A new interdisciplinary Stanford University initiative called NeuroCircuit aims to find the specific brain circuits that are responsible for mental-health conditions and then develop ways of noninvasively stimulate those circuits to potentially lead to improved treatments for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“You see things activated in brain images but you can’t tell just by watching what is cause and what is effect,” said Amit Etkin, Neurocircuit co-leader and a Stanford assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “Right now, if a patient with a mental illness goes to see their doctor they would likely be given a medication that goes all over the brain and body. While medications can work well, they do so for only a portion of people and often only partially.”
Etkin has been working with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to map and remotely stimulate parts of the brain. A TMS device generates a strong magnetic field that stimulates brain circuits near the surface. TMS is currently used as a way of treating depression and anxiety, but Etkin said the brain regions being targeted are the ones available to TMS, not necessarily the ones most likely to treat a person’s condition. They are also not personalized for the individual.
The solution may involve combining TMS with ultrasound. In his lab, Baccus has been using ultrasound to stimulate nerve cells of the retina to develop a prosthetic retina. Other members of the team are modifying existing ultrasound technology to direct it deep within the brain at a safe frequency. If the team is successful, ultrasound could be a more targeted and focused tool than TMS for remotely stimulating circuits that underlie mental health conditions.
Baccus said that before merging with Etkin’s team they had been focusing on the technology without specific brain diseases in mind. “This merger really gives a target and a focus to the technology.”
The initiative is part of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute‘s Big Ideas, which bring together teams of researchers from across disciplines to solve major problems in neuroscience and society.
Stanford University/Kurt Hickman | Researchers hope to find the brain circuits that are responsible for mental health conditions, develop ways to remotely stimulate those circuits, and potentially treat those conditions.
My friend Ray Kurzweil projects the U.S. will meet 100 percent of its electrical energy needs from solar in 20 years. Elon Musk is a bit more conservative, pegging it at 50 percent in that timeframe. While the growth of solar may seem slow to some, it’s fair to say it’s in the midst of its “deceptive phase,” on the road to disruption. For example, a 30 percent increase in solar energy production per year, means 1 percent today grows to 1.3 percent in 3 years. It also means that in 20 years (7 doublings), we’ll see a 128-fold increase. Either way, if Ray and Elon are even close, there is a trillion dollars up for grabs (as well as the future of our planet), and the future is bright. Let’s take a closer look at the converging technologies driving this future… The cost of solar panels is dropping exponentially. The first and most important technological change is the falling cost per watt of silicon photovoltaic cells over the past few decades. Check out the plummeting cost from $76 in 1977, to less than $0.36 today.
The International Energy Agency predicts that we will produce 662 GigaWatts of solar energy by 2035 following a $1.3 trillion investment in this area, but frankly this estimate is “highly conservative.” The second technology at play is satellite-Earth imaging, which enables companies like solar City to make rapid and accurate decisions on solar panel installations. These days, an installer can check out your rooftop on Google Earth and determine in minutes if you are a good candidate. Super-simple. Energy Storage Mechanisms Are Improving Rapidly The third key technology transforming our energy economy is battery storage. The ability to take solar energy captured during the day, and time-shift it into the night. Here to the change has been very significant, with a 50%+ reduction over the past four years, and an additional 50%+ reduction by 2020.
In addition to this ongoing cost reduction, we’re about to see a massive increase in battery production. Tesla’s Gigafactory alone will produce 35 Gigawatts worth of the batteries by 2020, more than 2013′s total global battery production capacity.
Electric Vehicles (EVs) Tesla’s Gigafactory also supports the production of 500,000 electric vehicles per year. The rapid rise (see below) of Electric Vehicle (EV) production will play a critical role as well.
6 D’s: Tying It All Together The convergence of solar, batteries and EVs will democratize energy production and offer billions of people access to cheap, carbon-neutral energy. Looking at solar energy thru my 6 Ds paradigm of exponential technologies may offer some added insights:
Digitized: How we manufacture, measurem and control solar electricity has become digitized, and therefore hopped on an exponential growth path.
Deceptive: Today we are in the deceptive phase of solar growth. Remember, a 30% increase per year means we are only 7 doublings, or 21 years, away from a 128-fold increase.
Disruptive: With 5,000 times more solar hitting the Earth’s surface in a year than humanity uses today, solar has plenty of ‘head-room’ for growth. The UBS study said it well: “Our view is that the ‘we have done it like this for a century’ value chain in developed electricity markets will be turned upside down within the next 10-20 years, driven by solar and batteries.”
Dematerialized: a distributed, pervasive solar grid will create a far more robust and capable energy grid. Again, from the UBS report, “(Today’s) large-scale power generation, will be the dinosaur of the future energy system: Too big, too inflexible, not even relevant for backup power in the long run”.
Demonetized: Ultimately, energy from the Sun is free. Better yet, the poorest countries in the world are also the sunniest. Imagine a world where there is a squanderable amount of cheap and clean energy?
Democratized: As said above, solar scales globally, available to everyone, even in the poorest countries in the world.
It’s Time to Join the Revolution UBS continues:
“By 2025, everybody will be able to produce and store power. And it will be green and cost competitive, i.e., not more expensive or even cheaper than buying power from utilities. It is also the most efficient way to produce power where it is consumed, because transmission losses will be minimized. Power will no longer be something that is consumed in a ‘dumb’ way. Homes and grids will be smart, aligning the demand profile with supply from (volatile) renewables.”
UBS predicts the payback time for unsubsidized investment in electric vehicles plus battery storage plus rooftop solar will be around 6 to 8 years by 2020 (see below).
From my perspective, solar must be considered a central driver for our future economy. How will this affect your business? Industry? Life?
Curing half of the world’s known cancers, granting movement to the paralyzed, preventing Alzheimer’s. Visionary medical expert Dr. Daniel Kraft believes all of this and more can happen by 2064. In this first film in our “Conversations with Tomorrow” series, take a glimpse at the future of medicine and its impact on our lives.
A multi-institutional study has defined and established criteria for a new neurological disease closely resembling Alzheimer’s disease called primary age-related tauopathy (PART). Patients with PART develop cognitive impairment that can be indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s disease, but they lack amyloid plaques. Awareness of this neurological disease will help doctors diagnose and develop more effective treatments for patients with different types of memory impairment.
The study, co-led by Peter T. Nelson, MD, PhD, of the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and John F. Crary, MD, PhD, of Mount Sinai Hospital, was published in the current issue of Acta Neuoropathologica.
“To make an Alzheimer’s diagnosis you need to see two things together in a patient’s brain: amyloid plaques and structures called neurofibrillary tangles composed of a protein called tau,” said Dr. Nelson, a professor of neuropathology at the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. “However, autopsy studies have demonstrated that some patients have tangles but no plaques and we’ve long wondered what condition these patients had.”
Plaques in the brain, formed from the accumulation of amyloid protein, are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Until now, researchers have considered cases with only tangles to be either very early-stage Alzheimer’s or a variant of the disease in which the plaques are harder to detect. However, previous in-depth biochemical and genetic studies have failed to reveal the presence of any abnormal amyloid in these patients. Although tangle-only patients can have memory complaints, the presence of plaques is a key requirement for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
In the current study, investigators from the United States (including five from Sanders-Brown), Canada, Europe, and Japan came together to formalize criteria for diagnosing this new neurological disorder. The study establishes that PART is a primary tauopathy, a disease directly caused by the tau protein in tangles. Many of the neurofibrillary tangles in Alzheimer’s brain, in contrast, are thought to arise secondarily to amyloid or some other stimuli. The researchers propose that individuals who have tangles resembling those found in Alzheimer’s but have no detectable amyloid plaques should now be classified as PART.
PART is most severe in patients of advanced age, but is generally mild in younger elderly individuals. The reason for this is currently unknown, but unlike Alzheimer’s disease, in which the tangles spread throughout the brain, in PART cases the tangles are restricted mainly to structures important for memory.
It is too early to tell how common PART is, but given that tangles are nearly universal in the brains of older individuals, it might be more widespread than generally recognized. While further studies are required, new diagnostic tests using brain scans and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers for amyloid and tau are finding surprisingly high proportions of patients (as many as 25% in some studies) with mild cognitive impairment that are positive for tau but negative for amyloid.
“Until now, PART has been difficult to treat or even study because of lack of well-defined criteria,” said Dr. Nelson. “Now that the scientific community has come to a consensus on what the key features of PART are, this will help doctors diagnose different forms of memory impairment early. These advancements will have a big impact on our ability to recognize and develop effective treatments for brain diseases seen in older persons.”
Identifying the type of neurological disorder in the early stages of disease is critical if treatment is to begin before irreparable brain damage has occurred. However, in the absence of clear criteria, different forms of neurological disorders have been hard to distinguish. As a result, PART patients may have confounded clinical trials of amyloid-targeting drugs for Alzheimer’s disease as these treatments are unlikely to be effective against tangles. Along with the development of better biomarkers and genetic risk factors for dementia, the new diagnosis criteria will help PART patients to receive more targeted therapy and improve the accuracy of clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs.
John F. Crary, John Q. Trojanowski, Julie A. Schneider, Jose F. Abisambra, Erin L. Abner, Irina Alafuzoff, Steven E. Arnold, Johannes Attems, Thomas G. Beach, Eileen H. Bigio, Nigel J. Cairns, Dennis W. Dickson, Marla Gearing, Lea T. Grinberg, Patrick R. Hof, Bradley T. Hyman, Kurt Jellinger, Gregory A. Jicha, Gabor G. Kovacs, David S. Knopman, Julia Kofler, Walter A. Kukull, Ian R. Mackenzie, Eliezer Masliah, Ann McKee, Thomas J. Montine, Melissa E. Murray, Janna H. Neltner, Ismael Santa-Maria, William W. Seeley, Alberto Serrano-Pozo, Michael L. Shelanski, Thor Stein, Masaki Takao, Dietmar R. Thal, Jonathan B. Toledo, Juan C. Troncoso, Jean Paul Vonsattel, Charles L. White, Thomas Wisniewski, Randall L. Woltjer, Masahito Yamada, Peter T. Nelson. Primary age-related tauopathy (PART): a common pathology associated with human aging. Acta Neuropathologica, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00401-014-1349-0
People love to complain about how horrible everything is all the time.
And there are certainly plenty of horrible things to complain about. People are mean, for example. And people get sick. And there are horrible accidents and injustices and tragedies and unfairness everywhere. And there is Ebola.
People who love to complain about how horrible everything is also love to point out that the world is always changing — and change is of course always horrible, because it destroys the way things used to be.
It’s easy to get depressed by all the “everything is horrible” talk.
So it’s nice to sometimes remind ourselves that some things — many things, in fact — are getting better all the time.
It sounds like something from the scene in Star Wars where Master Yoda instructs the young Luke Skywalker to use the force to release his stricken X-Wing from the swamp: Marc Folcher and other researchers from the group led by Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Department of Biosystems (D-BSSE) in Basel, have developed a novel gene regulation method that enables thought-specific brainwaves to control the conversion of genes into proteins — called gene expression in technical terms.
“For the first time, we have been able to tap into human brainwaves, transfer them wirelessly to a gene network and regulate the expression of a gene depending on the type of thought. Being able to control gene expression via the power of thought is a dream that we’ve been chasing for over a decade,” says Fussenegger.
A source of inspiration for the new thought-controlled gene regulation system was the game Mindflex, where the player wears a special headset with a sensor on the forehead that records brainwaves. The registered electroencephalogram (EEG) is then transferred into the playing environment. The EEG controls a fan that enables a small ball to be thought-guided through an obstacle course.
Wireless Transmission to Implant
The system, which the Basel-based bioengineers recently presented in the journalNature Communications, also makes use of an EEG headset. The recorded brainwaves are analysed and wirelessly transmitted via Bluetooth to a controller, which in turn controls a field generator that generates an electromagnetic field; this supplies an implant with an induction current.
A light then literally goes on in the implant: an integrated LED lamp that emits light in the near-infrared range turns on and illuminates a culture chamber containing genetically modified cells. When the near-infrared light illuminates the cells, they start to produce the desired protein.
Thoughts Control Protein Quantity
The implant was initially tested in cell cultures and mice, and controlled by the thoughts of various test subjects. The researchers used SEAP for the tests, an easy-to-detect human model protein which diffuses from the culture chamber of the implant into the mouse’s bloodstream.
To regulate the quantity of released protein, the test subjects were categorised according to three states of mind: bio-feedback, meditation and concentration. Test subjects who played Minecraft on the computer, i.e. who were concentrating, induced average SEAP values in the bloodstream of the mice. When completely relaxed (meditation), the researchers recorded very high SEAP values in the test animals. For bio-feedback, the test subjects observed the LED light of the implant in the body of the mouse and were able to consciously switch the LED light on or off via the visual feedback. This in turn was reflected by the varying amounts of SEAP in the bloodstream of the mice.
New Light-sensitive Gene Construct
“Controlling genes in this way is completely new and is unique in its simplicity,” explains Fussenegger. The light-sensitive optogenetic module that reacts to near-infrared light is a particular advancement. The light shines on a modified light-sensitive protein within the gene-modified cells and triggers an artificial signal cascade, resulting in the production of SEAP. Near-infrared light was used because it is generally not harmful to human cells, can penetrate deep into the tissue and enables the function of the implant to be visually tracked.
The system functions efficiently and effectively in the human-cell culture and human-mouse system. Fussenegger hopes that a thought-controlled implant could one day help to combat neurological diseases, such as chronic headaches, back pain and epilepsy, by detecting specific brainwaves at an early stage and triggering and controlling the creation of certain agents in the implant at exactly the right time.
The above story is based on materials provided by ETH Zurich. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Marc Folcher, Sabine Oesterle, Katharina Zwicky, Thushara Thekkottil, Julie Heymoz, Muriel Hohmann, Matthias Christen, Marie Daoud El-Baba, Peter Buchmann, Martin Fussenegger. Mind-controlled transgene expression by a wireless-powered optogenetic designer cell implant. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 5392 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6392
Scientists from Harvard and the University of New South Wales say they have discovered how to reverse the ageing process.
The research has focused on mice, but early clinical trials have also been conducted on humans.
The scientists said they switched youthful genes on and older genes off, using naturally occurring proteins and molecules.
Professor of genetics at Harvard and UNSW, David Sinclair, led the research team.
“We’ve discovered genes that control how the body fights against ageing and these genes, if you turn them on just the right way, they can have very powerful effects, even reversing ageing – at least in mice so far,” he said.
“We fed them a molecule that’s called NMN and this reversed ageing completely within just a week of treatment in the muscle, and now we’re looking to reverse all aspects of ageing if possible.”
Professor Sinclair said the breakthroughs could be used to develop drugs to restore youthfulness in human cells.
“We’ve gone from mice into early human studies actually. There have been some clinical trials around the world, and we’re hoping in the next few years to know if this will actually work in people as well,” he said.
The clinical trials were small studies but showed promising results in humans, he said.
“They show that the molecules that extend lifespan in mice are safe in people; they seem to be anti-inflammatory, so they might be useful against disease’s inflammation, like skin redness or even inflammatory bowel disease,” he said.
“Eventually we want these molecules to be taken by many people to prevent diseases of ageing and make them live longer, healthier lives.”
Professor Sinclair was named by Time Magazine as one of most influential people in the world.
He has been taking the red wine molecule, resveratrol, for a decade.
“I’ve been taking resveratrol for the last 10 years because it seemed to be very safe,” he said.
“I think the risks are, for myself, worth it, though I don’t ever promote it.
“But the more research that I see done, and there are now thousands of papers on it, I think that there’s a good chance that it’ll have some benefit.”
Professor Sinclair said the latest discovery could, one day, be seen in the same light as antibiotics.
“Some people say it’s like playing God, but if you ask somebody 100 years ago, what about antibiotics? They probably would have said the same thing,” he said.
“Some people worry about big advances in technology and medicine, but once it’s adapted and it’s natural for people to live until they’re 90 in a healthy way … we’ll look back at today like we do at the times before antibiotics when people died from an infected splinter.”
Sometimes, words just complicate things. What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language?
University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.
At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the UW team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published Nov. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE.
“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably with walk-in participants.”
Collaborator Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, is the lead author on this work.
The research team combined two kinds of noninvasive instruments and fine-tuned software to connect two human brains in real time. The process is fairly straightforward. One participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements.
Using this setup, one person can send a command to move the hand of the other by simply thinking about that hand movement.
The UW study involved three pairs of participants. Each pair included a sender and a receiver with different roles and constraints. They sat in separate buildings on campus about a half mile apart and were unable to interact with each other in any way — except for the link between their brains.
Each sender was in front of a computer game in which he or she had to defend a city by firing a cannon and intercepting rockets launched by a pirate ship. But because the senders could not physically interact with the game, the only way they could defend the city was by thinking about moving their hand to fire the cannon.
Across campus, each receiver sat wearing headphones in a dark room — with no ability to see the computer game — with the right hand positioned over the only touchpad that could actually fire the cannon. If the brain-to-brain interface was successful, the receiver’s hand would twitch, pressing the touchpad and firing the cannon that was displayed on the sender’s computer screen across campus.
Researchers found that accuracy varied among the pairs, ranging from 25 to 83 percent. Misses mostly were due to a sender failing to accurately execute the thought to send the “fire” command. The researchers also were able to quantify the exact amount of information that was transferred between the two brains.
Another research team from the company Starlab in Barcelona, Spain, recently published results in the same journal showing direct communication between two human brains, but that study only tested one sender brain instead of different pairs of study participants and was conducted offline instead of in real time over the Web.
Now, with a new $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, the UW research team is taking the work a step further in an attempt to decode and transmit more complex brain processes.
With the new funding, the research team will expand the types of information that can be transferred from brain to brain, including more complex visual and psychological phenomena such as concepts, thoughts and rules.
They’re also exploring how to influence brain waves that correspond with alertness or sleepiness. Eventually, for example, the brain of a sleepy airplane pilot dozing off at the controls could stimulate the copilot’s brain to become more alert.
The project could also eventually lead to “brain tutoring,” in which knowledge is transferred directly from the brain of a teacher to a student.
“Imagine someone who’s a brilliant scientist but not a brilliant teacher. Complex knowledge is hard to explain — we’re limited by language,” said co-author Chantel Prat, a faculty member at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and a UW assistant professor of psychology.
Other UW co-authors are Joseph Wu of computer science and engineering; Devapratim Sarma and Tiffany Youngquist of bioengineering; and Matthew Bryan, formerly of the UW.
The research published in PLOS ONE was initially funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and the UW, with additional support from the Keck Foundation.
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. The original article was written by Michelle Ma. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Rajesh P. N. Rao, Andrea Stocco, Matthew Bryan, Devapratim Sarma, Tiffany M. Youngquist, Joseph Wu, Chantel S. Prat. A Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface in Humans. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (11): e111332 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111332
Robotically assisted coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery is a rapidly evolving technology that shortens hospital stays and reduces the need for blood products, while decreasing recovery times, making the procedure safer and less risky, says a study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.
“Robotically assisted CABG is a safe and feasible alternative approach to standard bypass surgery in properly selected patients. It is a less traumatic and less invasive approach than regular CABG,” says cardiac surgeon and researcher Dr. Richard Cook of the University of British Columbia. “It may reduce complications following surgery, and in the Canadian experience, has been associated with an extremely low mortality rate.”
For CABG, or bypass surgery, a surgeon uses a section of vein, usually from the patient’s leg, or an artery from inside the patient’s chest, to create a new route for oxygen-rich blood to reach the heart. It is performed to improve blood flow to the heart muscle caused by the build up of plaque in the coronary arteries (atherosclerosis).
The robot offers several technical advantages to surgeons including a magnified 3D view of the patient’s heart, as well as the elimination of any kind of tremor, which makes for precise incisions.
For this study 300 patients (men and women 60 years or older) underwent robotically assisted CABG at three hospital sites. In addition to the Vancouver General Hospital, the study was undertaken at the London Health Sciences Centre, led by Drs. Bob Kiaii and Michael Chu, and at Montreal’s Sacred Heart Hospital, led by Dr. Hugues Jeanmart.
There were no deaths in this group of patients, with only one patient developing a deep wound infection after the procedure.
The doctors performed the surgery using the da Vinci Surgical System. It consists of a “surgeon console” where the surgeon views a high definition 3D image inside the patient’s body. When the surgeon’s fingers move the master controls, the system’s “patient-side cart” springs into action with three or four robotic arms mimicking the surgeon’s hand, wrist and finger movements with surgical instruments.
With traditional CABG the average hospital stay is five to six days. With the robotically assisted surgery, that was cut to an average of four days in the group of patients having surgery at London Health Sciences Centre; the hospital with the greatest experience with robotically-assisted cardiac surgery in Canada.
There was also less blood loss, which translated into a lower need for blood products. The more precise incisions also mean less cosmetic scarring.
Patients from the study reported being back to near normal levels of activity within a couple of weeks. With standard CABG, patients are asked to avoid driving or lifting any weights over 10 pounds for six weeks.
“Each year nearly 25,000 bypass surgeries are performed in Canada,; it is the most common form of surgery for people with heart disease,” says Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Beth Abramson, author of Heart Health for Canadians. “Surgery saves lives and helps improve quality of life. The safer we can make the surgery, the more lives we can save.”
She adds that bypass surgery doesn’t cure the underlying heart disease. “Health behaviour changes and medications as prescribed by your healthcare providers are critical to preventing further damage.”
Currently, 17 centres across Canada use this robotic technology for surgery. However, they are used primarily in the fields of urology and gynecology. Dr. Cook and his colleagues hope findings from this study will increase the use robotically assisted heart surgery