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Hospitals Can 3D Print a Patient's Vasculature For Aneurysm Pre-Op Practice ( 21

Lucas123 writes: University of Buffalo physicians and researchers from two institutes working with 3D printer maker Stratasys have successfully 3D-printed anatomically correct models of patients' vascular systems — from their femoral artery to their brain — in order to test various surgical techniques prior to an actual operation. The new 3D printed models not only precisely replicate blood vessels' geometry, but the texture and tissue tension, allowing surgeons a realistic preoperative experience when using catheterization techniques. The printed models are also being used by physicians in training.

Experimental Drug Targeting Alzheimer's Disease Shows Anti-Aging Effects ( 101

schwit1 writes with news that researchers at the Salk Institute have found that an experimental drug candidate aimed at combating Alzheimer's disease has a host of unexpected anti-aging effects in animals. Says the article: The Salk team expanded upon their previous development of a drug candidate, called J147, which takes a different tack by targeting Alzheimer's major risk factor–old age. In the new work, the team showed that the drug candidate worked well in a mouse model of aging not typically used in Alzheimer's research. When these mice were treated with J147, they had better memory and cognition, healthier blood vessels in the brain and other improved physiological features.

"Initially, the impetus was to test this drug in a novel animal model that was more similar to 99 percent of Alzheimer's cases," says Antonio Currais, the lead author and a member of Professor David Schubert's Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk. "We did not predict we'd see this sort of anti-aging effect, but J147 made old mice look like they were young, based upon a number of physiological parameters."


Averaging Inanimate Objects Together Produces a Very Human Face 103

StartsWithABang writes: It's well known that by aligning and averaging a wide variety of human faces together, an eerie "average" human face can be arrived at. But we see faces in things all the time, from natural scenes like terrain to artificial ones like cars, coffeemakers and combination locks. For the first time, someone averaged together a large number of images of objects appearing to have faces, and the result, strikingly, was an eerily human face. You'd think this might say more about the algorithm than the images themselves, but when noise was used, no human face emerged at all.

Neurons Can Be Changed From One Type To Another, Communication Paths Rewired ( 31

schwit1 writes: A newly published study from Harvard biologists [here's a link to the paywalled paper's summary] shows how neurons can be dramatically changed from one type into another from within the brain and how neighboring neurons recognize the reprogrammed cells as different and adapt by changing how they communicate with them. Building on earlier work in which they disproved neurobiology dogma by "reprogramming" neurons — turning one form of neuron into another — in the brains of living animals, Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers have now shown that the networks of communication among reprogrammed neurons and their neighbors can also be changed, or "rewired."

Symbolic vs. Mnemonic Relational Operators: Is "GT" Greater Than ">"? 304

theodp writes: "Mnemonic operators," writes SAS's Rick Wicklin as he weighs the pros-and-cons of Symbolic Versus Mnemonic Logical Operators, "tend to appear in older languages like FORTRAN, whereas symbolic operators are common in more recent languages like C/C++, although some relatively recent scripting languages like Perl, PHP, and Windows PowerShell also support mnemonic operators. SAS software has supported both operators in the DATA step since the very earliest days, but the SAS/IML language, which is more mathematically oriented, supports only the symbolic operators. Functionally, the operators are equivalent, so which ones you use is largely a matter of personal preference. Since consistency and standards are essential when writing computer programming, which operators should you choose?"

The Neuroscientist Who Tested a Brain Implant On Himself ( 58

An anonymous reader writes: Our understanding of the brain has come a long way in the past thirty years, but most brain-related medical procedures remain incredibly complicated and dangerous. Neurologist Phil Kennedy has been working on brain-computer interfaces since the 1980s. He was most notably involved in letting a patient with "locked in" syndrome interact with the outside world through a brain-controlled computer cursor. But the FDA has gradually ramped up its safety demands, and in the past decade they've shut down Kennedy's research. So he did what any determined inventor would do: he went to a hospital in Belize and had surgeons there implant electrodes on his own brain so he could continue his research.

"After returning home to Duluth, Georgia, Kennedy began to toil largely alone in his speech lab, recording his neurons as he repeated 29 phonemes (such as e, eh, a, o, u, and consonants like ch and j) out loud, and then silently imagined saying them. ... Kennedy says his early findings are 'extremely encouraging.' He says he determined that different combinations of the 65 neurons he was recording from consistently fired every time he spoke certain sounds aloud, and also fired when he imagined speaking them—a relationship that is potentially key to developing a thought decoder for speech." Eventually, Kennedy had to have the implants removed, but he hopes the data he gathered will help push the FDA toward supporting this research once more.


Before Barbie's Brainy Makeover, Mattel Execs Met With White House, Google 125

theodp writes: Mattel came under fire last November over its portrayal of Computer Engineer Barbie as incompetent. But the toymaker is now drawing kudos for its new Imagine the Possibilities Barbie ad campaign (video), which shows little girls pretending to be professionals in real-life settings, including a college professor lecturing students about the brain. Ad Age, however, is cynical of the empowering spin on Barbie, which it says "comes across as a manipulative way to silence criticism." Interestingly, some of that criticism may have come from the White House.

WH Visitor Records show that Barbie's brainy makeover came after Mattel execs — Evelyn Mazzocco, Julia Pistor, Heather Lazarus — were summoned to the White House last April to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls. A little Googling suggests other attendees at the sit-down included representatives of the nation's leading toy makers (Disney Consumer, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, American Girl), media giants (Disney Channels, Viacom, TIME, Scholastic, Univision, Participant Media, Cartoon Network, Netflix), retailers (Walmart, Target), educators, scientists, the U.S. Dept. of Education (including the Deputy Director of Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative), philanthropists (Rockefeller, Harnisch Foundations) — and Google. Representing Google was CS Education in Media Program Manager Julie Ann Crommett, who has worked with Disney to shape programming to inspire girls to pursue CS in conjunction with the search giant's $50 million Made With Code initiative.

The April White House meeting appears to be a reschedule of a planned March meeting that was to have included other Mattel execs, including Stephanie Cota, Venetia Davie, and Lori Pantel, to whom the task of apologizing for Computer Engineer Barbie fell last November. For the first time in over a decade, Barbie was no longer the most popular girls' toy last holiday season, having lost her crown to Disney Princesses Elsa and Anna, who coincidentally teamed up with Google-backed last December to "teach President Obama to code" at a widely-publicized White House event.
Role Playing (Games)

Dungeons & Dragons and the Ethics of Imaginary Violence ( 321

An anonymous reader writes: Are people just naturally inclined to be destructive when there aren't any real consequences? Should we be worried about people who imagine such violence? Writer Clem Bastow spoke to D&D experts, psychologists and others to answer these questions. It turns out that playing out violent fantasies in D&D is not only healthy, but could even teach players how to be a better person. “Rather than playing an extension of who you or I are within the game, I see it more as playing a fantasy character who can do whatever they want, and who doesn’t feel inhibited by social anxiety or fear of punishment or rejection. It’s an exaggerated version of how [the player] would like to be, but can’t. The game is a safe way to be this other person,” says Clinical psychologist and games designer Dr. Owen Spear.

Mother of All Apes May Have Been Surprisingly Small ( 33

sciencehabit writes: From sturdy chimpanzees to massive gorillas to humans themselves, the living great apes are all large-bodied, weighing between 30 and 180 kilograms. So for years most researchers thought the ancestral ape must have tipped the scales as well. But the partial skeleton of an 11.6-million-year-old primitive ape may force scientists to reimagine the ancestor of all living apes and humans. With a muzzle like a gibbon but a large brain for its body size, the ancient primate has traits that link it to all apes and humans—yet it weighed only 4 kg to 5 kg, according to a report today in Science.

Google Wants To Monitor Your Mental Health ( 105

New submitter Alypius writes: Dr Tom Insel, the head of the NIH, will be joining Google Life Sciences to research how wearable technology, already used for monitoring physical activity and sleep, can be expanded to cover mental health issues such as depression. Dr. Insel will also be researching how to integrate tech to monitor other aspects of day-to-day living such as calorie and alcohol consumption.

You Can't Get Smarter, But You Can Slow How Fast You Get Dumber ( 82

An anonymous reader writes: An article at the NY Times summarizes the state of research on cognitive improvement. There are multiple industries — from big pharma to the makers of "brain-training" games — trying to convince you there are ways to become more intelligent. Unfortunately, scientific research doesn't really bear that out. There is, however, evidence you can provide short-term boosts, slow aging-related cognitive decline, and trick yourself into achieving better outcomes. Experiments show that simply telling a group of low-performing students that intelligence is malleable led to higher test scores. Researchers also found a use for mental exercises, but only in adults over the age of 60, a time at which some level of cognitive decline is common. Physical exercise seems to help fight that cognitive shrinkage as well. Oddly, different exercises fight it in different ways. As for drugs, there is some evidence that stimulants help with long-term memory, but that's about it. That's not to say they have no effect, just that their effect is more to make you feel smarter instead of actually being smarter. The article does point out one of the best ways to combat cognitive decline: maintain social engagement as you get older. "[P]eople with the highest level of social integration had less than half the decline in their cognitive function of the least socially active subjects."

The Life-Saving Gifts of the World's Most Venomous Animal ( 49

tedlistens writes: It was a terrible sting off the coast of Hawaii that inspired Angel Yanagihara, a biology researcher, to spend her life studying the bizarre culprit. Comprising some 50 species, box jellyfish are not like other jellyfish: they have 24 eyes, can move with intention and at surprising speed, and have something resembling a brain. They are also considered to be among the most venomous animals on Earth, killing more people every year than sharks do. Once inside the body, its venom acts "like buckshot" on blood cells. One species, the four-pound, nine-foot-long sea wasp, is said to have enough venom at any one time to kill ninety to one hundred and twenty humans.

As ocean currents and biomes change, various species of dangerous box jellyfish have shown up in places where they have not recently been abundant, including Japan, India, Israel, Florida, and the Jersey Shore. But compared to other venoms, research on jellyfish has remained in the dark ages. New methods for collecting venom—including one that relies on beer—along with a better understanding of box-jelly biochemistry may point to better non-antibiotic protections from them, and to novel defenses for humans against other fatal infections from anthrax and the antibiotic-resistant "superbug" MRSA, says Yanagihara. (Venoms are already the basis of a handful of FDA-approved drugs that have generated billions for the pharma industry.) Now the U.S. military is helping to fund Yanagihara's research, and applying a cream she developed to thwart box jellyfish, which have already left serious stings on a dozen Army divers at a training facility in Florida, and forced one diver out of the program.

Data Storage

Ion-Based Data Allows Atom-Sized Storage Cells Similar To Brain Structure ( 19

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers in Germany have developed a method of writing data with ions and retrieving it with electrons that opens the path for atom-sized storage devices which are similar to structures found in the human brain. The Nanoelectronic group at Kiel University joined the Ruhr Universitat Bochum to seek alternatives to conventional memory technologies, which involve the displacement of electrons by applying voltage, but which promise little more advance in terms of capacity or form-factor. The new technique is based on electrical resistance using a solid ion conductor.

Will You Ever Be Able To Upload Your Brain? ( 269

An anonymous reader points out this piece in the Times by professor of neuroscience at Columbia and co-director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience Kenneth Miller, about what it would take to upload a human brain. "Much of the current hope of reconstructing a functioning brain rests on connectomics: the ambition to construct a complete wiring diagram, or 'connectome,' of all the synaptic connections between neurons in the mammalian brain. Unfortunately connectomics, while an important part of basic research, falls far short of the goal of reconstructing a mind, in two ways. First, we are far from constructing a connectome. The current best achievement was determining the connections in a tiny piece of brain tissue containing 1,700 synapses; the human brain has more than a hundred billion times that number of synapses. While progress is swift, no one has any realistic estimate of how long it will take to arrive at brain-size connectomes. (My wild guess: centuries.)"

The Rise and Fall of NASA's Shuttle-Centaur ( 53

An anonymous reader writes: An article at Ars Technica tells the story of Shuttle-Centaur, a NASA project during the mid-1980s to carry a Centaur rocket to orbit within the cargo bay of a space shuttle. As you might expect, shuttle launches became vastly more complex with such heavy yet delicate cargo. Still, officials saw it as an easy way to send probes further into the solar system. They developed a plan to launch Challenger and Atlantis within 5 days of each other in mid-1986 to bring the Ulysses and Galileo probes to orbit, each with its own Shuttle-Centaur. Though popular opinion at the time was that the shuttle program was "unstoppable," individuals within NASA were beginning to push back against slipping safety standards. "While a host of unknowns remained concerning launching a volatile, liquid-fueled rocket stage on the back of a space shuttle armed with a liquid-filled tank and two solid rocket boosters, NASA and its contractors galloped full speed toward a May 1986 launch deadline for both spacecraft." The destruction of Challenger in January, 1986 put Shuttle-Centaur on hold. The safety investigation that ensued quickly came to the conclusion that it presented unacceptable risks, and the project was canceled that June.

Scientists Control a Fly's Heartbeat With a Laser ( 17

the_newsbeagle writes: Researchers have demonstrated a laser-based pacemaker in fruit flies, and say that a human version is "not impossible."

The invention makes use of optogenetics, a technique in which the DNA that codes for a light-sensitive protein is inserted into certain cells, enabling those cells to be activated by pulses of light. Researchers often use this method to study neurons in the brain, but in this case the researchers altered flies' heart cells. Then they activated those cardiac cells using pulses of light, causing them to contract in time with the pulses (abstract). Voila, they had an optical pacemaker that worked on living adult fruit flies.

Don't worry, no one can control your heartbeat with a laser just yet. That would require inserting foreign DNA into your heart cells, and also finding a way to shine light through the impediment of your flesh and bones. But lead researcher Chao Zhou of Lehigh University is working on it.


Complex Living Brain Simulation Replicates Sensory Rat Behaviour ( 63

New submitter physick writes: The Blue Brain project at EPFL, Switzerland today published the results of more than 10 years work in reconstructing a cellular model of a piece of the somatosensory cortex of a juvenile rat. The paper in Cell describes the process of painstakingly assembling tens of thousands of digital neurons, establishing the location of their synapses, and simulating the resulting neocortical microcircuit on an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. “This is a first draft reconstruction of a piece of neocortex and it’s beautiful,” said Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “It’s like a fundamental building block of the brain.”

Endocannabinoids Contribute To Runner's High 112

MTorrice writes: After a nice long bout of aerobic exercise, some people experience what's known as a "runner's high" — a feeling of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain. For decades, scientists have associated this phenomenon with an increased level in the blood of beta-endorphins, which are opioid peptides thought to elevate mood. Now, German researchers have shown the brain's endocannabinoid system—the same one affected by marijuana's 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—may also play a role in producing runner's high, at least in mice.

DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets 34

the_newsbeagle writes: DARPA is sinking some cash into the buzzy new research field of "electroceuticals," which involves stimulating nerves to control the activity of organs or bodily systems. The newest techniques have little in common with electroshock therapy, which sends a strong current broadly through the brain tissue; today's cutting-edge methods can target individual neurons, and turn them "on" and "off" with great precision. Under DARPA's new ElectRx program, seven research teams will explore different ways to modulate activity of the peripheral nervous system. Some will stimulate neurons directly with electricity, while others will take more roundabout routes involving light, acoustics, and magnetic fields.

Dormant Virus Wakes Up In Some Patients With Lou Gehrig's Disease 47

MTorrice writes: Our chromosomes hold a partial record of prehistoric viral infections: About 8% of our genomes come from DNA that viruses incorporated into the cells of our ancestors. Over many millennia, these viral genes have accumulated mutations rendering them mostly dormant. But one of these viruses can reawaken in some patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive muscle wasting disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A new study demonstrates that this so-called endogenous retrovirus can damage neurons, possibly contributing to the neurodegeneration seen in the disease. The findings raise the possibility that antiretroviral drugs, similar to those used to treat HIV, could slow the progression of ALS in some patients.