention of neurodegenerative conditions could be confirmed.

“This is a very dramatic and striking result. It’s much more than we could have predicted,” said David Smith of Oxford’s department of pharmacology, who co-led the trial.

“It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay development of Alzheimer’s in many people who suffer from mild memory problems.”

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) affects around 16 percent of people aged over 70 worldwide and is characterized by slight problems with memory loss, language or other mental functions.

MCI does not usually interfere with daily life, but around 50 percent of people diagnosed with it go on to develop the far more severe Alzheimer’s disease within five years. Alzheimer’s is a mind-wasting disease for which there are few treatments and no cure, and which affects 26 million people around the world.

Smith and colleagues conducted a two-year trial with 168 volunteers with MCI who were given either a vitamin pill containing very high doses of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, or a placebo dummy pill.

These B vitamins are known to control levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in the blood, and high blood levels of homocysteine are linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Helga Refsum, who also worked on the trial, stressed that vitamins were given in extremely high doses.

“This is a drug, not a vitamin intervention,” she said.

The pills, called “TrioBe Plus” contained around 300 times the recommended daily intake of B12, four times daily advised folate levels and 15 times the recommended amount of B6.

Brain scans were taken at the beginning and the end of the trial to monitor the rate of brain shrinkage, or atrophy.

The results, published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One journal, showed that on average the brains of those taking the vitamin treatment shrank at a rate of 0.76 percent a year, while those taking the dummy pill had an average brain shrinkage of 1.08 percent.

People who had the highest levels of homocysteine at the start of the trial benefited the most from the treatment, with their brains shrinking at half the rate of those on the placebo.

Although the trial was not designed to measure cognitive ability, the researchers found those people who had lowest rates of shrinkage had the highest scores in mental tests.

Commenting on the study, Paul Matthews, a professor of clinical neurology at Imperial College London said that although the vitamins used are generally safe and inexpensive, the study “should not drive an immediate change in clinical practice”

“Instead, it sets out important questions for further study and gives new confidence that effective treatments modifying the course of some dementias may be in sight,” he said.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

NIH.gov, GoogleNews.com, September 9, 2010, ATLANTA (AP) – An apple a day? Apparently not in the United States.

A new government study says most Americans still don’t eat enough vegetables, and fruit consumption is actually dropping a little.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that last year about one-third of U.S. adults had two or more servings of fruit or fruit juice a day. That’s down slightly from more than 34 percent in 2000.

Only about 26 percent ate vegetables three or more times a day, the same as in 2000. The statistics come from a national telephone survey of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

            MIT’s Test Cell  Credit: Patrick Gillooly, MIT

PopSci.com, September 9, 2010, by Clay Dillow  —  Plants are extremely efficient converters of light into energy, more or less setting the bar for researchers creating photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. As such, researchers are constantly trying to mimic the tricks that millions of years of evolution and development have taught to plant biology. Now, a team of MIT scientists believe they’ve done it, creating a synthetic, self-assembling chloroplast that can be broken down and reassembled repeatedly, restoring solar cells that are damaged by the sun.

While the leaves on a tree appear to be as static as the PV cells on a solar panel, they’re not; sunlight is actually quite destructive, and to counter this effect leaves rapidly recycle their proteins as often as every 45 minutes when in direct summer sunlight. This rapid repair mechanism allows plants to take full advantage of the sun’s bountiful energy without losing efficiency over time.

To recreate this unique regenerative ability, the MIT team devised a novel set of self-assembling molecules that use photons to shake electrons loose in the form of electricity. The system contains seven different compounds, including carbon nanotubes that provide structure and a means to conduct the electricity away from the cells, synthetic phospholipids that form discs that also provide structural support, and other molecules that self-assemble into “reaction centers” that actually interact with the incoming photons to release electrons.

Under certain conditions, the compounds assemble themselves into uniform structures suitable for harvesting solar energy. But in the presence of a surfactant (similar to the stuff used to disperse oil during oil spills) the structures break down into a solution of nanotubes, phospholipids, and other constituent molecules. By pushing the solution through a membrane to remove the surfactant, the elements once again assemble into working, rejuvenated solar cells undamaged by their prior exposure to the sun.

The cells are work at 40 percent efficiency, and researchers think with some tweaks they could push that efficiency much higher. And because they don’t degrade over time – just give ‘em a quick shake with the surfactant and they’re essentially brand new – the tech could be the next big step forward for solar technology.