Health Scan: Magen David Adom to train IDF paramedics

For the first time, religious Jewish teen volunteers to serve as paramedics during hesder military service.

By
July 28, 2013 04:48
MDA

MDA Ambulance. (photo credit: WIkicommons)

For the first time, young religious Jewish teenage boys who volunteer for Magen David Adom will be able to serve as paramedics during the military part of the hesder (arrangement combining talmudic studies at any of a number of modern Orthodox yeshivas with army service).

The new track has been added by MDA and the head of the hesder yeshiva in Modi’in, Rabbi Eliezer Scheinwald, the deputy chief medical officer in the IDF and the head of the military’s manpower division.

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Hesder service lasts a total of five years, of this time, 16 months (or 24 in some six-year programs) are dedicated to actual military service in the field, with the rest of the time spent studying Talmud.

The track is available to young, observant men who have volunteered with MDA for at least two years in high school and will serve in hesder for six years.

They will spent 18 months in the yeshiva, followed by a paramedic course of 11 months and then another 10 months in the yeshiva. The soldiers will then spend 18 months in the IDF as paramedics, followed by a return to the yeshiva – but while doing this, they will serve one shift a week as a volunteer paramedic.

Dozens of young men are expected to join the military paramedics program now that it has been launched.

DIGGING INTO THE BRAIN What if experts could delve into the brain, like archeologists, and uncover the history of past experiences? This ability might reveal what makes each of us a unique individual, and it could enable the objective diagnosis of a wide range of neuropsychological diseases.

New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot hints that such a scenario is within the realm of possibility – that spontaneous waves of neuronal activity in the brain bear the imprints of earlier events for at least 24 hours after the experience has taken place.

The new research stems from earlier findings in the lab of Prof. Rafi Malach of the Rehovot institute’s neurobiology department and others that the brain never rests, even when its owner is resting. When a person is resting with closed eyes – that is, no visual stimulus is entering the brain – the normal bursts of nerve cell activity associated with incoming information are replaced by ultra- slow patterns of neuronal activity. Such spontaneous or “resting” waves travel in a highly organized and reproducible manner through the brain’s outer layer – the cortex – and the patterns they create are complex, yet periodic and symmetrical.

Like hieroglyphics, it seemed that these patterns might have some meaning, and research student Tal Harmelech, under the guidance of Malach and Dr. Son Preminger set out to uncover their significance.

Their idea was that the patterns of resting brain waves may constitute “archives” for earlier experiences. As we add new experiences, the activation of our brain’s networks lead to long-term changes in the links between brain cells, an ability referred to as plasticity. As our experiences become embedded in these connections, they create “expectations” that come into play before we perform any type of mental task, enabling us to anticipate the result. The researchers hypothesized that information about earlier experiences would thus be incorporated into the links between networks of nerve cells in the cortex, and these would show up in the brain’s spontaneously emerging wave patterns.

In the experiment, the researchers had volunteers participate in a training exercise that would strongly activate a well-defined network of nerve cells in the frontal lobes. While their brain activity was monitored in the institute’s functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, the subjects were asked to imagine a situation in which they had to make rapid decisions.

The volunteers received auditory feedback in real time, based on the information obtained directly from their frontal lobe, which indicated the level of neuronal activity in the trained network. This neurofeedback strategy proved highly successful in activating the frontal network – a part of the brain that is notoriously difficult to activate under controlled conditions.

To test whether the connections created in the brain during this exercise would leave their traces in the patterns formed by the resting brain waves, the researchers performed fMRI scans on the resting subjects before the exercise, immediately afterward, and 24 hours later. Their findings, which appeared recently in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that the activation of the specific areas in the cortex did indeed remodel the resting brain wave patterns.

Surprisingly, the new patterns not only remained the next day, they were significantly strengthened. The fMRI images of the resting brain waves showed that brain areas that were activated together during the training sessions exhibited an increase in their functional link a day after the training, while those areas that were deactivated by the training showed a weakened functional connectivity.

This research suggests a number of future possibilities for exploring the brain – spontaneously emerging brain patterns could be used as a “mapping tool” for unearthing cognitive events from an individual’s recent past. Or, on a wider scale, each person’s unique spontaneously emerging activity patterns might eventually reveal a sort of personal profile – highlighting each individual’s abilities, shortcomings, biases and learning skills.

“Today, we are discovering more and more of the common principles of brain activity, but we have not been able to account for the differences between individuals,” says Malach. “In the future, spontaneous brain patterns could be the key to obtaining unbiased individual profiles.”

Such profiles could be especially useful in diagnosing or learning the brain pathologies associated with a wide array of cognitive disabilities.

YAD SARAH TO LEND OUT BABY CAR SEATS The voluntary organization Yad Sarah has purchased infant car seats for lending out to new parents who want to take their newborns home from the hospital and onward. Yad Sarah’s 100 branches around the country will offer the safety seats; they already lend out 50,000 milk pumps and cradles, said the organization’s founder and president Uri Lupolianski, who recently hosted at his Jerusalem headquarters several officials of the National Road Safety Authority, including its director-general Ron Moskovich.


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