We Have the Technology

Posted by on December 23rd, 2012

Fifteen years ago, Gulf War vet Authur Boorman was told that he would never walk without assistance again.

Now ignoring that this is also marketing for former WWE wrestler Diamond Dallas Page‘s yoga products, I wanted to highlight this video for a few reasons – its schmaltzy soundtrack not being one of them.   A lot of Grinders focus on body mods like magnetic implants and internal compasses and prosthetics like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation rigs, AR glasses and brain-controlled arms and legs.  But what Authur is doing is no less “Grinding” than any of those things.   We use what works, and sometimes what works are systems people have been using to repair and enhance their bodies for thousands of years.

In a world where even some of our staunchest allies in the H+ movement are more interested in what price tag they can place on a posthuman future, it is important to remember that there exists technology beyond what we’ve been sold.   This isn’t a defense of “woo” – my interests here are practical –  this is a reminder that while many of us love cutting edge tech, there are technologies on the ground to be picked up and used to heal,  control, and enhance our bodies and minds.   I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in building a future that has a cover charge.

Of course, if you find something doesn’t work for you, move on to something else.    There’s no right or wrong way to rebuild and temper yourself.

Enjoy the work.

 

 


The Year of the Drone, the “Anternet”, the brain’s networking and Autism.

Posted by on September 14th, 2012
  • Great chat here about Drones, between SF author Daniel Suarez, and Global Guerilla’s John Robb:

    YouTube Preview Image

  • Speaking of insect intelligence, meet the “Anternet”:

    Prabhakar wrote an ant algorithm to predict foraging behavior depending on the amount of food – i.e., bandwidth – available. Gordon’s experiments manipulate the rate of forager return. Working with Stanford student Katie Dektar, they found that the TCP-influenced algorithm almost exactly matched the ant behavior found in Gordon’s experiments.

    “Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they’ve been doing it for millions of years,” Prabhakar said.

    They also found that the ants followed two other phases of TCP. One phase is known as slow start, which describes how a source sends out a large wave of packets at the beginning of a transmission to gauge bandwidth; similarly, when the harvester ants begin foraging, they send out foragers to scope out food availability before scaling up or down the rate of outgoing foragers.

    Another protocol, called time-out, occurs when a data transfer link breaks or is disrupted, and the source stops sending packets. Similarly, when foragers are prevented from returning to the nest for more than 20 minutes, no more foragers leave the nest.

    Prabhakar said that had this discovery been made in the 1970s, before TCP was written, harvester ants very well could have influenced the design of the Internet.

    Gordon thinks that scientists have just scratched the surface for how ant colony behavior could help us in the design of networked systems.

    There are 11,000 species of ants, living in every habitat and dealing with every type of ecological problem, Gordon said. “Ants have evolved ways of doing things that we haven’t thought up, but could apply in computer systems. Computationally speaking, each ant has limited capabilities, but the collective can perform complex tasks.

    “So ant algorithms have to be simple, distributed and scalable – the very qualities that we need in large engineered distributed systems,” she said. “I think as we start understanding more about how species of ants regulate their behavior, we’ll find many more useful applications for network algorithms.”

  • Meanwhile, progress is being made understanding just how our brains are wired:

    “The biggest differences occurred in the expression of human genes involved in plasticity – the ability of the brain to process information and adapt,” said Konopka. “This supports the premise that the human brain evolved to enable higher rates of learning.”

    One gene in particular, CLOCK, behaved very differently in the human brain.Considered the master regulator of Circadian rhythm, CLOCK is disrupted in mood disorders like depression and bipolar syndrome.

    “Groups of genes resemble spokes on a wheel – they circle a hub gene that often acts like a conductor,” said Geschwind. “For the first time, we saw CLOCK assuming a starring role that we suspect is unrelated to Circadian rhythm. Its presence offers a potentially interesting clue that it orchestrates another function essential to the human brain.”

    When comparing the human brain to the non-human primates, the researchers saw more connections among gene networks that featured FOXP1 and FOXP2. Earlier studies have linked these genes to humans’ unique ability to produce speech and understand language.

    “Connectivity measures how genes interact with other genes, providing a strong indicator of functional changes,” said Geschwind. “It makes perfect sense that genes involved in speech and language would be less connected in the non-human primate brains – and highly connected in the human brain.”

  • Lastly, could infection of this “wiring” be what’s causing Autism?

    In autistic individuals, the immune system fails at this balancing act. Inflammatory signals dominate. Anti-inflammatory ones are inadequate. A state of chronic activation prevails. And the more skewed toward inflammation, the more acute the autistic symptoms.

    Nowhere are the consequences of this dysregulation more evident than in the autistic brain. Spidery cells that help maintain neurons — called astroglia and microglia — are enlarged from chronic activation. Pro-inflammatory signaling molecules abound. Genes involved in inflammation are switched on.

    These findings are important for many reasons, but perhaps the most noteworthy is that they provide evidence of an abnormal, continuing biological process. That means that there is finally a therapeutic target for a disorder defined by behavioral criteria like social impairments, difficulty communicating and repetitive behaviors.


Hacking your Enlightenment and other transhuman future titbits

Posted by on August 22nd, 2012
YouTube Preview Image

Particularly fascinating interview with Jeffery A. Martin here, not just for his research into the Enlightened, but for his eventual synthesis towards a speculative life for the newly near-immortal.

Other transhuman future titbits from around the web of late:


The Mutant Future is NOW

Posted by on June 6th, 2012

Let’s get this TED Talk out of the way first: Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species?

YouTube Preview Image

Next, as we remind ourselves, anything that can be done to a rat…

The new study, which appears in Science today, takes a different approach. Instead of trying to repair the main information superhighway from the brain to the body, Grégoire Courtine, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and colleagues focused on alternative routes. Most spinal injuries in people do not sever the spinal cord completely, explains Courtine. To approximate this situation in rats, his team made two surgical cuts in the spinal cord, severing all of the direct connections from the brain, but leaving some tissue intact in between the cuts. Then they had the rodents begin a rehab regime intended to bypass the fractured freeway, as it were, by pushing more traffic onto neural back roads and building more of them.

This regime, which began about a week after the rats were injured, lasted about 30 minutes a day. During each session, the researchers injected the animals with a cocktail of drugs to improve the function of rats’ neural circuits in the part of the spinal cord involved in leg movements, and they stimulated this area with electrodes. With its spinal cord thus primed for action, a rat was fitted into a harness attached to a robotic device that supported its weight and allowed it to walk forward on its hind legs to the extent that it was able. At first, the rats could not move their legs at all, let alone walk.

But after 2 or 3 weeks, the rodents began taking steps toward a piece of food after a gentle nudge from the robot. By 5 or 6 weeks, they were able to initiate movement on their own and walk to get the food. And after a few additional weeks of intensified rehab, they were able to walk up rat-sized stairs and climb over a small barrier placed in their path. Rats that did not undergo rehab, in contrast, showed no improvement at all. Rats suspended over a moving treadmill that elicited reflex-like stepping movement, did not improve either, suggesting that full recovery depends on making intentional movements, not just any movement.

 

 

What does every Mutant teen want? Mutant kicks:

Rayfish, a custom footwear company, is marketing leather sneakers that come in every color from shimmering gold to neon green, in patterns that mimick giraffes, zebras, leopard, and lady bugs. And they claim that these designs are grown directly on the hides of custom-engineered stingrays.

 

 

And again via our good, good acquaintances at io9:

Susan Dominus has penned a remarkable piece for the New York Times about Krista and Tatiana Hogan, the 4-year old conjoined twin girls from British Columbia who are attached at the head. Scans show that the two girls have brains that are interconnected by a never-seen-before “thalamic bridge,” an indication that they might share conscious thoughts. And if their early behavior is any indication, this may very likely be the case.

 

Finally, our friend Chris Arkenberg tells us to ‘ware the body net hackers. That’s right, #transhumanproblems:

Security concerns for the nascent field of wireless implants are certainly welcomed but the event stands more broadly as a glowing sign of the times. The relentless ubiquitizing of computation is working its way into our bodies. As has been noted elsewhere [pdf] the path of finance and innovation for these waves of emerging technology typically follows the military-medical-consumer pipeline, walking down the line of survivability from being blown up by an Afghani IED, past spastic hearts and hungry cells, into urban navigation and caffeine acquisition. And maybe transdermal metabolic sleeves for networked jogging or ward implants for not-so-bad convicts squeezed out of overcrowded prison farms and remotely monitored for geofencing violations or the odd spike in muscular adrenergics. The military has the money to develop the tech and treat its soldiers, who are summarily discharged into hospitals that facilitate the transfer of technology into the private sector. Point being, if you’re starting to save up for that cybernetic occipital mat implant, you’d be most well-served to enlist the ready hand of McAfee Security to guard your mind meats from the shady legions of digital malcontents. Standard fees, of course, do apply.


TSA break 16y.o.’s insulin pump with scanner

Posted by on May 9th, 2012

From ABC4:

After participating in a DECA conference in Salt Lake City with several classmates last week, Savannah, who is a type one diabetic and wears an insulin pump 24 hours a day, says she ran into TSA agents who were not prepared to deal with her medical situation. “I went up to the lady and I said, I am a type one diabetic. I wear an insulin pump. I showed her the pump. I said, what do you want me to do? I usually do a pat down – what would you recommend?”

Savannah then showed agents a doctor’s note explaining that the sensitive insulin pump should not go through the body scanner. She says she was told to go through it anyway. “When someone in a position of authority tells you it is – you think that its right. So, I said, Are you sure I can go through with the pump? It’s not going to hurt the pump? And she said no, no you’re fine.”

The 16-year-old walked into the scanner with some serious reservations “My life is pretty much in their hands when I go through a body scan with my insulin pump on.” She was right to be worried. She says the pump stopped working correctly. “Coming off an insulin pump is rough. You never know what is going to happen when you are not on the insulin pump.”

via Cat Vincent | /.


Biotech Robots for Babies

Posted by on April 28th, 2012
YouTube Preview Image

via Boing Boing


Cyborg News Special – 08-10-11

Posted by on October 8th, 2011

Some tasty news lately for aspirant cyborgs. Let’s take a look:

  • From BBC News – Monkeys’ brain waves offer paraplegics hope:


    …researchers trained the monkeys, Mango and Tangerine, to play a video game using a joystick to move the virtual arm and capture three identical targets. Each target was associated with a different vibration of the joystick.

    Multiple electrodes were implanted in the brains of the monkeys and connected to the computer screen. The joystick was removed and motor signals from the monkey’s brains then controlled the arm.

    At the same time, signals from the virtual fingers as they touched the targets were transmitted directly back into the brain.

    The monkeys had to search for a target with a specific texture to gain a reward of fruit juice. It only took four attempts for one of the monkeys to figure out how to make the system work.

    According to Prof Nicolelis, the system has now been developed so the monkeys can control the arm wirelessly.

    “We have an interface for 600 channels of brain signal transmission, so we can transmit 600 channels of brain activity wirelessly as if you had 600 cell phones broadcasting this activity.

    “For patients this will be very important because there will be no cables whatsoever connecting the patient to any equipment.”

    The scientists say that this work represents a major step on the road to developing robotic exoskeletons – wearable technology would allow patients afflicted by paralysis to regain some movement.

  • From Engadget – Cyberdyne HAL robotic arm hands-on:
    YouTube Preview Image

    …if all goes well, we may well see a brand new full-body suit at CES 2012 in January, so stay tuned.

  • From Gizmodo – Scientists Reconstruct Brains’ Visions Into Digital Video In Historic Experiment:
    YouTube Preview Image

    …according to Professor Jack Gallant—UC Berkeley neuroscientist and coauthor of the research published today in the journal Current Biology—”this is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds.”

    Indeed, it’s mindblowing. I’m simultaneously excited and terrified. This is how it works:

    They used three different subjects for the experiments—incidentally, they were part of the research team because it requires being inside a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging system for hours at a time. The subjects were exposed to two different groups of Hollywood movie trailers as the fMRI system recorded the brain’s blood flow through their brains’ visual cortex.

    The readings were fed into a computer program in which they were divided into three-dimensional pixels units called voxels (volumetric pixels). This process effectively decodes the brain signals generated by moving pictures, connecting the shape and motion information from the movies to specific brain actions. As the sessions progressed, the computer learned more and more about how the visual activity presented on the screen corresponded to the brain activity.

    After recording this information, another group of clips was used to reconstruct the videos shown to the subjects. The computer analyzed 18 million seconds of random YouTube video, building a database of potential brain activity for each clip. From all these videos, the software picked the one hundred clips that caused a brain activity more similar to the ones the subject watched, combining them into one final movie. Although the resulting video is low resolution and blurry, it clearly matched the actual clips watched by the subjects.

    Think about those 18 million seconds of random videos as a painter’s color palette. A painter sees a red rose in real life and tries to reproduce the color using the different kinds of reds available in his palette, combining them to match what he’s seeing. The software is the painter and the 18 million seconds of random video is its color palette. It analyzes how the brain reacts to certain stimuli, compares it to the brain reactions to the 18-million-second palette, and picks what more closely matches those brain reactions. Then it combines the clips into a new one that duplicates what the subject was seeing. Notice that the 18 million seconds of motion video are not what the subject is seeing. They are random bits used just to compose the brain image.

    Given a big enough database of video material and enough computing power, the system would be able to re-create any images in your brain.

  • Let’s not forget our second-selfs. From WIRED – Clive Thompson on Memory Engineering:

    Right now, of course, our digital lives are so bloated they’re basically imponderable. Many of us generate massive amounts of personal data every day — phonecam pictures, text messages, status updates, and so on. By default, all of us are becoming lifeloggers. But we almost never go back and look at this stuff, because it’s too hard to parse.

    Memory engineers are solving that problem by creating services that reformat that data in witty, often artistic ways. 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo was coinvented this past winter by New York programmer Jonathan Wegener, who had a clever intuition: One year is a potent anniversary that makes us care about a specific moment in our past. After developing the Foursquare service, his team went on to craft PastPosts, which does the same thing with Facebook activity, and it has amassed tens of thousands of users in just a few months.

    “There are so many trails we leave through the world,” Wegener says. “I wanted to make them interesting to you again.”

Lastly, some older things that slipped through the cracks:

  • From io9 – A gallery of biotech devices that could give you superpowers right now
  • http://www.vimeo.com/10184668

    A quick tutorial on how to extract serial data from the $80 Mattel Mindflex (mindflexgames.com)

  • From MIT’s technology review – Tattoo Tracks Sodium and Glucose via an iPhone:

  • The tattoo developed by Clark’s team contains 120-nanometer-wide polymer nanodroplets consisting of a fluorescent dye, specialized sensor molecules designed to bind to specific chemicals, and a charge-neutralizing molecule.

    Once in the skin, the sensor molecules attract their target because they have the opposite charge. Once the target chemical is taken up, the sensor is forced to release ions in order to maintain an overall neutral charge, and this changes the fluorescence of the tattoo when it is hit by light. The more target molecules there are in the patient’s body, the more the molecules will bind to the sensors, and the more the fluorescence changes.

    The original reader was a large boxlike device. One of Clark’s graduate students, Matt Dubach, improved upon that by making a modified iPhone case that allows any iPhone to read the tattoos.

    Here’s how it works: a case that slips over the iPhone contains a nine-volt battery, a filter that fits over the iPhone’s camera, and an array of three LEDs that produce light in the visible part of the spectrum. This light causes the tattoos to fluoresce. A light-filtering lens is then placed over the iPhone’s camera. This filters out the light released by the LEDs, but not the light emitted by the tattoo. The device is pressed to the skin to prevent outside light from interfering.

    Dubach and Clark hope to create an iPhone app that would easily measure and record sodium levels. At the moment, the iPhone simply takes images of the fluorescence, which the researchers then export to a computer for analysis. They also hope to get the reader to draw power from the iPhone itself, rather than from a battery.

    Clark is working to expand her technology from glucose and sodium to include a wide range of potential targets. “Let’s say you have medication with a very narrow therapeutic range,” she says. Today, “you have to try it [a dosage] and see what happens.” She says her nanosensors, in contrast, could let people monitor the level of a given drug in their blood in real time, allowing for much more accurate dosing.

    The researchers hope to soon be able to measure dissolved gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, in the blood as a way of checking respiration and lung function. The more things they can track, the more applications will emerge, says Clark


PBS piece on advances in prosthetics

Posted by on June 29th, 2011

Great overview on Better Living Through Upgrades:

Watch the full episode.

via Wolven


Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Neither Accurate in Their Predictions nor Beneficial to Individuals, Study Suggests

Posted by on May 31st, 2011

From ScienceDaily, the study looked at the risk factors given by two large DTC companies, deCODEme (Iceland) and 23andMe (USA):

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests give inaccurate predictions of disease risks and many European geneticists believe that some of them should be banned, the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics heard May 31. In the first of two studies to be presented, Rachel Kalf, from the department of epidemiology at Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, will say that her research is the first to look at the real predictive ability of such tests, the results of which are available directly to an individual without having to go through a healthcare professional.

See Also:


Link Dump 20-05-2011

Posted by on May 19th, 2011
  • Bionic hand for ‘elective amputation’ patient

    “The operation will change my life. I live 10 years with this hand and it cannot be (made) better. The only way is to cut this down and I get a new arm,” Milo told BBC News prior to his surgery at Vienna’s General Hospital.

    Milo took the decision after using a hybrid hand fitted parallel to his dysfunctional hand with which he could experience controlling a prosthesis.

    Such bionic hands, manufactured by the German prosthetics company Otto Bock, can pinch and grasp in response to signals from the brain that are picked up by two sensors placed over the skin above nerves in the forearm.

  • Vuzix Announces New See-Through Augmented Reality Enabled Video Eyewear

    The STAR 1200 is a see-through AR-enabled binocular Video Eyewear that is expected to be used in a wide variety of industrial, commercial, defense and some consumer applications. Building from Vuzix’ award winning technology in AR-enabled video eyewear, the new display will allow users to view the real world scene while also viewing relevant computer generated information, graphics and alerts. The AR glasses will provide connectivity to VGA, component and composite video sources. The STAR 1200 comes with 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) motion tracking sensors and a built in camera for tracking and recognizing the real world. This allows 3D computer generated content to be locked in place when overlaid within the user’s real worldview.

  • Swiss Scientists Design a Turbine to Fit in Human Arteries

    “The heart produces around 1 or 1.5 watts of hydraulic power, and we want to take maybe one milliwatt,” Pfenniger explains. “A pacemaker only needs around 10 microwatts.” At the Microtechnologies in Medicine and Biology conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, earlier this month, Pfenniger presented results from a trial in which a tube is designed to mimic the internal thoracic artery, a millimeters-wide vessel that doctors sometimes cannibalize for surgery because it is redundant. The most efficient of the three off-the-shelf turbines he tested produced around 800 microwatts, which could run devices much more power hungry than today’s pacemakers

  • Sovereign Bleak installing magnets (in his fingertips) [VIDEO]

No Cure For Cancer

Posted by on May 15th, 2011

I’ve gotten a lot of mail this weekend about the supposed new “Canadian cure for cancer” and while I hate to rain on parades, I thought I’d do a bit of fact checking before getting too excited.  There were a few things that made me scratch my head when reading the initial article. (Starting with the fact it’s a four-year-old piece on a notorious Content Mill site that is just now circulating.)  So, I went to a friend of mine, who has worked extensively in the field of nuclear medicine and this is what she had to say:

If you read the article it talks about how University of Alberta scientists have used a drug called dichloroacetic acid (DCA), and according to the article, Big Pharma aren’t interested because the drug is off-patent and they can’t make money off of it. So bang, the Canadians cured cancer and no one cares.

…Except that’s not really true.

University of Alberta scientists are currently working on small-scale clinical trials of DCA; according to their most recent update, they’ve trial-ed this on five patients–five–which is not a large enough sample for us to go ahead and say that cancer has been ‘cured.’

Furthermore, they don’t go into great detail, but what they do say isn’t that they cured any of those patients. “In some patients there was also evidence for clinical benefit, with the tumors either regressing in size or not growing further during the 18 month study.” No idea how many “some” of the five patients are, but clearly at least one of the five had further tumor growth during the 18 months. There’s also a note mentioned about how it took 3 months for the drug to reach therapeutic levels; three months in a glioblastoma patient is pretty damn long (a GBM is a fast-growing brain tumor that untreated will kill you in two to four months, on average; with treatment it tends to kill you in fourteen months, and it has a ridiculously low five year survival rate. The wikipedia page gives a decent overview.)

Anyway. Point being, this ‘magic bullet’ has been trial-ed on five people at this point, and they’re still very much in the clinical trials stage. This means we’re likely years off from the point where we have to start worrying who’s going to make money off of DCA as a cancer treatment, because we’re years off from knowing whether or not it’s actually, well, a cure. (Or, like most things in cancer treatment, just a promising treatment that helps some people and has some unpleasant side effects.)

If you’re worried about whether or not they’ll be able to get adequate funding (which, in all things scientific these days, is a well-founded concern), visit the U of A team’s home page, read what they’re doing, and make a donation if you think it’s something worth exploring further. But please, for the love of god, let’s not continue to propagate mistruths and obfuscations published by a website whose advertising slogan is ‘publish easily, attract readers, earn rewards.’ There’s a reason publishing is hard, and it’s not because Big Pharma makes it so–it’s because we publish scientific results in peer reviewed journals, and they’re held to fairly rigorous standards there.

I’m under no illusion that we will see a FDA approved, Big Pharma approved cure for cancer until pharmaceutical companies can figure out a way to charge more for it than the billions they rake in from cancer treatment each year.  But it’s way too early to imply that this avenue of research is the suppressed holy grail of cancer research.   Trust me – I’ve lost my father, my sister and all of my aunts and uncles to cancer and I’ve had my own scare – when a cure is developed, no matter how off the grid it may be, I’ll be thrilled beyond words.  But an out of date, poorly researched Hubpages article misrepresenting the work of a group of hard-working scientists is no reason to uncork the champaign and thaw out the Duke…

…not just yet at least.


Song of the Machine

Posted by on April 23rd, 2011
http://www.vimeo.com/22616192

Song of the Machine is my favourite kind of design fiction, combining multiple forms of extrapolation from the present into the future.

Unlike the implants and electrodes used to achieve bionic vision, this science modifies the human body genetically from within. First, a virus is used to infect the degenerate eye with a light-sensitive protein, altering the biological capabilities of the subject. Then, the new biological capabilities are augmented with wearable (opto)electronics, which, by mimicking the eye’s neural song, establish a direct optical link to the brain. It’s as if the virus gives the body ears to hear the song of the machine, allowing it to sing the world into being.

So we’ve got advances in genetic engineering combined with electronic ones to overcome a biological disability through continuing man’s progress, it’s ongoing co-evolution with the tools he creates. Except this marks a Rubicon Moment, the crossing of a threshold into a merger between man and his technology and the result is something far more, a step toward the posthuman.

Get used to this. Better living through upgrades.

For more details see this article in the Guardian by the consultant to this project, Dr Patrick Degenaar, optogenetics researcher at Newcastle University and leader of the OptoNeuro project.


Scientists train mouse nerves to grow through series of tubes

Posted by on March 22nd, 2011

It’s got a long way to go before there are practical applications, but this is still seriously cool stuff. From Science News:

The discovery that offshoots from nascent mouse nerve cells explore the specially designed tubes could lead to tricks for studying nervous system diseases or testing the effects of potential drugs. Such a system may even bring researchers closer to brain-computer interfaces that seamlessly integrate artificial limbs or other prosthetic devices.

When the team seeded areas outside the tubes with mouse nerve cells the cells went exploring, sending their threadlike projections into the tubes and even following the curves of helical tunnels, the researchers report in an upcoming ACS Nano.

“They seem to like the tubes,” says biomedical engineer Justin Williams, who led the research. The approach offers a way to create elaborate networks with precise geometries, says Williams. “Neurons left to their own devices will kind of glom on to one another or connect randomly to other cells, neither of which is a good model for how neurons work.”

At this stage, the researchers have established that nerve cells are game for exploring the tiny tubes, which seem to be biologically friendly, and that the cell extensions will follow the network to link up physically. But it isn’t clear if the nerves are talking to each other, sending signals the way they do in the body. Future work aims to get voltage sensors and other devices into the tubes so researchers can eavesdrop on the cells. The confining space of the little tunnels should be a good environment for listening in, perhaps allowing researchers to study how nerve cells respond to potential drugs or to compare the behavior of healthy neurons with malfunctioning ones such as those found in people with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s.

Eventually, the arrangement may make it easier to couple living cells with technology on a larger scale, but getting there is no small task, says neuroengineer Ravi Bellamkonda of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

“There’s a lot of nontrivial engineering that has to happen, that’s the real challenge,” says Bellamkonda. “It’s really cool engineering, but what it means for neuroscience remains to be seen.”


“My Body, My Laboratory” in TIME

Posted by on March 17th, 2011


One of a rare breed of scientists willing to volunteer their own bodies in the service of science, professor Warwick let British surgeons place a silicon chip with 100 spiked electrodes directly into his nervous system in March 2002.

Any excuse to post a pic of Kevin Warwick, but this is taken from TIME’s overview of the advances made via self-experimentation and how it’s continuing today amongst enthusiasts on the internet; My Body, My Laboratory:

For centuries, self-experimentation was an accepted form of science. Sir Isaac Newton almost burned his cornea because he could think of no other means of understanding visual hallucinations than staring at the sun. But in recent years, the academic institutions, grant agencies and journals that have codified the scientific method have come to view self-experimentation with suspicion, worrying that it leads to bias or misleading results. Nevertheless, the practice continues among a small number of professors and doctors who see it as the last chance to prove an underfunded theory, as an act of solidarity with other study subjects. Or simply as an avenue to fame.

Self-experimentation has also found new life on the Internet. So-called self-tracking has already made lay scientists of many of us as we buy the latest exercise device or nutritional supplement and then log into forums to compare our findings with other investigators. What the practice lacks in rigor, it makes up for in zeal, not to mention the sheer number of subjects running their mini-studies. Somewhere in there, real — if ad hoc — science might occur. “To me, [self-tracking] is the future of self-experimentation,” says Seth Roberts, a professor of psychology at Tsinghua University in China, whose work led to the quirky best-selling diet book The Shangri-La Diet. The practice will continue among “normal people who are simply intent on discovering what works for them.”

Denis Harscoat, co-organizer of the Quantified Self group in London, agrees. Workers are more productive if they complete regular, small tasks rather than an occasional large project; the same is true of do-it-yourself science, he says. At the meetings Harscoat convenes, members discuss everything from monitoring their blood pressure to which behaviors best facilitate writing a play. “You might think we are a bunch of data-crunching geeks,” he says, “but it’s good to track.”

And track the Quantified Selfers do, often aided by new products designed for them: Zeo headbands, said to monitor sleep phases; Nike plus, shoes with a distance, speed and time sensor embedded in them; Asthmapolis, which records the location, time and date of each breath so asthmatics can monitor their attacks. Every bit of data is shared in meetings so it can be considered in the aggregate.


Link Dump 24-02-2011

Posted by on February 24th, 2011
  • Toward computers that fit on a pen tip: New technologies usher in the millimeter-scale computing era

    A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients is believed to contain the first complete millimeter-scale computing system…

  • Organs-on-a-Chip for Faster Drug Development

    The chips are still in their early stages, but investigators are translating more and more body parts to the interface. Last summer bioengineers at Harvard University..created a device that mimics a human lung: a porous membrane surrounded by human lung tissue cells, which breathes, distributes nutrients to cells and initiates immune responses.

  • The ‘core pathway’ of aging

    DePinho published a study in Nature in January 2011 that demonstrated it was possible to reverse the symptoms of extreme aging in mice by increasing their levels of telomerase, the enzyme that maintains the health of the telomeres.

  • Neuroscientists Create Perception Of Having Three Arms

    To prove that the prosthetic arm was truly experienced as a third arm, the scientist ‘threatened’ either the prosthetic hand or the real hand with a kitchen knife, and measuring the degree of sweating of the palm as a physiological response to this provocation.

  • Learning the Alien Language of Dolphins

    Herzing’s method is effectively the same as that used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The keyboard allows for dolphins to teach humans as much as the humans teach the dolphins.


The Skin Gun That Sprays New Skin on Burn Victims Is Real

Posted by on February 2nd, 2011

New technology will give burn patients a higher fighting chance to prevent infection and recover with less scaring.

WARNING: Contains graphic burn images

We’ve heard about the spray-on skin gun back in 2008 but we didn’t think it’d become this real, this useful, this fast. Though it is still technically in an experimental stage, the skin gun has already successfully treated over a dozen burn victims. The way it works is by using stem cells from the patient’s healthy skin and mixing it with a solution to come up with the spray paint. And combined with that fancy gun, the rest is easy. Doctors say “skin cell spraying is like paint spraying”.

Via Gizmodo, video from Christian Naths on Vimeo, due to region restrictions.


Octomom as Selfish Cyborg

Posted by on February 1st, 2011

Ph.D. Octopus’ Luce has a fascinating article up, concerning the social construction of Nadya “Octomon” Suleman as a selfish cyborg:

In contrast no mention was initially made of Suleman’s refusal to undergo the same selective reduction procedure. A bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania called the scandal an “ethical failure” and there were invocations only of Suleman’s obsessions, not God’s gifts. Of course Suleman embodied one of the media’s favorite objects of fascination and reproach: young, female, desirous, and with a body that performed feats unknown to natural woman. Like other media favorites, Suleman even got her own hybridized nickname, Octomom, but unlike Brangelina, the hybridity was maternal rather than romantic, interspecies rather than intra-; Octomom was part-mom, part-(marine)-beast, and implicitly part-machine.

Though at first the nickname Octomom seems to reduce Suleman to the sum of her eight kids, the focus on Suleman’s desire or “obsession” instead reduced her eight newborns to herself. The scorn heaped on Suleman’s actions carried the implication that the children should never have been born in the first place, a curious stance for a society obsessed with abortion, celebrity children, and big families like the conservative Christian Duggars and John & Kate Plus 8. But Suleman made no attempt to explain her extraordinary pregnancy outside her own personal desires, and she lacked the trappings-husband, comfortable income, religious belief-that might have normalized it socially.

As a result, Octomom became a symbol of selfish enhancement, artificial excess, and irresponsible motherhood, and a reproductive technology that has been used to conceive over 250,000 pregnancies in the United States since the early 1980s suddenly became the focus of intense public discussion, giving bioethicists a platform to point out that while IVF is widelyregulated throughout Europe, the US federal government only demands that ART clinics track their success rates.

Read the rest at Ph.D. Octopus.

[Link via Jezebel.]


Forgotten: The most radioactive town in Europe

Posted by on January 31st, 2011

At about 10.30am on 17 January 1966, when Jesus Caceido heard a deafening explosion coming from the village of Palomares, the future mayor of the area had no idea he had just witnessed one of the Cold War’s most serious nuclear accidents – or that nearly half a century later, the 1,500 villagers would still be battling to have the ensuing contamination removed for good. After all, they live in Europe’s most radioactive village.

Today, 45 years after four nuclear bombs fell near the village when a US Air Force B-52 bomber and a refuelling aircraft collided in mid-air, tens of thousands of cubic metres of contaminated soil and an estimated – although never officially confirmed – half a kilogram of plutonium remain. And the radiation is getting potentially more dangerous, not less.

“As this type of plutonium decays, it is converted into another radioactive substance, americium, which is highly carcinogenic and can be released into the atmosphere,” says Igor Parra, a specialist for the Ecologistas en Accion pressure group for Palomares.

Via The Independent.


How to Cure Migraines with a Chip

Posted by on January 24th, 2011

Zelrix Migraine Patch

NuPathe Inc, announced earlier this month that their electronic patch for Migraine treatment, Zelrix, has been accepted by the FDA for approval.  If all goes well, the transdermal drug delivery system will be available as early as this summer in the US.

From the Press Release:

Zelrix is an active, single-use, transdermal sumatriptan patch in development for the treatment of migraine. Zelrix is designed to provide migraine patients fast onset and sustained relief through a tolerable, non-oral route of administration. Zelrix may provide an attractive treatment option for many migraine patients because it avoids the need for oral administration and does not depend upon gastrointestinal absorption. Many migraine patients delay or avoid treatment with oral migraine medications as a result of underlying nausea and fear of vomiting. In addition, the reduced gastric motility experienced during migraine may affect the efficacy of oral medications. Zelrix is powered by SmartRelief, NuPathe’s proprietary transdermal delivery technology. SmartRelief consists of a controlled delivery technology that uses a mild electrical current to actively transport medication through the skin using a process called iontophoresis.


Remote-Controlled Capsule Endoscope Safely Examines the Stomach

Posted by on January 21st, 2011

Via Science Daily:

A study from researchers in Germany showed that magnetic maneuvering of a modified capsule endoscope in the stomach of healthy volunteers under clinical conditions is safe, well-tolerated, and technically feasible. Maneuverability of the capsule within the stomach was excellent and visualization of the gastric mucosa, the inner lining of the stomach, was satisfactory in the majority of subjects. Apart from a single experiment performed with a supervising flexible gastroscope, this was the first study to use the system in the stomach of healthy subjects.

See also: