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.
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.
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.
the_newsbeagle writes: With electrodes implanted in their neural tissue and a new brain-computer interface, two paralyzed people with ALS used their thoughts to control a computer cursor with unprecedented accuracy and speed. They showed off their skills by using a predictive text-entering program to type sentences, achieving a rate of 6 words per minute. While paralyzed people can type faster using other assistive technologies that are already on the market, like eye-gaze trackers and air-puff controllers, a brain implant could be the only option for paralyzed people who can't reliably control their eyes or mouth muscles.
Zothecula writes: A man suffering complete paralysis in both legs has regained the ability to walk again using electrical signals generated by his own brain. Unlike similar efforts that have seen paralyzed subjects walk again by using their own brainwaves to manually control robotic limbs, the researchers say this is the first time a person with complete paralysis in both legs due to spinal cord injury was able to walk again under their own power and demonstrates the potential for noninvasive therapies to restore control over paralyzed limbs.
the_newsbeagle writes: This is a parlor trick, not neuroscience," writes this DIY brain hacker — but it sure is a nifty trick. The hacker put electrodes on his scalp, fed the resulting EEG data into a specialized processor that makes sense of brain signals, and modified the remote control for a helium-filled shark balloon. Soon, he and his buddies were steering the shark around the room. Why did it take his buddies, too? "EEG interpretation is not easy because, to be technical, EEG signals are a crazy mess. EEG recordings are a jumble of the signatures of many brain processes. Detecting conscious thoughts like “Shark, please swim forward” is way beyond even state-of-the-art equipment. The electrical signature of a single thought is lost in the furious chatter of 100 billion neurons." So builder Chip Audette settled on the simplest control system he could, and divvied up the actual controls (left, right, forward, etc.) among several users, so each one's brain signals could be interpreted separately.
MTorrice writes: Scientists in Wisconsin have grown three-dimensional brain-like tissue structures from human embryonic stem cells. These new structures are easy to grow and contain vascular cells and microglia, a type of immune cell. The breakthrough may change the way we test drugs and chemicals for their effect on the human brain. Currently most tests use multiple generations of rats and cost about $1 million to test one chemical. “In the near term, the approach might be more valuable to identify pathways and mechanisms of toxicity,” says William Murphy, a biomedical engineer at the University of Wisconsin. “We are gathering so much data on responses of these human brain mimics to known toxic chemicals that we can start to understand the signaling pathways affected by the chemicals. Not just whether, but how the chemicals are affecting the developing human brain.”
minstrelmike writes: Mattel is coming out with a Talking Barbie designed by a huge team and pre-scripted with thousands of responses controlled by an AI, with designs to be your best friend. The design team remembers the "Math is hard" debacle of the 1990s and if a girl asks if she's pretty, Barbie will respond, "Yes. And you're smart, too." If she asks if Barbie believes in God, she says a person's beliefs are personal. And suggests talking to grownups about some problems. The linked New York Times' article ("Barbie Wants to Get to Know Your Child") even discusses trying to avoid edited vids on YouTube by scripting out words such as "cockroach."
An anonymous reader writes with a link to The Stack's look at study that examines the human capacity to detect (or to overlook) manipulation in images. About 400 volunteers looked at images which had been digitally altered by erasing elements, by replicating parts the image, or by pasting in elements from other images. Less than 58 percent of the alterations were detected, even though the volunteers knew that's what they were to look for. The article says "While its conclusion – that we are not very good at identifying doctored photos – is predictable, it's the type of 'fakes' that deceive us which are most interesting." Spoiler: Erasure is much harder to spot than image splicing.
TheAlexKnapp writes: Last month, researchers at Ohio State University announced they'd created a "a nearly complete human brain in a dish that equals the brain maturity of a 5-week-old fetus." In the press release, the University hailed this as an "ethical" way to test drugs for neurological disorders. Philosopher Janet Stemwedel, who notes that she works in "the field where we've been thinking about brains in vats for a very long time" highlights some of the ethical issues around this new technology. "We should acknowledge," she says. "that the ethical use of lab-grown human brains is nothing like a no-brainer."
Jason Koebler writes: Optogenetics, the ability to control neurons using bursts of light, has been one of the most promising breakthroughs in neurology of this decade. It's been a boon for researchers, but its invasive nature (the brain must usually be exposed) has held the technology back. Sreekanth Chalasani of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies described a new, noninvasive method of controlling neurons using ultrasound pulses in Nature Communications. For the first time ever, he was able to manipulate a genetically modified organism using a new technique called sonogenetics.
the_newsbeagle writes: Many prior experiments that tried to restore function after a spinal cord injury have used electrical stimulation to replace the signals from the brain, essentially implanting a replacement nervous system. But a new project instead used electrical stimulation to encourage the natural nervous system to adapt to a severe injury. When researchers repeatedly jolted a rat's damaged spinal cord at the precise moment that it tried to move a paralyzed limb, its nervous system developed new neural pathways that detoured around the site of injury in the spine. Researchers don't think it grew new neurons, but think instead that new connections formed between surviving neurons.
New submitter CravenRaven76 writes: A 28 year old man who has been paralyzed for almost a decade has recently received a prosthetic hand that allows for him to feel for the first time. While prosthetics have previously been able to be controlled directly from the brain, it is the first time that signals have been successfully sent the other way. “We’ve completed the circuit,” said DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez in a statement. “Prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts are showing great promise, but without feedback from signals traveling back to the brain it can be difficult to achieve the level of control needed to perform precise movements. By wiring a sense of touch from a mechanical hand directly into the brain, this work shows the potential for seamless bio-technological restoration of near-natural function.”
biobricks writes: The NY Times covers cryonics and destructive mind uploading, with some news on progress in brain preservation research. Quoting: "Dr. Fahy, a cryobiologist whose research focuses on organ banking, had provided the most encouraging signs that cryonics did preserve brain structure. In a 2009 experiment, his team showed that neurons in slices of rabbit brains immersed in the solution, chilled to cryogenic temperatures and then rewarmed, had responded to electrical stimulation. His method, he contended, preserved the connectome in those slices. But a complication prevented him from entering the prize competition: Brain tissue perfused with the cryoprotectant invariably becomes dehydrated, making it nearly impossible to see the details of the shrunken neurons and their connections under an electron microscope. ... He could fix the brain’s structure in place with chemicals first, just as Dr. Mikula was doing, buying time to perfuse the cryoprotectant more slowly to avoid dehydration. But he lacked the funds, he said, for a project that would have no practical business application for organ banking."
An anonymous reader writes: Chinese researchers claim to be able to deduce a person's emotional state using accelerometer data from mobile devices attached to the wrist and ankle. The study recorded baseline data and then comparitive data after showing either disturbing or amusing videos to test subjects. The paper envisages the ultimate development of smartphone and wearable apps capable of providing systematic long-term and short-term data on someone's state of being, based mostly on the movement of the ankle whilst walking. They posit the usefulness of the information in medical applications, but do not address possible unsuitable uses, such as for the purposes of employment assessment or insurance premiums.
MTorrice writes: A new study concludes that a brain protein causes the rare, Parkinson's-like disease called multiple systems atrophy (MSA) by acting like a prion, the misbehaving type of protein infamously linked to mad cow disease. The researchers say the results are the most definitive demonstration to date that proteins involved in many neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, exhibit prion-like behavior: They can misfold into shapes that then coax others to do the same, leading to protein aggregation that forms neurotoxic clumps. If these other diseases are caused by prion-like proteins, then scientists could develop treatments that slow or stop disease progression by designing molecules that block prion propagation.
An anonymous reader writes: The Naegleria fowleri amoeba typically feeds on bacteria in water and soil. Human digestive systems have no problem killing it, but inhaling water that carries the amoeba gives it the opportunity to work its way into the brain after it sneaks through the nasal mucus. It happens rarely, but 97% of people whose brains start swelling because of this amoeba end up dying. Like most microorganisms, N. fowleri can be neutralized with concentrated chlorine. However, the systems we use to deliver tap water aren't so clean. Researchers found that N. fowleri can easily survive for 24 hours when it's mixed with the types of biofilm that tend to reside in water pipes. Increasing chlorine levels isn't a good option, since its reaction with these biofilms can generate carcinogens.
the_newsbeagle writes: That's what one neuroscientist is aiming to find out. He wants to put patients with a type of amblyopia, the vision problem commonly called lazy eye, into the dark for 5 days. His hypothesis: When they emerge, their brains' visual cortices will be temporarily "plastic" and changeable, and may begin to process the visual signals from their bad eyes correctly. Before he could do this study, though, he had to do a test run to figure out logistics. So he himself lived in a pitch black room for 5 days. One finding: Eating ravioli in the dark is hard.
New submitter JamesA writes: Wes Craven, the famed writer-director of horror films known for the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream movies, died Sunday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 76. Though he's far less known as a novelist than for his various horror film jobs (writer, director, producer, actor ...), Craven also wrote a few books; I can't vouch for "Coming of Rage," but "Fountain Society" is pretty solid speculative fiction. Wikipedia notes that Craven also "designed the Halloween 2008 logo for Google, and was the second celebrity personality to take over the YouTube homepage on Halloween."
Physician, writer and humanist Oliver Sacks has died of cancer at age 82. Sacks was famous for "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat" and other books, including his account in "Awakenings" (later made into a well-recieved film) of administering treatment which resulted in several patients emerging from their comas. The Guardian reports: When he revealed that he had terminal cancer, Sacks quoted one of his favourite philosophers, David Hume. On discovering that he was mortally ill at 65, Hume wrote: “I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution. I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company. “I am ... a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”