neurosciencestuff:

On the frontiers of cyborg science
No longer just fantastical fodder for sci-fi buffs, cyborg technology is bringing us tangible progress toward real-life electronic skin, prosthetics and ultraflexible circuits. Now taking this human-machine concept to an unprecedented level, pioneering scientists are working on the seamless marriage between electronics and brain signaling with the potential to transform our understanding of how the brain works — and how to treat its most devastating diseases.
Their presentation is taking place at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting features nearly 12,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics and is being held here through Thursday.
“By focusing on the nanoelectronic connections between cells, we can do things no one has done before,” says Charles M. Lieber, Ph.D. “We’re really going into a new size regime for not only the device that records or stimulates cellular activity, but also for the whole circuit. We can make it really look and behave like smart, soft biological material, and integrate it with cells and cellular networks at the whole-tissue level. This could get around a lot of serious health problems in neurodegenerative diseases in the future.”
These disorders, such as Parkinson’s, that involve malfunctioning nerve cells can lead to difficulty with the most mundane and essential movements that most of us take for granted: walking, talking, eating and swallowing.
Scientists are working furiously to get to the bottom of neurological disorders. But they involve the body’s most complex organ — the brain — which is largely inaccessible to detailed, real-time scrutiny. This inability to see what’s happening in the body’s command center hinders the development of effective treatments for diseases that stem from it.
By using nanoelectronics, it could become possible for scientists to peer for the first time inside cells, see what’s going wrong in real time and ideally set them on a functional path again.
For the past several years, Lieber has been working to dramatically shrink cyborg science to a level that’s thousands of times smaller and more flexible than other bioelectronic research efforts. His team has made ultrathin nanowires that can monitor and influence what goes on inside cells. Using these wires, they have built ultraflexible, 3-D mesh scaffolding with hundreds of addressable electronic units, and they have grown living tissue on it. They have also developed the tiniest electronic probe ever that can record even the fastest signaling between cells.
Rapid-fire cell signaling controls all of the body’s movements, including breathing and swallowing, which are affected in some neurodegenerative diseases. And it’s at this level where the promise of Lieber’s most recent work enters the picture.
In one of the lab’s latest directions, Lieber’s team is figuring out how to inject their tiny, ultraflexible electronics into the brain and allow them to become fully integrated with the existing biological web of neurons. They’re currently in the early stages of the project and are working with rat models.
“It’s hard to say where this work will take us,” he says. “But in the end, I believe our unique approach will take us on a path to do something really revolutionary.”

neurosciencestuff:

On the frontiers of cyborg science

No longer just fantastical fodder for sci-fi buffs, cyborg technology is bringing us tangible progress toward real-life electronic skin, prosthetics and ultraflexible circuits. Now taking this human-machine concept to an unprecedented level, pioneering scientists are working on the seamless marriage between electronics and brain signaling with the potential to transform our understanding of how the brain works — and how to treat its most devastating diseases.

Their presentation is taking place at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting features nearly 12,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics and is being held here through Thursday.

“By focusing on the nanoelectronic connections between cells, we can do things no one has done before,” says Charles M. Lieber, Ph.D. “We’re really going into a new size regime for not only the device that records or stimulates cellular activity, but also for the whole circuit. We can make it really look and behave like smart, soft biological material, and integrate it with cells and cellular networks at the whole-tissue level. This could get around a lot of serious health problems in neurodegenerative diseases in the future.”

These disorders, such as Parkinson’s, that involve malfunctioning nerve cells can lead to difficulty with the most mundane and essential movements that most of us take for granted: walking, talking, eating and swallowing.

Scientists are working furiously to get to the bottom of neurological disorders. But they involve the body’s most complex organ — the brain — which is largely inaccessible to detailed, real-time scrutiny. This inability to see what’s happening in the body’s command center hinders the development of effective treatments for diseases that stem from it.

By using nanoelectronics, it could become possible for scientists to peer for the first time inside cells, see what’s going wrong in real time and ideally set them on a functional path again.

For the past several years, Lieber has been working to dramatically shrink cyborg science to a level that’s thousands of times smaller and more flexible than other bioelectronic research efforts. His team has made ultrathin nanowires that can monitor and influence what goes on inside cells. Using these wires, they have built ultraflexible, 3-D mesh scaffolding with hundreds of addressable electronic units, and they have grown living tissue on it. They have also developed the tiniest electronic probe ever that can record even the fastest signaling between cells.

Rapid-fire cell signaling controls all of the body’s movements, including breathing and swallowing, which are affected in some neurodegenerative diseases. And it’s at this level where the promise of Lieber’s most recent work enters the picture.

In one of the lab’s latest directions, Lieber’s team is figuring out how to inject their tiny, ultraflexible electronics into the brain and allow them to become fully integrated with the existing biological web of neurons. They’re currently in the early stages of the project and are working with rat models.

“It’s hard to say where this work will take us,” he says. “But in the end, I believe our unique approach will take us on a path to do something really revolutionary.”

spaceexp:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured Saturn’s rings and planet Earth and its moon. This is only the third time that Earth has been capture from the outer solar system.

spaceexp:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured Saturn’s rings and planet Earth and its moon. This is only the third time that Earth has been capture from the outer solar system.

(via n-a-s-a)

Could your brain be reprogrammed to work better?

neurosciencestuff:

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have shown that electromagnetic stimulation can alter brain organisation which may make your brain work better.

image

In results from a study published today in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from The University of Western…

(Source: news.uwa.edu.au)

photographyofdavidhanjani:

Metropolitan Blood Flow. Photos & Gif By David Hanjani

photographyofdavidhanjani:

Metropolitan Blood Flow. Photos & Gif By David Hanjani

(via 35-24-35)

neurosciencestuff:

New prosthetic arm controlled by neural messages 
This design hopes to identify the memory of movement in the amputee’s brain to translate to an order allowing manipulation of the device.
Controlling a prosthetic arm by just imagining a motion may be possible through the work of Mexican scientists at the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV), who work in the development of an arm replacement to identify movement patterns from brain signals.
First, it is necessary to know if there is a memory pattern to remember in the amputee’s brain in order to know how it moved and, thus, translating it to instructions for the prosthesis,” says Roberto Muñoz Guerrero, researcher at the Department of Electrical Engineering and project leader at Cinvestav.
He explains that the electric signal won’t come from the muscles that form the stump, but from the movement patterns of the brain. “If this phase is successful, the patient would be able to move the prosthesis by imagining different movements.”
However, Muñoz Guerrero acknowledges this is not an easy task because the brain registers a wide range of activities that occur in the human body and from all of them, the movement pattern is tried to be drawn. “Therefore, the first step is to recall the patterns in the EEG and define there the memory that can be electrically recorded. Then we need to evaluate how sensitive the signal is to other external shocks, such as light or blinking.”
Regarding this, it should be noted that the prosthesis could only be used by individuals who once had their entire arm and was amputated because some accident or illness. Patients were able to move the arm naturally and stored in their memory the process that would apply for the use of the prosthesis.
According to the researcher, the prosthesis must be provided with a mechanical and electronic system, the elements necessary to activate it and a section that would interpret the brain signals. “Regarding the material with which it must be built, it has not yet been fully defined because it must weigh between two and three kilograms, which is similar to the missing arm’s weight.”
The unique prosthesis represents a new topic in bioelectronics called BCI (Brain Computer Interface), which is a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device in order to help or repair sensory and motor functions. “An additional benefit is the ability to create motion paths for the prosthesis, which is not possible with commercial products,” says Muñoz Guerrero.

neurosciencestuff:

New prosthetic arm controlled by neural messages

This design hopes to identify the memory of movement in the amputee’s brain to translate to an order allowing manipulation of the device.

Controlling a prosthetic arm by just imagining a motion may be possible through the work of Mexican scientists at the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV), who work in the development of an arm replacement to identify movement patterns from brain signals.

First, it is necessary to know if there is a memory pattern to remember in the amputee’s brain in order to know how it moved and, thus, translating it to instructions for the prosthesis,” says Roberto Muñoz Guerrero, researcher at the Department of Electrical Engineering and project leader at Cinvestav.

He explains that the electric signal won’t come from the muscles that form the stump, but from the movement patterns of the brain. “If this phase is successful, the patient would be able to move the prosthesis by imagining different movements.”

However, Muñoz Guerrero acknowledges this is not an easy task because the brain registers a wide range of activities that occur in the human body and from all of them, the movement pattern is tried to be drawn. “Therefore, the first step is to recall the patterns in the EEG and define there the memory that can be electrically recorded. Then we need to evaluate how sensitive the signal is to other external shocks, such as light or blinking.”

Regarding this, it should be noted that the prosthesis could only be used by individuals who once had their entire arm and was amputated because some accident or illness. Patients were able to move the arm naturally and stored in their memory the process that would apply for the use of the prosthesis.

According to the researcher, the prosthesis must be provided with a mechanical and electronic system, the elements necessary to activate it and a section that would interpret the brain signals. “Regarding the material with which it must be built, it has not yet been fully defined because it must weigh between two and three kilograms, which is similar to the missing arm’s weight.”

The unique prosthesis represents a new topic in bioelectronics called BCI (Brain Computer Interface), which is a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device in order to help or repair sensory and motor functions. “An additional benefit is the ability to create motion paths for the prosthesis, which is not possible with commercial products,” says Muñoz Guerrero.

photographyofdavidhanjani:

Twinkle LA. Photos & Gif By David Hanjani

photographyofdavidhanjani:

Twinkle LA. Photos & Gif By David Hanjani

(via 35-24-35)

neurosciencestuff:

Scientists unravel mystery of brain cell growth
In the developing brain, special proteins that act like molecular tugboats push or pull on growing nerve cells, or neurons, helping them navigate to their assigned places amidst the brain’s wiring.
How a single protein can exert both a push and a pull force to nudge a neuron in the desired direction is a longstanding mystery that has now been solved by scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and collaborators in Europe and China.
Jia-huai Wang, PhD, who led the work at Dana-Farber and Peking University in Beijing, is a corresponding author of a report published in the August 7 online edition of Neuron that explains how one guidance protein, netrin-1, can either attract or repel a brain cell to steer it along its course. Wang and co-authors at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Hamburg, Germany, used X-ray crystallography to reveal the three-dimensional atomic structure of netrin-1 as it bound to a docking molecule, called DCC, on the axon of a neuron. The axon is the long, thin extension of a neuron that connects to other neurons or to muscle cells.
As connections between neurons are established – in the developing brain and throughout life – axons grow out from a neuron and extend through the brain until they reach the neuron they are connecting to. To choose its path, a growing axon senses and reacts to different molecules it encounters along the way. One of these molecules, netrin-1, posed an interesting puzzle: an axon can be both attracted to and repelled from this cue. The axon’s behavior is determined by two types of receptors on its tip: DCC drives attraction, while UNC5 in combination with DCC drives repulsion.
“How netrin works at the molecular level has long been a puzzle in neuroscience field,” said Wang, “We now provide structure evidences that reveal a novel mechanism of this important guidance cue molecule.” The structure showed that netrin-1 binds not to one, but to two DCC molecules. And most surprisingly, it binds those two molecules in different ways.
“Normally a receptor and a signal are like lock-and-key, they have evolved to bind each other and are highly specific – and that’s what we see in one netrin site,” said Meijers. “But the second binding site is a very unusual one, which is not specific for DCC.”
Not all of the second binding site connects directly to a receptor. Instead, in a large portion of the binding interface, it requires small molecules that act as middle-men. These intermediary molecules seem to have a preference for UNC5, so if the axon has both UNC5 and DCC receptors, netrin-1 will bind to one copy of UNC5 via those molecules and the other copy of DCC at the DCC-specific site. This triggers a cascade of events inside the cell that ultimately drives the axon away from the source of netrin-1, author Yan Zhang’s lab at Peking University found. The researchers surmised that, if an axon has only DCC receptors, each netrin-1 molecule binds two DCC molecules, which results in the axon being attracted to netrin-1. “By controlling whether or not UNC5 is present on its tip, an axon can switch from moving toward netrin to moving away from it, weaving through the brain to establish the right connection,” said Zhang.
Knowing how neurons switch from being attracted to netrin to being repelled opens the door to devise ways of activating that switch in other cells that respond to netrin cues, too. For instance, many cancer cells produce netrin to attract growing blood vessels that bring them nourishment and allow the tumor to grow, so switching off that attraction could starve the tumor, or at least prevent it from growing.
On the other hand, when cancers metastasize they often stop being responsive to netrin. In fact, the DCC receptor was first identified as a marker for an aggressive form of colon cancer, and DCC stands for “deleted in colorectal cancer.” Since colorectal cancer cells have no DCC, they are ‘immune’ to the programmed cell death that would normally follow once they move away from the lining of the gut and no longer have access to netrin. As a result, these tumor cells continue to move into the bloodstream, and metastasize to other tissues. “Therefore, to understand the molecular mechanism of how netrin works should also have a good impact in cancer biology,” said Wang.
The guidance issue is a very complicated cell biology problem. Meijers, Zhang, Wang and their colleagues are now investigating how other receptors bind to netrin-1, exactly how the intermediary molecules ‘choose’ their preferred receptor, how other guidance molecule binds to DCC, and how the system is regulated. The answers could one day enable researchers to steer a cell’s response to netrin and other guidance cues, ultimately changing its fate.

neurosciencestuff:

Scientists unravel mystery of brain cell growth

In the developing brain, special proteins that act like molecular tugboats push or pull on growing nerve cells, or neurons, helping them navigate to their assigned places amidst the brain’s wiring.

How a single protein can exert both a push and a pull force to nudge a neuron in the desired direction is a longstanding mystery that has now been solved by scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and collaborators in Europe and China.

Jia-huai Wang, PhD, who led the work at Dana-Farber and Peking University in Beijing, is a corresponding author of a report published in the August 7 online edition of Neuron that explains how one guidance protein, netrin-1, can either attract or repel a brain cell to steer it along its course. Wang and co-authors at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Hamburg, Germany, used X-ray crystallography to reveal the three-dimensional atomic structure of netrin-1 as it bound to a docking molecule, called DCC, on the axon of a neuron. The axon is the long, thin extension of a neuron that connects to other neurons or to muscle cells.

As connections between neurons are established – in the developing brain and throughout life – axons grow out from a neuron and extend through the brain until they reach the neuron they are connecting to. To choose its path, a growing axon senses and reacts to different molecules it encounters along the way. One of these molecules, netrin-1, posed an interesting puzzle: an axon can be both attracted to and repelled from this cue. The axon’s behavior is determined by two types of receptors on its tip: DCC drives attraction, while UNC5 in combination with DCC drives repulsion.

“How netrin works at the molecular level has long been a puzzle in neuroscience field,” said Wang, “We now provide structure evidences that reveal a novel mechanism of this important guidance cue molecule.” The structure showed that netrin-1 binds not to one, but to two DCC molecules. And most surprisingly, it binds those two molecules in different ways.

“Normally a receptor and a signal are like lock-and-key, they have evolved to bind each other and are highly specific – and that’s what we see in one netrin site,” said Meijers. “But the second binding site is a very unusual one, which is not specific for DCC.”

Not all of the second binding site connects directly to a receptor. Instead, in a large portion of the binding interface, it requires small molecules that act as middle-men. These intermediary molecules seem to have a preference for UNC5, so if the axon has both UNC5 and DCC receptors, netrin-1 will bind to one copy of UNC5 via those molecules and the other copy of DCC at the DCC-specific site. This triggers a cascade of events inside the cell that ultimately drives the axon away from the source of netrin-1, author Yan Zhang’s lab at Peking University found. The researchers surmised that, if an axon has only DCC receptors, each netrin-1 molecule binds two DCC molecules, which results in the axon being attracted to netrin-1. “By controlling whether or not UNC5 is present on its tip, an axon can switch from moving toward netrin to moving away from it, weaving through the brain to establish the right connection,” said Zhang.

Knowing how neurons switch from being attracted to netrin to being repelled opens the door to devise ways of activating that switch in other cells that respond to netrin cues, too. For instance, many cancer cells produce netrin to attract growing blood vessels that bring them nourishment and allow the tumor to grow, so switching off that attraction could starve the tumor, or at least prevent it from growing.

On the other hand, when cancers metastasize they often stop being responsive to netrin. In fact, the DCC receptor was first identified as a marker for an aggressive form of colon cancer, and DCC stands for “deleted in colorectal cancer.” Since colorectal cancer cells have no DCC, they are ‘immune’ to the programmed cell death that would normally follow once they move away from the lining of the gut and no longer have access to netrin. As a result, these tumor cells continue to move into the bloodstream, and metastasize to other tissues. “Therefore, to understand the molecular mechanism of how netrin works should also have a good impact in cancer biology,” said Wang.

The guidance issue is a very complicated cell biology problem. Meijers, Zhang, Wang and their colleagues are now investigating how other receptors bind to netrin-1, exactly how the intermediary molecules ‘choose’ their preferred receptor, how other guidance molecule binds to DCC, and how the system is regulated. The answers could one day enable researchers to steer a cell’s response to netrin and other guidance cues, ultimately changing its fate.

neurosciencestuff:

(Image caption: MRI scans showing brain damage in the stroke patients before treatment. Source: Stem Cells Translational Medicine.)
Stem cells show promise for stroke in pilot study
A stroke therapy using stem cells extracted from patients’ bone marrow has shown promising results in the first trial of its kind in humans.  
Five patients received the treatment in a pilot study conducted by doctors at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and scientists at Imperial College London.
The therapy was found to be safe, and all the patients showed improvements in clinical measures of disability.
The findings are published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine. It is the first UK human trial of a stem cell treatment for acute stroke to be published.
The therapy uses a type of cell called CD34+ cells, a set of stem cells in the bone marrow that give rise to blood cells and blood vessel lining cells. Previous research has shown that treatment using these cells can significantly improve recovery from stroke in animals. Rather than developing into brain cells themselves, the cells are thought to release chemicals that trigger the growth of new brain tissue and new blood vessels in the area damaged by stroke.
The patients were treated within seven days of a severe stroke, in contrast to several other stem cell trials, most of which have treated patients after six months or later. The Imperial researchers believe early treatment may improve the chances of a better recovery.
A bone marrow sample was taken from each patient. The CD34+ cells were isolated from the sample and then infused into an artery that supplies the brain. No previous trial has selectively used CD34+ cells, so early after the stroke, until now.
Although the trial was mainly designed to assess the safety and tolerability of the treatment, the patients all showed improvements in their condition in clinical tests over a six-month follow-up period.
Four out of five patients had the most severe type of stroke: only four per cent of people who experience this kind of stroke are expected to be alive and independent six months later. In the trial, all four of these patients were alive and three were independent after six months.
Dr Soma Banerjee, a lead author and Consultant in Stroke Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “This study showed that the treatment appears to be safe and that it’s feasible to treat patients early when they might be more likely to benefit. The improvements we saw in these patients are very encouraging, but it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of the therapy. We need to do more tests to work out the best dose and timescale for treatment before starting larger trials.”
Over 150,000 people have a stroke in England every year. Survivors can be affected by a wide range of mental and physical symptoms, and many never recover their independence.
Stem cell therapy is seen as an exciting new potential avenue of treatment for stroke, but its exact role is yet to be clearly defined.
Dr Paul Bentley, also a lead author of the study, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “This is the first trial to isolate stem cells from human bone marrow and inject them directly into the damaged brain area using keyhole techniques. Our group are currently looking at new brain scanning techniques to monitor the effects of cells once they have been injected.”
Professor Nagy Habib, Principal Investigator of the study, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said: “These are early but exciting data worth pursuing. Scientific evidence from our lab further supports the clinical findings and our aim is to develop a drug, based on the factors secreted by stem cells, that could be stored in the hospital pharmacy so that it is administered to the patient immediately following the diagnosis of stroke in the emergency room. This may diminish the minimum time to therapy and therefore optimise outcome. Now the hard work starts to raise funds for this exciting research.”

neurosciencestuff:

(Image caption: MRI scans showing brain damage in the stroke patients before treatment. Source: Stem Cells Translational Medicine.)

Stem cells show promise for stroke in pilot study

A stroke therapy using stem cells extracted from patients’ bone marrow has shown promising results in the first trial of its kind in humans.

Five patients received the treatment in a pilot study conducted by doctors at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and scientists at Imperial College London.

The therapy was found to be safe, and all the patients showed improvements in clinical measures of disability.

The findings are published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine. It is the first UK human trial of a stem cell treatment for acute stroke to be published.

The therapy uses a type of cell called CD34+ cells, a set of stem cells in the bone marrow that give rise to blood cells and blood vessel lining cells. Previous research has shown that treatment using these cells can significantly improve recovery from stroke in animals. Rather than developing into brain cells themselves, the cells are thought to release chemicals that trigger the growth of new brain tissue and new blood vessels in the area damaged by stroke.

The patients were treated within seven days of a severe stroke, in contrast to several other stem cell trials, most of which have treated patients after six months or later. The Imperial researchers believe early treatment may improve the chances of a better recovery.

A bone marrow sample was taken from each patient. The CD34+ cells were isolated from the sample and then infused into an artery that supplies the brain. No previous trial has selectively used CD34+ cells, so early after the stroke, until now.

Although the trial was mainly designed to assess the safety and tolerability of the treatment, the patients all showed improvements in their condition in clinical tests over a six-month follow-up period.

Four out of five patients had the most severe type of stroke: only four per cent of people who experience this kind of stroke are expected to be alive and independent six months later. In the trial, all four of these patients were alive and three were independent after six months.

Dr Soma Banerjee, a lead author and Consultant in Stroke Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “This study showed that the treatment appears to be safe and that it’s feasible to treat patients early when they might be more likely to benefit. The improvements we saw in these patients are very encouraging, but it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of the therapy. We need to do more tests to work out the best dose and timescale for treatment before starting larger trials.”

Over 150,000 people have a stroke in England every year. Survivors can be affected by a wide range of mental and physical symptoms, and many never recover their independence.

Stem cell therapy is seen as an exciting new potential avenue of treatment for stroke, but its exact role is yet to be clearly defined.

Dr Paul Bentley, also a lead author of the study, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “This is the first trial to isolate stem cells from human bone marrow and inject them directly into the damaged brain area using keyhole techniques. Our group are currently looking at new brain scanning techniques to monitor the effects of cells once they have been injected.”

Professor Nagy Habib, Principal Investigator of the study, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said: “These are early but exciting data worth pursuing. Scientific evidence from our lab further supports the clinical findings and our aim is to develop a drug, based on the factors secreted by stem cells, that could be stored in the hospital pharmacy so that it is administered to the patient immediately following the diagnosis of stroke in the emergency room. This may diminish the minimum time to therapy and therefore optimise outcome. Now the hard work starts to raise funds for this exciting research.”