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Submission + - Can living in total darkness for 5 days "reset" the visual system?->

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.
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Submission + - Electro-Chemical Sensor Predicts Which Donated Lungs Will Fail After Transplant->

the_newsbeagle writes: A lung transplant can be a life-saving intervention—but sometimes the donated lung stops working inside the recipient's body. This "graft dysfunction" is the leading cause of death for transplant patients in the early days after surgery. While lab tests can look for genetic biomarkers of inflammation and other warning signs in a donated lung, such tests take 6-12 hours in a typical hospital. That's too slow to be useful. Now, researchers at University of Toronto have invented a chip-based biosensor that can do quick on-the-spot genetic tests, providing an assessment of a lung's viability within 30 minutes.
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Submission + - Implanted Optogenetic Light Switch Lets Scientists Flip Neurons On and Off->

the_newsbeagle writes: Optogenetics is a fairly new (and fairly awesome) research tool for neuroscientists: By using light to jolt certain neurons into action, they can study how those neurons function in the mouse brain. But getting the light to those neurons has been difficult. Previous systems have required either fiber optic cables that tether the mouse to a computer, or heavy head-mounted receivers. Now Stanford's Ada Poon has invented a tiny and fully implantable system that wirelessly receives the signal to stimulate, and uses a micro-LED to activate the neurons. The device will let researchers study brain function while mice are running around, interacting socially, etc.
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Submission + - Paralyzed Man Hits the Streets of NYC in a New Exoskeleton ->

the_newsbeagle writes: Robert Woo was paralyzed in 2007 when a construction crane dropped a load of steel on him. Yesterday, he put on the newest "exoskeleton," essentially a pair of smart robotic legs, and strolled out into a busy Manhattan sidewalk. He was demoing the ReWalk 6.0, a $77,000 device that he plans to buy for home use.
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Submission + - Robot Performs Prostate Surgery Inside an MRI; Brain Surgery Could be Next->

the_newsbeagle writes: Fellas, here's a sentence to test the convictions of tech enthusiasts: “The patient lies inside the MRI scanner . . . and the robot accesses the prostate through the perineal wall.” Would you trust a robot with your prostate?

Researchers have developed a non-metallic robot with ceramic piezoelectric motors that functions inside an MRI machine, allowing surgeons to perform procedures guided by real-time imaging. It's now being tested in prostate biopsies. Doctors say this system will let them aim their needles more precisely and reduce the number of times they stick them in. The NIH thinks such systems could come in handy for neurosurgery too.

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Submission + - Using lasers to trigger a mouse's happy memory gives it the will to struggle on->

the_newsbeagle writes: With optogenetics, scientists can tag neurons with light-responsive proteins, and then trigger those neurons to "turn on" with the pulse of a light. In the latest application, MIT researchers used light to turn on certain neurons in male mice's hippocampi that were associated with a happy memory (coming into contact with female mice!), and then tested whether that artificially activated memory changed the mice's reactions to a stressful situation (being hung by their tails). Mice who got jolted with the happy memory struggled to get free for longer than the control mice. This tail-suspension test was developed to screen potential antidepressant drugs: If a rodent struggles longer before giving up, it's considered less depressed.
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Submission + - Computer Modeling Failed During the Ebola Outbreak->

the_newsbeagle writes: Last fall, the trajectory of the Ebola outbreak looked downright terrifying: Computational epidemiologists at Virginia Tech predicted 175,000 cases in Liberia by the end of 2014, while the CDC predicted 1.4 million cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They were way off. The actual tally as of January 2015: A total of 20,712 cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone combined, and in all three countries, the epidemic was dying down. But the modelers argue that this really wasn't a failure, because their predictions served as worst-case scenarios that mobilized international efforts.
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Submission + - The Artificial Pancreas for Diabetics Is Nearly Here ->

the_newsbeagle writes: It's the tech that type 1 diabetics have long been waiting for: An implanted "closed-loop" system that monitors a person's blood-sugar level and adjusts injections from an insulin pump. Such a system would liberate diabetics from constant self-monitoring and give parents of diabetic children peace of mind. Thanks to improvements in glucose sensors and control algorithms, the first artificial pancreas systems are now in clinical trials.
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Submission + - Machine Learning to Identify Disease-Bearing Rodents Could Predict Outbreaks->

the_newsbeagle writes: Biologists don't yet know all the animals that carry diseases that can infect humans, so outbreaks of zoonotic diseases like Ebola and avian flu cause public health officials to scramble and try to figure out the source. But a team of computational biologists thinks they can help predict outbreaks (and maybe even prevent them) by identifying all the world's disease-bearing animals. The researchers started with rodents, feeding databases of rodents' biological traits into their computer models and using machine learning to pick out those that are likely to carry zoonotic diseases. The next step is for field researchers to check the real critters for disease. If the model's results hold up, people who come into contact with those rodents could potentially be more careful.
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Submission + - A Light-Powered Retina Implant for the Blind ->

the_newsbeagle writes: In certain diseases of the retina, people lose function in the photoreceptor cells that respond to light and trigger a message to the brain. So engineers have designed various retina implants that do the job instead, including the Argus II system, which received the first FDA approval for an implanted visual prosthetic in 2013. But the Argus II only produces vision of about 20/1200. A new implant in the pipeline from Stanford University has already achieved 20/250 vision in rats, and is aiming at 20/120, which would be below the legal threshold for blindness. This implant is photovoltaic, so the same infrared light that beams an image of the world into the implanted chip also powers its electronics.
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Submission + - How deep brain stimulation actually works->

the_newsbeagle writes: Pharmaceutical research for neuropsychiatric disorders hasn't produced many breakthroughs lately, which may explain why there's so much excitement around "electroceutical" research. That buzzy new field encompasses deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which an implanted stimulator sends little jolts through the neural tissue. DBS has become an accepted therapy for Parkinson's and other motor disorders, even though researchers haven't really understood how it works. Now, new research may have found the mechanism of action in Parkinson's patients: The stimulation reduces an exaggerated synchronization of neuron activity in the motor cortex.
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Submission + - "Smart Sewer" Project Will Reveal a City's Microbiome->

the_newsbeagle writes: Public health officials want to turn streams of sewage into streams of data. A new project in Cambridge, Mass. will equip sewer tunnels with robotic samplers that can routinely collect sewage from 10 different locations. MIT scientists will then analyze the sewage content for early signs of a viral outbreak or a food-borne bacterial illness, and may be able to draw conclusions about specific health trends throughout the city. This Cambridge effort is a proof of concept; the MIT researchers plan to deploy a larger system in Kuwait, where officials are particularly interested in studying obesity and the effectiveness of public health interventions.
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Submission + - First Prototype of a Working Tricorder Unveiled at SXSW->

the_newsbeagle writes: The $10 million Tricorder X-prize is getting to the "put up or shut up" stage: The 10 finalists must turn in their working devices on June 1st for consumer testing. At SXSW last week, the finalist team Cloud DX showed off its prototype, which includes a wearable collar, a base station, a blood-testing stick, and a scanning wand.
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Submission + - Humanitarian Drones: Finding Unexploded Bombs from Past Wars->

the_newsbeagle writes: During the Vietnam War the country of Laos was pounded by 2 million tons of bombs, including a vast number of cluster bombs that scattered smaller bomblets across the landscape. Many of those failed to explode on impact and lodged in the ground, creating a deadly legacy of war that remains to this day. To help surveyors locate and remove these unexploded bombs, a drone company plans to fly its octocopters over the Laotian countryside. The drones will scan the land with a laser imaging system to make precise topographical maps, allowing surveyors to identify old trenches, bunkers, and other features that were likely targeted in bombing campaigns.
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Submission + - Scientists Insert a Synthetic Memory in the Brain of a Sleeping Mouse->

the_newsbeagle writes: Scientists are learning how to insert fake memories into the brain via precise electrical stimulation. In the latest weirdness, they gave sleeping mice a synthetic memory that linked a particular location in a test chamber to a pleasurable sensation. (At least they gave the mice a nice memory.)

The researchers first recorded the electrical signals from the mice's brains while the mice were awake and exploring the test chamber, until the researchers identified patterns of activity associated with a certain location. Then, when the mice slept, the researchers watched for those neural patterns to be replayed, indicating that the mice were consolidating the memory of that location. At that moment, they zapped a reward center of the mice's brains. When the mice awoke and went back into the chamber, they hung around that reward-associated location, presumably expecting a dose of feel-good.

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