Posts Tagged: science

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Microparticles Deliver Oxygen

Researchers have developed fast-dissolving particles that may one day prevent organ damage or death by instantly infusing oxygen into the blood.

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The Super Supercapacitor

Ric Kaner set out to find a new way to make graphene, the thinnest and strongest material on earth. What he found was a new way to power the world.

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The Man Working To Reverse-Engineer Your Brain

…our brain’s neurons quickly fire and talk to each other across connections called synapses…How these neurons interact with each other — and what the wiring is like between them — is key to understanding our identity, says Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT.

Seung’s new book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, explains how mapping out our neural connections in our brains might be the key to understanding the basis of things like personality, memory, perception and ideas, as well as illnesses that happen in the brain, like autism and schizophrenia.

"These kinds of disorders have been a puzzle for a long time," says Seung. "We can look at other brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and see clear evidence that there is something wrong in the brain."

…”So the hypothesis is that the neurons are healthy, but they are simply connected together or organized in an abnormal way.”

What scientists do know, he says, is that the wiring of the brain in the first three years is critical for development. Infants born with cataracts in poor countries that don’t have the resources to restore their eyesight remain blind even after surgery is performed on them later in life. “No matter how much they practice seeing, they can never really see,” says Seung.

At birth, he says, you are born with all of the neurons you will ever have in life, except for neurons that exist in two specific areas of the brain: the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, which is thought to help new memories form, and the olfactory bulb, which is involved in your sense of smell.

"The obvious hypothesis [is] that these two areas need to be highly plastic and need to learn more than other regions, and that’s why new neurons have to be created — to give these regions more potential for learning," says Seung. "But we don’t really have any proof of that hypothesis."

But not everything is set in stone from birth. The complex synaptic connections that allow neurons to communicate with one another develop after babies have left the womb.

"As far as we know, this is happening throughout your life," he says. "Part of the reason that we are lifelong learners — that no matter how old you get, you can still learn something new — may be due to the fact that synapse creation and elimination are both continuing into adulthood."

Connectomes: Reverse-Engineering The Brain

Only one organism has had its full connectome — or neural map — mapped out by neuroscientists. It’s a tiny worm no bigger than a millimeter, but it took scientists more than a dozen years to map out its 7,000 neural connections. They started out by using the world’s most powerful knife and slicing the worm into slices a thousand times thinner than a human hair. They then put each slice in an electron microscope and created a 3-D image of the worm’s nervous system. That’s when the true labor started, says Seung.

Each of the worm’s 300 neurons had between 20 and 30 connections. In comparison, humans have 10,000 connections of neurons — and billions of neurons. And scientists still aren’t sure what the various pathways in a worm’s nervous system mean.

…”I don’t want to promise too much, and my goal right now is simply to see what is wrong,” he says. “That’s not in itself a cure. But obviously it’s a step toward finding better treatments.”

Interview Highlights

On connectomes

"A connectome is a map between neurons inside a nervous system."

On the Jennifer Aniston neuron

"Sometimes people with seizures don’t respond well to medications, and the only way for them to respond is for surgeons to remove the part of the brain from which the seizures originate. So [a computational neuroscientist] got permission to also record the signals of single neurons inside human subjects before doing the operating. So what the experimenters did was they showed the people pictures of celebrities and places and other kinds of objects, and they found that the neurons in the areas that they recorded from, which is in the medial temporal lobe … responded highly selectively. They would respond to only a few pictures out of a large collection of many pictures. And in particular, there was one neuron in one person that responded only to pictures of Jennifer Aniston — not to Halle Berry, not to Julia Roberts, and one great finding said that this neuron did not respond to pictures of Jennifer Aniston with Brad Pitt. … It would be overstating the case to say this neuron only responds to Jennifer Aniston because the experimenters didn’t have time to show the person all possible celebrities. But it seems safe to say that this neuron responds to only a small fraction of celebrities."

On neural networks

"Your brain is this vast network of neurons, communicating through signals. And as far as neuroscientists can tell, these signals that are passed around the network are reflecting the processing of all of our mental processes — your thoughts, your feelings, your perceptions and so on."

On regenerative neurons

"If you have brain damage, and lots of neurons are killed, those neurons won’t grow back except in [the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, which is thought to help new memories form, and the olfactory bulb, which is involved in sense of smell]. So you could view it from a very pessimistic viewpoint. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that medical advances in the future will somehow activate regenerative powers in the brain. If these regenerative powers exist in [those] two areas, why not awaken them in other areas of the brain? So there’s also an optimistic kind of spin on this."

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A Message from Case Western Reserve University

Drug Quickly Reverses Alzheimer’s Symptoms in Mice
Case Western Reserve Researchers Discover FDA-approved Drug Rapidly Clears Amyloid from the Brain and Reverses Cognitive Defects

Professor Gary Landreth and his team discovered that a cancer drug can quickly reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms in animal models. Within 72 hours of administration, the medication halved the number of plaque deposits closely associated with this degenerative brain disease. More, it saw the signs of cognitive and memory deficits disappear within the same short time period. The potential of this research to assist the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is immense.

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Reuben And Floren Blake, Twins, Born 5 Years Apart

Rueben’s sister, Floren, was conceived from the same group of embryos, hers being one of the embryos that had been frozen for five years.

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China Tinkering with Artificial Rain

Technicians with the Beijing Weather Modification Office fired seven rocket shells containing 163 cigarette-size sticks of silver iodide over the city’s skies on Thursday, Xinhua said.

The reaction that occurred brought as much as four-tenths of an inch of rain, the heaviest rainfall this year, helping to “alleviate drought, add soil moisture and remove dust from the air for better air quality,” Xinhua said.

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On Making an Invisibility Cloak

A University of Texas Dallas scientist is working on developing a technology that would delight Harry Potter fans everywhere—an invisibility cloak.

Ali Aliev uses carbon nanotubes—which look like pieces of thread—and then heats them up rapidly until the objects beneath them effectively disappear.You can watch the threads disappear as they are heated up in the video below.

So how do the threads work? In a paper published in Nanotechnology in June, Alievexplains that the invisibility cloak exploits the “mirage effect.” A highway can become so hot that small circles that look like puddles of water appear in the road. That happens when the road is so hot that the surface bends the light around it, so that the driver sees the reflected sky instead of the pavement. The carbon nanotubes create a similar effect.