Building the Brain: The Human Brain Project and the New Supercomputer

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Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric.

Edna St Vincent Millay


“Big data”—once the domain of genomics—is now easily the domain of science in general. With new techniques to measure the brain and brain activity (fMRI, EEG, etc) gaining momentum, in the neurosciences tremendous amounts of data are now being generated. The question now is, as Millay points to, how to weave this data into meaning.

During London Technology Week Sean Hill, a co-director of the Human Brain Project (a European brain initiative …

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Cancer and diet – how to ask the right questions

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In the panel discussion at the end of the first BioMed Central conference on Metabolism, diet and disease, the panellists confronted the overwhelming evidence for a link between obesity and cancer. The panel discussion at the second picked up where the first left off – Can cancer be prevented by diet?

The only categorical answer came from Stephen O’Keefe, starting from the epidemiology that shows a 100-fold difference in colon cancer risk between African Americans (high) and rural Africans (low). If you switch their diets – and he has done the experiment – the gut microbiota, he reports, switches within two weeks, with known carcinogens going up in the guts of the rural Africans and conversely down in African …

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Health Services Research conference – a final roundup

HSR conference

Our Health Services Research conference took place last week. Guest bloggers Jay Shaw and Anita Kothari, round up the last day and give us their thoughts on the conference overall.

The final day of the conference started with two thought-provoking speakers who invoked a flurry of twitter activity.

Anne Sales, with the University of Michigan, raised the issue of social influences on implementing evidence-based practices. Such influences have a long history grounded in Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation theory. A recent scoping review of social network studies in health (Chambers, Wilson, Thompson, Harden) found that most studies are descriptive with little emphasis on the aspects of social networks that can be attributed to patterns of diffusion.

Nevertheless, Anne reminded the audience that no single …

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Free Swag and Other Things not to Miss Out on at ISMB


This week a few of us here at BioMed Central are off to Boston for ISCB’s annual ISMB conference and its Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings. First thing’s first: We’ll be giving away cool swag like our new Bruce Lee/Kill Bill inspired GigaScience Open Data tshirts. Our 8GB GigaPanda USB drives will also be making a repeat appearance.

Where can you get these? We’ll be at booths #419 and #420 and would love to chat to you about open peer-review and our journals Biology Direct and GigaScience or some of our informatics journals like BMC Bioinformatics, Journal of Biomedical Semantics, and BioData Mining. GigaScience will be celebrating their second birthday at the meeting, …

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Singing can improve physical and mental health in the elderly


The challenges of an aging population are never far from the headlines, whether it’s concerns over pensions, or the increase in dementia cases. In this guest post, Ichiro Saito tells us about his latest research into singing and how it could benefit older people.

Prior to the development of speech as a way of communicating, humans used songs, humming, and other musical sounds. Songs have been used – and still are – in many different ways, from communicating  when hunting was good, to celebrating after a good harvest, from praying for rain, to mourning at funerals.

We’ve been looking into how understanding human song is useful today for Japan’s ’super-aged’ society. National census data shows the population of Japan is …

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WHO joins PubMed Central

WHO is now open

An open access world news update


There are many drivers behind the open access movement: to accelerate the pace of scientific research, discovery and innovation; increase the visibility, readership and impact of authors’ works, as well as to enhance interdisciplinary research, to name but a few. All factors point to one ultimate goal, the advancement of knowledge, which both researchers and publishers know, can only be reached by sharing results and making them as accessible as possible.

Back in January, the global health authority, the World Health Organisation (WHO), announced the launch of a new open access policy to ensure the widespread dissemination of scientific research. The policy, which applies to all WHO-authored or WHO-funded research published in external journals …

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June blogs digest: Alcohol and football, eating disorders in men, irreproducible research, and more

Alcohol advertising Warsaw

Missed out on some of our posts in June? No need to trawl the archives – we’ve pulled together the highlights for you right here.

Do we need a red card for alcohol advertising in football?

With the World Cup kicking off on 12th June, we braced ourselves for the highs and lows of a month of football. But getting bitten by Luis Suarez might not be the only danger of the tournament. In a guest post, Dr Jean Adams, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Newcastle University, UK, told us about her latest research into alcohol advertising in football, published in BMC Public Health.

The perfect body? How eating disorders and body image are a threat to …

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Health Services Research conference – Highlights from Day 2


Our Health Services Research conference continues at King’s College London with its second day. What did we learn? And, what were the highlights? Guest bloggers, Jay Shaw and Anita Kothari, round up Day 2 with their key moments.

Three thematic sessions organized the day: Implementation Science, Health Economics, Health Human Resources and Health Systems. Here’s a flavour of how the day unfolded:

Anna Gagliardi, a Scientist with the Toronto General Research Institute, spoke about the problem of translating clinical practice guidelines into practice. In particular, successful implementation in the user setting is difficult to achieve. Since those who produce guidelines may not have the resources to focus on implementation, this task often falls to the user. Tools are …

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The Evidence-Based Medicine renaissance: holy grail or poisoned chalice?

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Today at our Health Services Research Conference, Professor Trish Greenhalgh announced her new campaign for Real Evidence-Based Medicine. In this guest post, her fellow campaigner Dr Jeremy Howick writes about why we need a renaissance in Evidence-Based Medicine.

A meeting involving critics and proponents of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) took place in September 2013 to discuss how to overcome current problems with EBM.

Led by Trish Greenhalgh, the meeting attendees wrote an editorial that was published last week in the BMJ. The article – Evidence based medicine: a movement in crisis? – argues that the many benefits of EBM have too often been obscured by undesirable and often unintended consequences including:

Misappropriation of EBM by vested interests. These interests …

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The failure rate of clinical trials for Alzheimer’s – why we need to raise our game

Dr Simon Ridley

New research published today in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy has shown that the failure rate for Alzheimer’s Disease drug development is 99.6%. In this guest blog, Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, discusses the challenges we are facing in tackling this devastating condition, and what we can do to address them.

Dementia is the name for a collection of many different conditions, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. Alzheimer’s is characterised by a gradual decline in memory and changes in behaviour and communication. In the later stages, people often forget their friends and family as well as how to walk and feed themselves …

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