London cabbies’ brains are being studied for their navigating skills. It could help Alzheimer’s research.

The Washington Post

By Cathy Free


London cabbies who drive the city’s iconic black taxis have been required since 1865 to pass a difficult test known as “the Knowledge” to prove that they can find 100,000 businesses and landmarks in a labyrinth of tens of thousands of streets.

The series of exams — which take three to four years to complete — have been hailed as possibly the most difficult memorization test in the world. To be fully licensed with a “green badge” to drive anywhere in London, a cabbie needs to

know how to plot routes without a GPS on about 26,000 streets spanning a sixmile radius from London’s center point, Charing Cross.

But London cabbies’ skills are now being tested for a different reason: to determine whether their brains hold clues that might be applied to Alzheimer’s disease research.

A project called Taxi Brains is underway at University College London to studythe brains of London cabbies as they map out taxi routes while undergoing MRI scans.

“London cabbies have remarkable brains,” said Hugo Spiers, a professor of cognitive neuroscience who set up the project with three doctoral students. He cites a 2000 study done by Irish neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire showing that

learning the Knowledge causes positive changes in a taxi driver’s brain.

The hippocampus regions of taxi drivers’ brains — which play an important role in learning and memory — appear to grow larger the longer the drivers are on the job, he said, while the same region is known to shrink in people with Alzheimer’sdisease.

“We don’t know much about how taxi drivers use their hippocampus during route planning,” said Spiers. “And how do they use other brain regions to solve the task

of navigating 26,000 streets? Can we explain why they might be quick to plan out

one route and take a while to think out another one? It’s something we need to know more about.”

The answers could lead to the development of diagnostics to detect dementia earlier and treat patients sooner, he said, noting that he and his team plan to

forward their study results to Alzheimer’s Research UK and have preliminary findings available sometime next summer.

Taxi drivers who signed up for the MRIs from July through October said they were happy to discover there was another way to use the memorization skills

they’d acquired through the Knowledge. There are 30 cabbies in the study.

For Matt Newton, 44, there was also a more personal reason to participate. Newton’s father died of dementia in 2019, he said, so he felt a strong sense of duty to be part of it.

“I know what a devastating disease it is for the person [who has it] and the family,” he said. “It was only a few hours of my time, so I was happy to help.” Newton, a cabbie since 2016, said he signed up for the Taxi Brains project when

he spotted an ad over the summer calling for green badge taxi driver volunteers.

Inside an MRI scanner, Newton was shown photos of London landmarks and street names and asked to map out 120 routes in his mind from Point A to Point B while his brain was scanned, he said.

He and the other cabbies were also asked to play Sea Hero Quest — a video game often used in scientific research to test a brain’s complex spatial navigation

abilities. For their time, they each received about $40 and an MRI photo of their brain, said PhD researcher Chris Gahnstrom.

“They were by far the nicest and most forthcoming group I’ve had the pleasure to run experiments with,” he said.

“London cabbies are ideal participants [for this study] because there is no other professional group quite like them, especially in the field of spatial navigation,” added Gahnstrom, 31. “They’re a large group of expert navigators who have all

had to learn an immense amount of similar information that they are required to use on a daily basis.”

“This is what sets them apart,” he said, noting that the Taxi Brains team hopes to identify which subregions of the hippocampus are most significantly affected in the brains of those who have studied the Knowledge.

Newton said he wasn’t surprised to learn that London cabbies’ brains develop more volume the longer they’re on the job.

“I actually enjoyed studying the Knowledge, but it was extremely difficult — most people give up,” he said.

“I studied 12 hours a day, seven days a week for three and a half years,” added Newton, who worked as a network analyst for 20 years before he decided to switch careers and climb behind the wheel. Cabbies who complete the Knowledge earn in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on how many hours  they drive.

“I started out learning the ‘Blue Book’ — a set of 320 runs between various points in London,” he said. “I started calling up 80 of these runs every day in my head,

then driving the runs on a scooter. I learned hospital runs, theater runs, football runs, and ‘no traffic light’ runs before I applied to be a taxi driver.”

After he passed a written test, Newton then began the process of becoming a “black cabbie,” he said. At the beginning of his Knowledge quest, he was called

into an examiner’s office every 56 days and asked to recite what streets he would take between two points in London for four different routes.

Once he’d scored enough points to move to the next level, Newton was called in every 28 days, and finally, every 21 days, he said.

“At each point, if you fail, you go back to the previous level,” he said. “You could study for three years and still end up back at the beginning. There is no guarantee that you’ll pass.”

Driver Rob Lordon became so fascinated by his own experience with the Knowledge that he decided to start a blog about it. And in 2018 he published a

book, “The Knowledge: Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie.”

When he heard about the Taxi Brains project, he said he immediately felt compelled to sign up.

“I’m very fortunate that nobody in my family suffers from Alzheimer’s,” said Lordon, 40. “However, I’m fully aware of just how awful a disease it is, and if I’m

able to help in just a small way, I thought it was important to do so.” The test for the cabbie study was a cakewalk, he said, compared to negotiating London’s narrow, winding streets at rush hour.

“Driving in London has become increasingly stressful in recent years due to issues such as multiple road closures and ever-worsening traffic,” said Lordon. “So it

was a pleasure to participate in the Alzheimer’s test. And good fun, too.”

Former Tiger seeks to lift damages bid with concussion claim

The Age

By Jon Pierik

October 22, 2021

A former Richmond footballer is pushing to heighten his legal case against the club,n claiming he suffered up to 30 concussions which have led to a range of neurological disorders and several suicide attempts.

In a week when state coroner Judge John Cain’s comments that he intended to embrace limited parameters in the investigation into the death of Shane Tuck left former AFL players angry and upset, it has emerged that another Tiger, Ty Zantuck, has filed an amended claim in the Victorian Supreme Court detailing how he has been left impaired by a number of serious head knocks.

But whether the amended claim, filed out of time, and in addition to the earlier allegations that he was left with chronic orthopaedic and back injuries, is accepted won’t be decided by the court until a

hearing on November 16.

Zantuck, who played 68 games for the Tigers between 2000 and 2004, is already suing the Tigers and three former and current doctors, alleging they were negligent and breached their

duty of care in the treatment of a back injury that he claims left him permanently injured, depressed and prompted him to attempt suicide. The Tigers and the three doctors have all denied the original orthopaedic claims made by Zantuck. Sources close to Zantuck expect the Tigers, criticised by his lawyer Greg Griffin for

not having detailed medical records from the time, to fight having the amended claim added to Zantuck’s earlier case. The Tigers did not wish to comment on the amended claim when

contacted by The Age.

Former Richmond doctor Chris Bradshaw, current club doctor Greg Hickey and another doctor Vincent Healey have all denied the original allegation of negligence, along with the

Tigers. Zantuck claims the back injury, the fall-out from it and the impact of the epidural injections left him medically unfit to train and play AFL football.

Among the statements lodged by the defence to Zantuck’s initial claim, the Tigers deny “that any act or omission on its part caused injury, loss or damage to the plaintiff”. Hickey

denied that between January 2004 and August 2004 Zantuck had back pain which “incapacitated” him playing football, while Bradshaw said at all times he acted professionally as a doctor. Healey denied any negligence.

But the club and doctors are now facing more claims from lawyer Greg Griffin and Zantuck that the latter has short-term memory loss, is at risk of early onset dementia and is at

greater risk of CTE, a degenerative brain disease.

“Mr Zantuck was drafted to RFC at 17 years old and recalls that the football he played in his teens leading up to his time at the RFC was relatively low contact,” the amended statement, seen by The Age, says.

“He does not recall significant head knocks or concussions before he commenced playing for RFC in 2000. Mr Zantuck estimates that he suffered between 20-30 concussions during his

employment at RFC between 2000-04.” Griffin and his team have analysed footage of many of Zantuck’s matches, and point out the

serious knocks they believe he had in round 21, 2002, round one, 2003 and round 12, 2003.

“The clips of Mr Zantuck from round 1 played on 28 March 2003 are particularly relevant,” the statement says, adding he had suffered a broken cheek bone on February 13, 2003 in a

non-football incident which required the insertion of a plate.

“Some six weeks after that surgery, Mr Zantuck suffered in round 1 what appears to be two serous head knocks to the side of his face the subject of the surgery.

“Of further evidence is that notwithstanding the medical advice given to RFC and Mr Zantuck that he should not engage in physical training or play competitive football for a

period of six weeks after the broken cheek bone, he returned to running and swimming and then competitive training within weeks of the surgery thereby not complying with the

medical advice he had received.

“RFC and the medical staff were aware of the time period in which Mr Zantuck should have not engaged in these activities.”

Dr Rowena Mobbs, a consultant neurologist, has compiled Zantuck’s detailed medical

history which is included in the updated statement of claim. In summary, it is claimed he suffers sensitised back pain, severe neck pain, chronic pain

syndrome, major depressive disorder “with co-morbid anxiety and a history of suicide

attempts”, post-traumatic stress disorder and a range of neurological disorders.

These include “short-term memory loss, the risk of early onset of dementia … an increased risk of the onset of CTE, an inability to control his temper over issues that previously were

minor and of no consequence … ”

Zantuck also played nine matches for Essendon in 2005 but “does not recall any significant collisions or head knocks during his time at Essendon”.

In April, Griffin filed documents stating Zantuck was diagnosed with a back injury as a result of the club’s weight training and running program in December 2001 or January 2002. He

had asked not to attend a training camp in the Grampians where players were due to hike with a 30-kilogram backpack.

Zantuck’s request was denied but the weight of his bag was cut to 15 kg. He says he soon suffered back spasms, was diagnosed with a slipped disc and says he was

injected with local anaesthetic. He says he then had between 15 and 20 epidural injections during the 2003 and 2004 seasons.


Mother jailed in UK over baby’s injuries blames former partner at appeal

 The Guardian UK

Hannah Summers

Thu 28 Oct 2021 

A woman has told the appeal court her controlling boyfriend, who ‘petrified her’, led her to lie at the original trial about how her baby came to be harmed.

A mother imprisoned for causing serious harm to her baby has told the courtm of appeal she lied at her trial because of the control her former boyfriend had

 The woman, known as Jenny, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told fractures and bleeding on the brain in June 2017.

The landmark hearing has the potential to change the way coercive control is understood in cases where a victim feels that abuse has led them to lie in court.

At the original trial the woman, Jenny, said she caught her cardigan on a cupboard door while preparing her son’s feed, causing him to fall to a concrete floor.

She was given a 10-year extended sentence, later reduced to five. 

On Thursday she told judges the baby’s father punched her in the head as she held their son, causing them both to fall.

Addressing Lady Justice Macur, Mr Justice Jay and Mr Justice Murray, she described how she rose at 1am to make a bottle as her partner arrived home.

“He was wide-eyed and sweating and I knew he was on crack cocaine,” she said. “He had an evil look in his eye … I was petrified.” It was then, she said, that he punched her unconscious.

When she came round the baby was on the floor,  She claimed she was unable to tell police the truth because her boyfriend was present. “I did not want to anger him or agitate him as he [was holdingmy baby.”

It is rare for a case to be re-examined where an applicant is altering their testimony, however Paramjit Ahluwalia, a barrister, asked judges to consider

the exceptional circumstances, saying that coercive control played a crucial role in preventing Jenny from giving a true account, so the conviction was unsafe.

Lawyers presented a file of fresh evidence including medical and police records to the judges. Records show Jenny was diagnosed with “postconcussion

syndrome” on the night of the incident and a contemporaneous note of a hand injury to her partner’s fist was not disclosed at trial.

One expert psychologist said the abuse Jenny had suffered, including being locked up, deprived of sleep and food, and urinated on, amounted to

“torture”.Giving evidence the mother-of-three said her partner would control her movements, finances and relationships, leading her to question her sanity. “I

knew I was not safe, he made me think that everyone was against me and I was crazy and that no one would believe me.”

She moved into her own flat in August 2017, however he tracked her down, escorting her to and from court where he sat next to her as her co-defendant and was acquitted on a lesser charge.

Jenny said: “He was there looking at me, listening to my every word. During

the trial he would regularly turn up at my address and assault me … he would punch me and drag me by my hair and clothes.”

While in prison, in February 2018, Jenny said she felt safe enough to disclose the abuse and wrote to her legal team.

Representing the Crown, John Price QC said the appeal was seeking a “second bite at the cherry”. He said: “The evidence the applicant gave introduces nothing new about the degree of force with which the child struck the floor – whether that was caused by a cardigan catching or by a punch.” jury the truth. “We submit there is no credible explanation for that,” he said. shouted that she had thrown the baby and she replied: “I was feeding the child, you hit me and that is how the baby dropped.” agreement to further their mutual interests”. 

Macur acknowledged that coercive control victims could find themselves isolated. But she added: “I keep coming back to that incident. We have still

got to make a decision about whether her evidence is worthy of belief.”A verdict will be delivered later.

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