Future of Engineering

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Detect Virus in 60 Seconds to Find a Cure

Virus detection can't get simpler than this. A powerful technique invented by University of Georgia scientists detects the disease caused by a virus within 60 seconds.

We have found a cure for a lot of diseases. Yet panic strikes when a viral outbreak occurs. People panic because time plays a major role in curing a disease. Traditional testing takes time. One has to wait for atleast a day or two before the report arrives. Within that time the damage would have been done.

The new rapid detection system takes care of it in a superfast manner. It uses surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy to measure the frequency of near-infrared laser light as it scatters off viral DNA and RNA. After a swab of a person's nasal passage, the technique can detect individual virus particles quickly and identify many types.

Each virus has a unique molecular fingerprint. The fingerprint is determined based on the nucleic acid sequence. The laser light highlights this unique fingerprint which clearly identifies the virus and the disease. Once the disease is identified, treatment can begin.

Nothing can escape the eye of the laser beam. Even a single virus can be detected. This technique is sure to be helpful in a terror-struck world. When love diminishes in the earth all kinds of terrorism would spread. Bioterrorism would be one of the methods employed by hate filled people to wreck the peace of others.

When that happens, this laser technique would save the day in an Incredibly Supermanish kind of way.

Source - Aip.org

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Sythetically Designed 'Wimpy' Polio Virus Protects Against Disease

Scientists' creation of the weak virus signals the beginning of a new era in vaccination.

A team of molecular biologists and computer scientists at Stony Brook University have designed and synthesized a new class of weakened polioviruses. They have used a synthesizing method with computer software to systematically re-code the poliovirus genome.

In order to artificially synthesize a virus the genome has to be decoded first. But decoding a polio virus that had almost (10442) possibilities isn't a simple task. Therefore, using a powerful computer algorithm, the team found particular re-codings of the genome predicted to weaken the virus.

"The researchers made hundreds of small mutations in the genome that perfectly preserved the viral proteins but changed the way those proteins were encoded by RNA (ribonucleic acid), so that pairs of amino acids were added by transfer RNAs (tRNAs) that rarely work together in normal proteins. They call the process “Synthetic Attenuated Virus Engineering,” or “SAVE.” The resulting virus contains completely authentic, wild-type poliovirus proteins."

The most highly decoded virus will be weakened, so it will no longer infect cells anymore. Thus a virus modified using ‘SAVE’ technology might act as a vaccine by providing immunity against the normal virus. The innumerable alterations in the code ensures that the virus would never regain its wild nature.

Positive results have emerged from testing done on mice. Currently researchers are keen on using it in animal vaccination, after further exploration it can be used in human vaccines too.

Synthesis of an artificial virus throws open the possibilities of mutating other virus strains too. That surely looks like a giant leap for Molecular Genetics and vaccination.

Source - Commcgi.cc.stonybrook.edu

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Novel Device halts a Migraine Right In Its Tracks

According to the American Headache Society:

* Every 10 seconds, someone in the United States goes to the emergency room with a headache or migraine.
* More than $1 billion is spent on over-the-counter medications to treat headaches and Migraines.
* The lost work due to migraine disease costs more than $13 billion every year in the U.S.

These mind boggling statistics are enough to trigger a headache. But don't lose hope. Technology has stepped in to meet the needs of the headache prone society. Scientists at The Ohio State University Medical Center have invented a novel electronic portable device that stops it right in its tracks.

"The noninvasive transcranial magnetic stimulator (TMS) device sends a strong electric current through a metal coil, which creates an intense magnetic field for about one millisecond. This magnetic pulse, when held against a person's head, creates an electric current in the neurons of the brain, interrupting the aura before it results in a throbbing headache."

Side effects and other complications are common in most drugs used for headaches. Whereas the TMS device offers a safe and painless solution. Since clinical trials do not indicate any adverse complications arising from the use of the device, one can look forward to the portable headache arrester to make its way into our homes soon.

Source - OSU Medical Center

Related Links
Crying as a precipitating factor for migraine and tension-type headache.
Aspartame consumption strongly associated with migraines and seizures.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No Pain, No Blood - Chip Monitors Diabetes Easily

Traditional methods to monitor the blood sugar level are usually painful. Patients have to prick their skin to squeeze out a blood sample on to a test strip. When this strip is inserted into a blood meter it reveals the level of blood sugar in their body. Most patients do this twice a day, but some have to do it several times per day. It is sure to test anybody's patience and endurance level.

This will be a thing of the past if one starts using the B-FIT a tiny prototype chip (Bio-Flips Integrable Transdermal MicroSystem) invented by the researchers at Georgetown University. B-FIT is a small biosenser device that can be worn anywhere in the body.

It painlessly removes a patient's outer-dermis, by using a 'micro-hotplate' (or micro-heater), which measures about 50 microns square. For 30 milliseconds, the hotplate is turned on to a temperature of 130oC. Then it makes a tiny pore in the skin, through which interstitial fluid can rise. The biosensor then reads the glucose levels in the sample fluid through tiny electrodes coated with a substance that reacts specifically to the glucose.

Sounds hot and painful. In reality the patient doesn't feel a thing. Being funded by the DARPA this was initially designed for military purposes and now it is being designed for normal use too.

Hope to see you soon little chip. For you are sure to win the hearts of diabetics all around the world.

Source - Georgetown University

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Anti-infection Keyboards Warns When Dirty;Helps Hospitals

"The keyboards incorporate a flashing light to remind users to regularly clean the surface and sensors to measure the effectiveness of cleaning them."

99,000 people die each year because of infections acquired in the hospital. That's a scary scenario. One steps into a hospital to get cured not acquire new diseases. In recent times we have come across startling reports about a Superbug infection that shows hospitals in poor light.

Toilet seats vs Keyboards

Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona has found that office toilet seats had an average of 49 germs per square inch. Germ counts on computer keyboards were more than 60 times higher, averaging 3,295 bacteria per square inch. Even worse were the tops of desks (21,000) and telephones (25,000).

Makes sense to invest in a Medigenic medical keyboard isn't it?

Features of Medigenic Medical Keyboard

keyboard 1) Uniquely helps monitor its own cleaning status to safeguard both patient and staff; 2) Features a flat design to enable quick wipe downs with hospital-grade disinfectants; 3) Provides standard conventional keyboard tactile feedback for high-speed data entry capability. It comes in two models - Essential and Compliance.

Testing Results

Testing of the product has revealed a significant log reduction in bacterial contamination in the range of 0.5 log - 1.4 log (71% - 96%) at cleaning alert settings ranging from 1.5 to 12 hours. Hospitals hope to bring down the levels of MRSA and hospital acquired infections with this product.

P.S - A Reminder

While cleaning one just hopes that hospitals stick to ‘one wipe – one application – per surface’. For A recent study has revealed that current protocols utilised by hospital staff have the potential to spread pathogens after only the first use of a wipe, particularly due to the ineffectiveness of wipes to actually kill bacteria.

Source - Esterline Advanced Input Systems

Related Links
In Hospitals, Simple Reminders Reduce Deadly Infections
Don't let a hospital kill you CNN (May 1, 2008)
Gut superbug causing more illnesses, deaths
Hospital mortality rates continue to drop across New York, but infections are increasing

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Use Your Cellphones To Get X-Ray & MRI Scans

If you are residing in a metro, having an X-Ray or an MRI scan done is a cinch. But what if you reside in a remote location or in a village which does not the sophisticated imaging systems?

A team from the Hebrew University in Israel seems to have an answer.


MRI Scanner - not to worry anymore that your village doesn't have these!

Pic credit: Blanchard Valley Health System

Using a process developed by the Jerusalem-based University, cellphones can be used to get your X-Ray, Ultrasound imaging etc., processed from a centralised location and these can be transmitted back to your remote location using the same cellular phones.

The new technology is expected to be a boon for patients in developed counties, those in rural areas with reduced access to medical services, and to millions of patients in the Third World. This idea has the potential to replace current systems that are based on conventional, stand-alone medical imaging devices.

Prof. Boris Rubinsky's new medical imaging system consists of two independent components connected through cellular phone technology, with a relatively simple data collection device on-site connected via cell phone to an off-site computer that processes the data and produces an image.

Under this new technology developed by Rubinsky, a simple and independent data acquisition device (DAD) at a remote patient site could be connected via cellular phone technology with an advanced image reconstruction and hardware control multiserver unit at a central site, which could even be thousands of miles away from the remote site. The cellular phone technology transmits unprocessed, raw data from the patient site DAD to the central facility. This data is then returned from the central facility to the cellular phone at the remote site in the form of an image.

Using commercially available parts, the research team built a simple data acquisition device for the experiment. The device had 32 stainless steel electrodes - half to inject the electrical current and the other half to measure the voltage - connected to a gel-filled container that simulated breast tissue with a tumor.

Over 200 voltage measurements were taken and uploaded to a cell phone, which was hooked up to the device with a USB cable. The cell phone was then used to dial into a powerful central computer that contained software to process the packet of raw data that was transmitted. An image - that was verified to be precise - was then reconstructed and sent back to the cell phone for viewing.

This is one idea that is as useful as it is cool!

Source: Jerusalem Post

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Nanoworms Find, Treat Cancer Tumors Much Better



(image credit: Science Daily)

Scientists at UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT have developed nanometer-sized “nanoworms” that can travel through the bloodstream and — like tiny anti-cancer missiles — zero in on tumors. These can circulate in the body for hours since they do not trigger the immune system.

These nanoworms, composed of magnetic iron oxide and coated with a polymer, are able to find and attach to tumors. The nanoworms are superparamagnetic and show up very well on MRIs.

Using these nanoworms, doctors could eventually be able to target and reveal the location of developing tumors that are too small to detect by conventional methods.

With the use of this nanoworms concept, researchers are developing chemical attachments that will help to reach specific targets in the body, and are adding drugs that would be released when these targets are reached.

The scientists constructed their nanoworms from spherical iron oxide nanoparticles that join together, like segments of an earthworm, to produce tiny gummy worm-like structures.

The nanoworms concept was inspired by the discovery of a scientist when he found by accident that the gummy worm aggregates of nanoparticles stayed for hours in the bloodstream despite their relatively large size.

Sources: Science Daily, Next Big Future

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

NeuroThera Laser Beams Save Brains - from PhotoThera

Brain injuries are an illusive and increasingly common ailment for which effective treatments are in demand. Ischemic stroke is a common cause of brain injury affecting more than 600,000 people in the United States each year. Another leading cause of brain injury today is combat. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1,800 U.S. troops are currently suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

A device called NeuroThera is being tested in clinical trials to treat stroke patients and other patients with brain injuries. The handheld device, about the size of a telephone receiver, delivers high-intensity infrared energy to a patient's head when it's held to the scalp. The idea is that the infrared energy delivered via laser will stimulate inactive mitochondria in brain cells -- the small bits of protein that serve as power suppliers to cells. Once the energy-starved brain cells start receiving power again from the mitochondria, they should be able to resume function.

The device is currently being tested at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University Medical Center and three other North Carolina hospitals as part of a national clinical trail sponsored by PhotoThera, the manufacturer of NeuroThera.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Buckyballs Toxicity No Harm To Microbes That Clean The Environment

Even large amounts of manufactured nanoparticles, also known as Buckyballs, don't faze microscopic organisms that are charged with cleaning up the environment, according to Purdue University researchers.

In the first published study to examine Buckyball toxicity on microbes that break down organic substances in wastewater, the scientists used an amount of the nanoparticles on the microbes that was equivalent to pouring 10 pounds of talcum powder on a person. Because high amounts of even normally safe compounds, such as talcum powder, can be toxic, the microbes' resiliency to high Buckyball levels was an important finding, the Purdue investigators said.

The experiment on Buckyballs, which are carbon molecules C60, also led the scientists to develop a better method to determine the impact of nanoparticles on the microbial community.
Keywords: nanoparticles, Buckyballs, Purdue, microscopic organisms, toxicity
C60, microbial community

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Biomimetics in Engineering, Materials Science, Solar Panels

A research fellow at the Natural History Museum in London and at the University of Sydney, Parker is a leading proponent of biomimetics—applying designs from nature to solve problems in engineering, materials science, medicine, and other fields. He has investigated iridescence in butterflies and beetles and antireflective coatings in moth eyes—studies that have led to brighter screens for cellular phones and an anticounterfeiting technique so secret he can't say which company is behind it. He is working with Procter & Gamble and Yves Saint Laurent to make cosmetics that mimic the natural sheen of diatoms, and with the British Ministry of Defense to emulate their water-repellent properties. He even draws inspiration from nature's past: On the eye of a 45-million-year-old fly trapped in amber he saw in a museum in Warsaw, Poland, he noticed microscopic corrugations that reduced light reflection. They are now being built into solar panels. Parker's work is only a small part of an increasingly vigorous, global biomimetics movement. Engineers in Bath, England, and West Chester, Pennsylvania, are pondering the bumps on the leading edges of humpback whale flukes to learn how to make airplane wings for more agile flight. In Berlin, Germany, the fingerlike primary feathers of raptors are inspiring engineers to develop wings that change shape aloft to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency. Architects in Zimbabwe are studying how termites regulate temperature, humidity, and airflow in their mounds in order to build more comfortable buildings, while Japanese medical researchers are reducing the pain of an injection by using hypodermic needles edged with tiny serrations, like those on a mosquito's proboscis, minimizing nerve stimulation.

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Keywords: Natural History Museum, University of Sydney, Parker, National Geographic on Biomimetics, antireflective coatings, Iridescence, water-repellent properties, amber, Polandmicroscopic corrugations, light reflection, solar panels, mosquito's proboscis, hypodermic needles

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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) - Treatment for Depression?

Steve Zatuchni, who suffered from depression, says the magnetic pulse treatment he got saved his life. He no longer takes any medicine. Sixteen years ago, Steve Zatuchni was a computer sales manager, making a six-figure income. Then all hell broke loose in his brain. in 2004, he enrolled in a study of an experimental therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS -- a noninvasive treatment that sends magnetic pulses into the brain. It worked. "Within a week, the depression was lifting," he says. "Within two months, it was gone. TMS saved my life." Zatuchni, 59, who lives in the Philadelphia area, no longer takes any medicine

Proponents -- including scientists at Harvard, Yale and UCLA -- say TMS could transform treatment for depression as well as a range of other ailments, including schizophrenia, migraines, insomnia, epilepsy, chronic pain and Parkinson's

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John Kanzius' ( K3TUP ) Ham Radio Waves Kill Cancer Cells

Now comes word of a ham operator using his radio skills and radio waves to kill cancer! Furthermore, this invention seems to kill only cancer cells, sparing surrounding normal tissues. John Kanzius (known as K3TUP to his ham buddies the world over) retired from his job as a radio engineer and moved to Florida. His life of leisure was soon jeopardized by a leukemia diagnosis.

One night John, whose special interest in ham radio is the design of directional antennas to highly focus his radio signals in the direction of parts of the world with which he wishes to communicate, awakened thinking that radio waves could be directed into the body to heat and possibly destroy tumor cells. He began to refine his idea immediately. Eventually he was placed in contact with a medical researcher. Subsequent experimental models have shown that the radio waves heat the nanoparticles which cook and destroy the tumor cells while surrounding tissues are spared.

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Keywords: Ham radio waves, cancer cells, Dan Gold, radio spectrum, John Kanzius, K3TUP, leukemia, American Radio Relay League, Dr. Steven Curley

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Anti-ecstasy Antibodies that Remove Methamphetamines (Meth) from Bloodstream

In recent years, crystal meth (methamphetamine) and ecstasy (MDMA) have become some of America's top problem drugs. Meth can cause severe problems in the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. Furthermore, because there is no way to remove the drug from the body, therapies tend to focus on treating its side-effects.

But antibodies that bind to methamphetamines and methamphetamine-like compounds to effectively remove them from the bloodstream could change that. Michael Owens, director of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the University of Arkansas, US, and colleagues claim to have developed a way to generate them.

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Keywords: Anti-ecstasy antibodies, methamphetamine, MDMA, Michael Owens, Arkansas, cardiovascular, central nervous systems

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Lunar Rover-Like Vehicle for People with Reduced Mobility

Tokyo's Waseda University is developing some really weird-looking vehicles and mechanical aids for people with reduced mobility. There is one that looks like a cross betwen a Segway and a lunar rover, but unlike Dean Kamen's invention, it requires the user to actually walk on top of it, although with limited motion. This achieves three effects: first, it keeps people doing a little bit of exercise; second, the movement gets translated into a faster motion; and third, thanks to its structure, the user will be able to terrorize people out of walkways with complete safety.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Duroquinone-based Neuron-Like Molecular Transistor Incredibly Powerful

The most powerful computer known is the brain, and now scientists have designed a machine just a few molecules large that mimics how the brain works.
So far the device can simultaneously carry out 16 times more operations than a normal computer transistor.

Researchers suggest the invention might eventually prove able to perform roughly 1,000 times more operations than a transistor.

This machine could not only serve as the foundation of a powerful computer, but also serve as the controlling element of complex gadgets such as microscopic doctors or factories, scientists added.

The device is made of a compound known as duroquinone.

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Magnetic Levitation Gives Haptic Computer Users New Sense of Touch

Computers, long used as tools to design and manipulate three-dimensional objects, may soon provide people with a way to sense the texture of those objects or feel how they fit together, thanks to a haptic, or touch-based, interface developed at Carnegie Mellon University. Unlike most other haptic interfaces that rely on motors and mechanical linkages to provide some sense of touch or force feedback, the device developed by Ralph Hollis, research professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, uses magnetic levitation and a single moving part to give users a highly realistic experience. Users can perceive textures, feel hard contacts and notice even slight changes in position while using an interface that responds rapidly to movements.

The system eliminates the bulky links, cables and general mechanical complexity of other haptic devices on the market today in favor of a single lightweight moving part that floats on magnetic fields.

A user moves the handle much like a computer mouse, but in three dimensions with six degrees of freedom — up/down, side to side, back/forth, yaw, pitch and roll. Optical sensors measure the position and orientation of the flotor, and this information is used to control the position and orientation of a virtual object on the computer display

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Research on Multiple Sclerosis, Protecting Skin in Cold Temperatures Highlights of Cotnell BioExpo 2008

Testing the durability of throat cartilage in horses, which could advance a common surgical procedure for racehorses; an analysis of using a microbead spray to warm up skin in frigid temperatures: These were just two of the student projects showcased at the student-run 2008 Annual Bioengineering Expo at Cornell recently

Among undergraduates, biology and philosophy major Ben Solomon '09 won the $400 first-place prize for his presentation on his work in developing a mouse model for examining a receptor involved in the immune response of people with multiple sclerosis.

Biomedical engineering graduate student Georgette Tzatzalos won the $200 first-place prize for master of engineering students with her biomaterials project that focuses on marking tumor cells.

Among other posters, civil and environmental engineering student Samantha Passman '10 explained how she ran mechanical tests to study the durability and flexibility of laryngeal cartilage in horses. Collapse of arytenoid cartilage near a horse's trachea blocks air and creates turbulence through a horse's airway, which not only reduces oxygen intake but also is the most common cause of poor performance in racehorses. The surgical fix for this condition, which involves placing sutures over the arytenoid cartilage and the nearby cricoid cartilage, fails 40 percent of the time. Passman hopes her research will be a step toward improving the procedure.

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Spiros, Click Lock, Clave & Genie Prevent Miscarriages to Cancer Ward Nurses

ICU Medical in San Clemente has a new mission – to put an end to miscarriages that affect many nurses who become pregnant while working in cancer wards. The cause of those heart-wrenching events is the harsh chemicals used to treat cancer patients. Nurses come into contact with that chemotherapy medication if it splashes out of a storage vial or leaks while a nurse is setting up an intravenous line

Spiros lets nurses remove a drug from a vial without sucking it through a needle into a syringe and then lets them inject the liquid into a properly equipped IV tube. The Spiros connector shuts off the flow of liquid whenever it is disconnected, so drips and spills are a thing of the past, ICU says. It is the latest in a series of Lopez inventions that include the Click Lock, a secure connection he devised after a patient died when an IV was accidentally detached, and the Clave, a needle-free connection between syringes and IV lines.Design engineer Tom Fangrow came up with the idea for Genie, a specialized attachment that eliminates the need for nurses to puncture a vial lid with a needle, which risks a spill or a splash of chemicals

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Sonicu Neonatal Sound Monitoring System Monitors NICU Sound Levels

Preemies need quiet so they can learn their mother's voice and their brains can figure out how to process sound, things that normally happen in the last trimester before birth."It's definitely a great idea," Dr. Bob White, a neonatologist at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind., said of the monitoring system in Riley's neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

Neonatal Sound Monitoring system inventor Chris Smith hopes doctors nationwide agree with White. He has sold his Sonicu system to several Indiana hospitals and wants to expand nationally.

Babies born too soon lose the muffling effect of the womb before their ears can filter sound, White said. NICUs are rife with noise from employees, equipment and excited relatives.Smith, a former car mechanic who tinkered in radio and TV electronics in high school, filled hours of spare time researching sound standards and building a system. He hired an acoustical engineer to help. They created a ceiling-mounted system of microphones that pick up sound and funnel data to a large control panel.

The latest version of Sonicu can feed sound and light data to a computer. It turns on the warning lights and can quickly dim the lighting in a room that gets too noisy.It can also make lighting mimic the sun by brightening it toward noon and then fading it, which also helps babies sleep well. White said he knows of no other NICU monitoring system that sophisticated.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Clinicon Lavage Tray - A Simple Idea to Reduce Infections

It’s an invention capable of withstanding the toughest scrutiny by Dragon’s Den and which neatly tackles one of the most urgent issues facing UK private hospitals today, the risk of superbug contamination among patients and staff. The brainchild of Spire Bristol Hospital’s Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, John Hardy, and the Clinicon Lavage Tray is a wonderfully simple way of reducing the risk of infection from pathogens, such as MRSA, and blood-borne Hepatitis B, C and HIV, by retaining any spilt blood or body fluids during patient transit and surgery in an inflatable and disposable plastic tray. The tray, which costs just £12 and comes in pre-sterilised packs of 10 units, not only protects patients and staff from cross-infection but will mean quicker turnaround times between patients in busy operating theatres and will even cut the cost of laundry bills! Prototypes are already being used as far afield as Melbourne, Australia

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Keywords: Spire Healthcare, MRSA, Laminar Air Flow filter systems, Spire Bristol Hospital, Dr Jean-Jacques de Gorter

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Sole Orthotic Solutions - Custom Insoles, Orthotics in 30 Minutes

Brigham Young University undergraduate engineers demonstrated a portable workstation that creates custom insoles for shoes in less than 30 minutes on Tuesday. The team, sponsored by a Utah entrepreneur, was assigned to take a process that currently requires days and reduce it to minutes, with the potential for their invention to be an option for podiatrists' offices, athletic footwear stores or even ski outfitters.

The entrepreneur, who has a master's in engineering from MIT, was inspired to develop a better way of developing "orthotics," as such custom insoles are known, after dealing with delays and problems in getting them for his son, who has cerebral palsy.

The "Sole Orthotic Solutions" team conceived, designed and built an integrated system the size of a desk that begins by acquiring a computerized image of a customer's foot from a pressure pad.

Millions of Americans wear orthotics some for extra arch support, some to compensate for injury or disability, and others for simply a better fit with their shoes.

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Keywords: Brigham Young University, Sole Orthotic Solutions, vacuum system, pin mold, podiatrists, UTAH, MIT

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Magnetic Levitation Gives Computer an Haptic Interface

Computers may soon provide people with a way to sense the texture of objects or feel how they fit together, thanks to a haptic, or touch-based, interface developed at Carnegie Mellon University. The device developed by Ralph Hollis, research professor in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, uses magnetic levitation and a single moving part to give users a highly realistic experience. Users can perceive textures, feel hard contacts and notice even slight changes in position while using an interface that responds rapidly to movements.

The field of haptic research and development is expanding rapidly. Carnegie Mellon's research opens new possibilities by joining the world of haptic feedback with a comfortable magnetic levitation interface.

The system eliminates the bulky links, cables and general mechanical complexity of other haptic devices on the market today in favor of a single lightweight moving part that floats on magnetic fields.

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Keywords: Magnetic Levitation, Sense of Touch, orientation, flotor's electrical coils, haptic feedback, bowl-shaped device, Carnegie Mellon University, Hong Tan, Ralph Hollis.

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Bioengineered ACL Helps Injured Knees - Cato Laurencin

A new bioengineered anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) replacement could provide a new treatment option for the more than 200,000 Americans who rupture their ACLs annually, U.S. researchers report this week. Lead researcher Dr. Cato Laurencin, professor and chairman of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and his team used three-dimensional, braided polyester "scaffolds," that were sometimes seeded with cells taken from the animal's ACL as a replacement for ligaments surgically removed from the animal's knee. Both the cell-seeded and unseeded scaffolds worked well, Laurencin said, though the seeded scaffolds performed better. "Without cells, it takes longer [for the tissue to regenerate]," he said.

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Keywords: Bioengineered, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Cato Laurencin, orthopaedic, Charlottesville, Virginia, braided polyester "scaffolds, ligaments, tibia

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Brain Scan from Siemens' Artis Zeego & BMW Assembly Lines

If you're a fan of german engineering in your car, chances are you'll love it that hospitals are trying to cross-pollinate health care with technologies that have roots in the automotive and aerospace industries. The hope is that, with a medical twist, high-tech navigation systems, pattern recognition software and top-of-the-line robots can revolutionize the treatment of everything from irregular heartbeats to lung cancer. St. Luke's episcopal hospital says it is the first in the world to treat stroke patients with the help of a robotic arm that has its origins in systems created by munich-based siemens ag for precision welding on the assembly lines of BMW and Mercedes-benz.

The medical robot, dubbed Artis Zeego and manufactured by Siemens Medical Solutions, is coupled with a CT Scanner and X-ray. It can tilt, turn and spin at virtually infinite angles, capturing detailed images that track blood flow.

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Keywords: Aneurysms, Triangulation, Atrial Fibrillation, Heart Arrhythmia, Artis Zeego, Brain Scanner, BMW Assembly Line

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Prosthesis from U of Southampton, Advanced Arm Dynamics - Artificial Hands Now Have Amazing Features

The functionality of Artificial hands is being expanded rapidly by some new developments that are changing things for people who use artificial hands. In 2005 a University of Southampton research team developed a prototype prosthesis that uses six sets of motors and gears to that each of the five fingers can move independently. Plus, the new hand has an opposing thumb that can rotate as well as “pinch”. The next stage will be to integrate the latest load cell technology to create a ‘clever’ hand which can sense how strongly it is gripping an object, or whether an object is slipping.
Another super prosthesis is being built by Advanced Arm Dynamics. It is faster than other myoelectric artificial hands, and has autograsp which allows the wearer to simply hold an object without wasting energy on monitoring whether the item is slipping or not.


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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bioengineering Future - Cell, Tissue Engineering, Molecular Cell Biology

Over the next 25 years, the development of more sophisticated biomedical devices will revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of conditions ranging from osteoarthritis to Alzheimer's disease, according to MIT professors in an article in the February 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The MIT article was also one of three from the issue to be featured at a February 6 media briefing on "Opportunities for Medical Research in the 21st Century." It was selected from among 24 in the special theme issue.

In the article, Associate Professor Linda G. Griffith and Professor Alan J. Grodzinsky explored the recent history of biomedical engineering and made projections for the future of field.

"Cell and tissue engineering also has emerged as a clinical reality," the authors wrote. "Products for skin replacement are in clinical use and progress has been made in developing technologies for repair of cartilage, bone, liver, kidney, skeletal muscle, blood vessels, the nervous system and urological disorders."

At the same time, biomedical engineering is undergoing a major ideological change. "The fusion of engineering with molecular cell biology is pushing the evolution of a new engineering discipline termed 'bioengineering' to tackle the challenges of molecular and genomic medicine," the authors wrote".

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Stem Cells From Hair Follicles May Help 'Grow' New Blood

For a rich source of stem cells to be engineered into new blood vessels or skin tissue, clinicians may one day look no further than the hair on their patients' heads, according to new research published earlier this month by University at Buffalo engineers.

"Engineering blood vessels for bypass surgery, promoting the formation of new blood vessels or regenerating new skin tissue using stem cells obtained from the most accessible source -- hair follicles -- is a real possibility," said Stelios T. Andreadis, Ph.D., co-author of the paper in Cardiovascular Research and associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Researchers from other institutions previously had shown that hair follicles contain stem cells.
In the current paper, the UB researchers demonstrate that stem cells isolated from sheep hair follicles contain the smooth muscle cells that grow new vasculature. The group recently produced data showing that stem cells from human hair follicles also differentiate into contractile smooth muscle cells


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Peter Zandstra - From Stem Cells to Organs: The Bioengineering Challenge

For more than a decade, Peter Zandstra has been working at the University of Toronto to rev up the production of stem cells and their descendants. The raw materials are adult blood stem cells and embryonic stem cells. The end products are blood and heart cells – lots of them. Enough mouse heart cells that they form beating tissue.

To do this, he has been applying engineering principles to stem cell research – work that has just earned him recognition by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The society will induct him as a Fellow during its Annual Conference, being held in Boston from February 14 to 18.

Starting with computer models of stem cell growth and differentiation (the process by which a stem cell matures into its final form), Zandstra has moved on to develop more sophisticated culture methods that fine-tune the microenvironments to guide the generation of the different cells types that make up the mature cells in our tissues: heart cells for the heart or blood cells for blood.

Dr. Zandstra, the Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Bioengineering, also held a prestigious NSERC Steacie Fellowship. The Steacie prize - which goes to six select Canadian professors annually – allowed Zandstra to extend his work from mouse to man.

“There's only so much we can do with mouse cells,” notes Dr. Zandstra. “Now if we can also figure out how to get human embryonic stem cells to differentiate on command to generate functional adult-like cells, you can begin to think about the kinds of medical conditions you could treat with them.”

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Squid Beaks Made of Chitin Could Make Better Artificial Limbs

The razor-sharp beaks that giant squids use to attack whales — and maybe even Captain Nemo's submarine — might one day lead to improved artificial limbs for people.

That deadly beak may be a surprise to many people, and has long posed a puzzle for scientists. They wonder how a creature without any bones can operate it without hurting itself.
Now, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, report in the journal Science that they have an explanation,

The beak, made of chitin and other materials, changes density gradually from the hard tip to a softer, more flexible base where it attaches to the muscle around the squid's mouth, the researchers found.

That means the tough beak can chomp away at fish for dinner, but the hard material doesn't press or rub directly against the squid's softer tissues.

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Sugar Beet Pectin - Many Future Uses Including in Plastics

At Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, researchers in the Crop Conversion Science and Engineering Research Unit are at work on pectin, a polysaccharide component in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. Polysaccharides are polymers made up of many simple carbohydrates (sugars) linked together into long, continuous molecules. Pectin is currently valued for use as a gelling and thickening agent, beverage stabilizer, and fat substitute.

Most commercial pectin is obtained by extraction from citrus peels, but sugar beet pulp is also rich in pectin. About 1.5 million tons of dry beet pulp—an enormous untapped source of a valuable polysaccharide—are generated annually by U.S. processors.

At present, most pulp is dried and sold as animal feed at little profit because of the costly energy required to dry it for storage and shipment.

But sugar beet pectin has different chemical features than citrus pectin, so it could find new uses, especially in industrial products. Beet pulp is also rich in other highly functional cell wall polysaccharides that could be isolated and put to use. To increase profits for sugar beet growers and processors, the Wyndmoor researchers are working on new processes to efficiently isolate beet pectin and associated polysaccharides and find higher value uses for them.

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Using Computers and Software to Help the Brain - Future of HMI

In January, Miguel A. L. Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., announced that his team completed the first steps toward a brain machine interface that might make it possible for paralyzed people to walk by directing devices with their thoughts. The team's monkey, in North Carolina, demonstrated the power of the technology when she used her brain signals to make a robot in Japan walk.

Just as it is possible to go to work out one's body in the gym, it is also possible to buy computer software to work out one's brain. Software programs now on the market include Nintendo's "Brain Age" and Posit Science's Brain Fitness Programs. Indeed, consulting firm Sharpbrains reports that the market for these products more than doubled between 2005 and 2007 to US$225 million, and health insurers like Humana are offering brain fitness programs to Medicare members at a discounted price.

Such programs won't cure Alzheimer's, of course, but other members of the tech community are working on projects that might help scientists beat the disease.

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Closed-loop Feedback Control Scheme Can Rapidly ID Optimal Drug Cocktails

UCLA researchers have developed a feedback control scheme that can search for the most effective drug combinations to treat a variety of conditions, including cancers and infections. The discovery could play a significant role in facilitating new clinical drug-cocktail trials.

The best known use of drug cocktails has been in the fight against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Drug cocktails also have been used to combat several types of cancer. Often, drugs that might not be effective in combating diseases individually do much better in combination.

With the use of the new closed-loop feedback control scheme, an approach guided by a stochastic search algorithm, researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have devised an invaluable means of identifying potent drug combinations fast and efficiently

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Prosthetic Implants, Deep Brain Stimulation to Help Chronic Disabilities

An article in Scientific American titled ”Scientists Set Sights on an Implantable Prosthetic for the Blind” tells about a Boston neuroscientist who is “developing a device that may someday help the blind by sending images directly to the brain.”

That’s an extraordinary advance, and seems certain to be just the first step toward near-miraculous prosthetic implants that someday soon not only will allow the blind to see, but could restore healthy function to all manner of disabled people.

For example, implantable deep brain stimulation (DBS) approaches already are being used successfully to treat chronic debilitating depression, as well as Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

According to this article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: It [DBS] is being studied as a treatment of last resort for disorders such as Tourette’s syndrome, obesity, anorexia, stroke recovery, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, cluster headaches, chronic pain and addiction.

Of course, the next level of such devices might be those that would correct not only disabilities, but also things that might be called ‘defects’. The problem there, however, is who gets to decide what is a defect and what is not. This, obviously, raises concerns about the possibility of having large segments of society that end up zoned out all the time, as with ’soma‘ in Brave New World.

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Self-assembled Materials Form Mini Stem Cell

Imagine having one polymer and one small molecule that instantly assemble into a flexible but strong sac in which you can grow human stem cells, creating a sort of miniature laboratory. And that sac, if used for cell therapy, could cloak the stem cells from the human body’s immune system and biodegrade upon arriving at its destination, releasing the stem cells to do their work

Futuristic? Only in part. A research team from Northwestern University’s Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine has created such sacs and demonstrated that human stem cells will grow in them. The researchers also report that the sacs can survive for weeks in culture and that their membranes are permeable to proteins.

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DoCoMo Working on Molecular Delivery of Communication with Mobile Phones

Japan’s DoCoMo is working on a molecular delivery of communication with mobile phones. This could not only mean download speeds increasing enormously, but could also potentially send medical data to emergency services, such as 911. According to InformationWeek:
Included in a mobile phone, the biochip could generate data and send it to medical specialists using standard wireless transmission techniques. In addition to health and environmental applications, DoCoMo suggested it also could have entertainment purposes: it could be used for long distance fortune telling.


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Via: Frog Blog

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Quencher-free Molecular Beacons Mean Better Fluorescent Techniques for DNA Analysis

B. H. Kim, Y. J. Seo and N. Venkatesan at Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea explain why quencher-free molecular beacons mean a brighter outlook for medicine.

Genetic analysis underpins DNA diagnostics. Swapping just a couple of letters in an individual's genome can cause an incurable genetic disorder, so identifying genetic differences is very important to diagnose and possibly cure certain diseases.

"When the target DNA is added, the hairpin opens out to bind to the DNA and the fluorophore is no longer quenched. So the target DNA is detected by an increase in fluorescence. "Unravelling the 'secret of life' by completing sequencing of the human genome, has led to our better understanding of genetic differences, be it between individuals, between parents and their offspring or normal and abnormal genes in genetic disorders. Such differences are expressed in terms of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, a single base change in a DNA sequence) or copy number variations (CNVs, when the number of copies of a gene varies).

Initially, DNA analysis relied mainly on radiolabelled nucleotides. Now fluorescent techniques are being used increasingly. Analytical methods that use fluorescent probes to bind to particular DNA regions are now well-known. So-called molecular beacons (MBs), these probes are now being used during DNA amplification by polymerase chain reactions (PCR), to qualitatively as well as quantitatively estimate single or multiple gene sequences simultaneously. Similarly, different types of MBs are used in related applications such as protein analysis and to study protein-DNA interactions. In addition, MBs' suitability for probing the levels and kinetics of DNA photodamage, and as vehicles for photoinduced drug release has also been explored.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Systems Biology is Moving Towards Clinical Applications

While it now remains a research tool, systems biology is moving toward clinical applications, including personalized

Imagine going to a doctor's office. your complete genome sequence, which provides a probabilistic prediction of your future health, is part of your medical file. To see how that genetic component is playing out and to obtain a snapshot of your current health status, your doctor orders a standard test of more than 2,000 proteins and metabolites. According to the results of those tests, your doctor recommends ways for you to maintain or improve your health through either medication or behavior modification.

This network illustrates a cause-and-effect model of the mechanisms involved in the transition of prostate cancer from androgen dependence to androgen independence. The colors indicate whether a component increases or decreases (green is observed increase, red is observed decrease, yellow is predicted increase, and blue is predicted decrease). The labels H1 to H5 represent five major hypotheses of mechanisms responsible for the progression of prostate cancer. Sounds futuristic? Perhaps, but it's not as far off as it seems, and systems biology will help make it a reality. Such a personalized approach to medicine is only one of the clinical applications of systems biology on the horizon.

"We've struggled for eons to figure out how to handle biological complexity," says H. Steven Wiley, director of the biomolecular systems initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Biological research has traditionally taken a one-at-a-time approach to studying genes and proteins, the so-called reductionist approach. Now, tools such as DNA and protein microarrays and mass spectrometry have made it possible to study many components and clarify how they work together to regulate and carry out biological processes. The goal of systems biology is to combine molecular information of various types in models that describe and predict function at the cellular, tissue, organ, and even whole-organism levels.

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Using DNA Shuffling, E.coli Gives Hydrogen from Sugar

Texas A&M Professor Thomas Wood and his research team have successfully genetically manipulated Escherichia coli to produce hydrogen fuel from common sugar.

E. coli is commonly associated with food poisoning from uncooked meat, but the bacteria is also found naturally in the human body. Wood said that the average person has eight kilograms (17.6 pounds) of bacteria in their body at any given time. This bacteria naturally produces hydrogen to increase the pH of its surroundings for survival.

Wood has spent the previous 17 years manipulating the bacteria to do different things. Wood said that his research group initially started out with the wrong assumptions, but once the research settled its focus on E. coli, progress began moving along rapidly.

"We have used a process called DNA shuffling, in which we separate and re-splice E. coli genes in random sequences. We eventually found a combination which produced more hydrogen," Wood said


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Biochips, Computers Could Lead to Personalized Medicine, Better Drugs

Recently scientists have provided a sneak preview of the future of biomedicine with a range of projects seeking to assemble virtual humans — or parts of them — on computers and “labs on a chip.” Someday, the descendants of these sophisticated new programs and devices could serve as our stand-ins for clinical tests on drugs, cosmetics and toxic compounds.

The increasing ability of computers and biochips to mimic brain chemistry, internal organs, and the interactions between drugs and viruses such as HIV could help reduce the reliance on animal testing to understand the potency and side effects of pharmaceuticals. A more informed leap between experiments on dish-grown cells and lab animals, in turn, could lead to a better drug development process. And eventually, the technology could usher in a new era of personalized medicine in which rapid tests tell doctors which treatments have the best chances of success for individual patients.

Full story here

Related blogposts
The future of biomedicine: virtual humans

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Chemical Brain for Controlling Nanobots, Nano-machines

The researchers have already built larger 'brains'

A tiny chemical "brain" which could one day act as a remote control for swarms of nano-machines has been invented.

The molecular device - just two billionths of a metre across - was able to control eight of the microscopic machines simultaneously in a test. Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say it could also be used to boost the processing power of future computers. The machine is made from 17 molecules of the chemical duroquinone. Each one is known as a "logic device".

Many experts have high hopes for nano-machines in treating disease.

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Nanobots Controlled By Chemical Brain

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Translating Thoughts into Speech - from Ambient Technologies

Ambient Technologies is offering far more than a penny for your thoughts with a new application that can translate thoughts into speech. Imagine what this means for people suffering from ALS (i.e, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking) and a wide range of neurological disorders who have much to say - and now a new way to say it.

The ability to connect brains and computers has applications in medicine, robotics, defense, security and everyday software. Stretch this a bit further and it’s easy to imagine the effects on retail, marketing, gaming, education, polling, social networking, dating, criminal justice and rehabilitation, training, psychotherapy…anywhere brains and computers meet.

Full story here

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A new device to translate thoughts into speech
Neckband Detects User Thoughts And Translates to Speech

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Monday, March 24, 2008

What's Wrong with Stem Cell Research?

What indeed is wrong with stem cell research?

Well, most folks opposed to stem cell research are not exactly opposed to stem cell research. They are opposed to embryonic stem cell research. What is it?

The two broad types of mammalian stem cells are: embryonic stem cells that are found in developing embryos, and adult stem cells found in adult tissues. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all of the specialized embryonic tissues. In adult organisms, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing specialized cells, but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin or intestinal tissues. (source: Wikipedia, see also NIH Stem Cell Info Home Page)

The methods to get embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of discarded human embryos, usually from fertility clinics. These frozen embryos are created by in vitro fertilization, are no longer needed by the families who produced them, such embryos were available for “adoption". Now you can understand the context. (some FAQs that will throw more light on these: From Wired here & here, http://www.whitehead.mit.edu/news/paradigm/spring_2007/faqs.html, Massachusetts General Hospital, NIH, Reasons to Believe, International Society for Stem Cell Research)

Many pro-lifers believe that human life, in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon, becomes a human person at the time of fertilization. Thus, killing an embryo in order to extract its stem cells is a form of homicide. They are generally opposed to such research. Others disagree. They believe that an embryo has the potential to develop into a person, but is not a person itself. They note that an embryo is not sentient; it has no brain, sensory organs, ability to think, awareness of its surroundings, consciousness, internal organs, arms, legs, head, etc. They feel that research using stem cells derived from embryos is ethical.

So where indeed are we heading with regard to stem cell research in general and embryonic stem cell research in particular? What are the various breakthroughs in this domain? What are the experts and politicians and yes, George W Bush saying?

This compilation looks at this important area of research and debate and provides a list of resources that will hopefully give the reader a better perspective of all the views and facts.

Breakthroughs and Inventions

Human Stem Cells May be Produced without Embryos (Jul 2007) - Japan’s leading genetics researcher could be “a matter of months” from reaching the Holy Grail of biotechnology – producing an “ethical” human stem cell without using a human embryo, he has said. The potential of Professor Yamanaka’s breakthrough work – in which the skin cells of laboratory mice were genetically manipulated back to their embryonic state – has been hailed as the equivalent of “transforming lead into gold”. If the research develops in the way he hopes, runs the excited logic, the ethical problems that have swirled around embryonic stem-cell research would disappear. The concept of artificially inducing adult cells to return to a stem-cell state raises equally attractive possibilities for organ transplantation.

Stem Cell Breakthrough Could Stifle Research (Nov 2007) - Last week independent teams of scientists announced a major advance in stem cell research with their discovery of how to turn human skin cells into an "embryonic" state, enabling these cells to grow into nerve, heart or other types of human cells. The method does not require the destruction of discarded human embryos from fertility clinics, currently the only source of embryonic stem cells. Thus, this would bypass the ethical concern that prompted the Bush White House to sharply limit funding on stem cell research. The discovery, albeit promising, might stifle embryonic stem cell research or send it down a dead-end path, for it is now harder than ever to secure funding to study the best source of embryonic stem cells—that is, embryos.

British Team Grows Human Heart Valve from Stem Cells (Apr 2007) - A British research team led by the world's leading heart surgeon has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. If animal trials scheduled for later this year prove successful, replacement tissue could be used in transplants for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from heart disease within three years.

Stem Cell Breakthrough to Challenge Bush Objections (Aug 2006) - A stem cell breakthrough by American scientists is set to overturn ethical objections to potentially live-saving research. They have found how to make stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryo in the process - an advance that could open the door to billions of dollars in research funding. A team at the Advanced Cell Technology - a private company - has found that it is possible to create human stem cells using one or two cells from an early embryo, without doing any damage to the embryo
Stem Cells Patch Holes in Brain without Prompting (Dec 2006) - In research that could be harnessed to speed recovery from stroke or blunt-force trauma to the head, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, report that mice genetically engineered to have holes in a region of their brain recovered due to the work of stem cells in the area.

Stem Cells for Parkinson's Disease: Breakthrough or Hype? - asks this recent post from Wired

Views and Opinions

For Catholics, is Stem Cell Research Worse than Sloth?, asks this March 2008 article in Slate - "The Vatican released a list of seven new sins...Dubbed the "social sins," they include conducting stem-cell research, polluting the environment, and causing poverty. Along with the old standbys—like lust, pride, and greed—these seven are considered to be of the "deadly" variety. What kinds of sins aren't deadly?"...read on

ES Cells without Harming the Embryo (Oct 2005) - scientists have derived embryonic stem cells from a single cell removed from an 8-cell mouse embryo. But they have implanted the remaining seven cells in a female mouse womb and produced apparently normal pregnancies in about half the cases. Hitherto, stem cells have been taken from later stage embryos in a way which destroys their potential to develop any further. This is seen as tantamount to murder by those who regard the early embryo as having the same moral status as a live human baby. If the new method could successfully be done with human early embryos, the researchers say here is a way to obtain embryo stem cells without destroying the embryo. Would this argument work?

Ten Problems with Embryonic Stem Cell Research - A developed stem cell line comes from a single embryo, becoming a colony of cells that reproduces indefinitely. Consider now the following ten problems with Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR).
1. The issue of who or what
2. The deliberate misuse of terminology in defining stem cells
3. ESCR is related to human cloning
4. The current status of ESCR in the U.S. is unsettled at best
5. There is law that could apply to ESCR
6. Polls show that the American people do not approve using public money to destroy human embryos in medical research
7. ESCR puts us on the road to growing humans for body parts
8. Contemporary moral issues often follow the flow of money
9. ESCR currently has major disadvantages
10. The Success and Promise of Adult Stem Cell

For these ten reasons the author's conclusion is that more dollars should be invested in adult stem cell research and the macabre research associated with ESCR should be abandoned entirely.

Stem Cell Research: All Viewpoints - Many pro-lifers believe that human life, in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon, becomes a human person at the time of fertilization. Thus, killing an embryo in order to extract its stem cells is a form of homicide. They are generally opposed to such research. Others disagree. They believe that an embryo has the potential to develop into a person, but is not a person itself. They note that an embryo is not sentient; it has no brain, sensory organs, ability to think, awareness of its surroundings, consciousness, internal organs, arms, legs, head, etc. They feel that research using stem cells derived from embryos is ethical.

Thousands of Adult Stem Cell Deaths Show Urgency of Embryonic Research (Apr 2007) - Steven Edwards in this article says “They're mass murderers, in fact. In only five years between 2000 and 2004, adult stem cells used in some 25,000 bone marrow transplant treatments have been complicit in at least 3,629 American deaths, 624 of which involved children under the age of 18, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. If the trend continues, adult stem cells will claim their 5,000th victim since 2000 this year.” These data, he says, show that more research is required into embryonic stem cells.

Is A Life for a Life Required?

What's Wrong with Embryonic Stem Cell Research? (an old but good article, Jul 2001) - Many people have come out in opposition to stem cell research. Why? Because the major source of stem cells for research today is embryos, and the embryos are destroyed in the process of extracting the stem cells. What's the big deal? Genetically, an embryo is a human being. A very tiny, undeveloped human being, but a human being nonetheless. Even if stem cell treatments ultimately prove successful, embryonic stem cell treatment involves the deliberate killing of a human being in order to use his body parts to treat another human being. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research point to all sorts of good that might result. They paint glowing pictures of the diseases that might be cured and the people who might be helped. But does this justify killing an innocent human being?, asks this article.

Embryonic stem cell research flawed (Mar 2008) - "I've tried to do research to compare ESCR to ASCR (adult stem cell research); I refuse to be bullied into supporting what is obviously the destruction of human tissue just because I have a loved one with a disorder who needs help." - strong words indeed

Pros & Cons of Embryonic Stem Cell Research (from About.com) - Embryonic stem cells are thought by most scientists and researchers to hold potential cures for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, hundreds of rare immune system and genetic disorders and much more. Over 100 million Americans suffer from diseases that eventually may be treated more effectively or even cured with embryonic stem cell therapy. Some researchers regard this as the greatest potential for the alleviation of human suffering since the advent of antibiotics. Many pro-lifers believe that the proper moral and religious course of action is to save existing life through embryonic stem cell therapy

What is Wrong With Embryonic Stem Cell Research? (from God & Science, a pretty well-detailed and insightful article) - Embryonic stem cell research is a hot topic that seems to pit anti-abortion conservatives against pro-abortion liberals. The conservatives claim that there are better alternatives to embryonic stem cells, while the liberals claim that conservatives are blocking research that will provide cures to many tragic diseases. Much of the rhetoric is designed to muddy the waters to invoke emotional responses of those within each camp. This paper is designed to break through sound-bites and go the heart of the matter - what are the scientific issues that impact the question of stem cell research.

Key Ethical Issues in Stem Cell Research - from the Australian Parliament Reports (PDF)

Facts

What Are The Benefits of Stem Cell Research (Feb 2007)

Stem Cell Basics (from National Institutes of Health, USA) - Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. More from this article

Egg Harvesting and Embryonic Stem-cell Research Pose Serious Threat to Women’s Health (Mar 2007) - A congressional hearing in 2007 raised awareness on the risks to women’s health and fertility by in vitro fertilization (IVF), human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, where experts testified the techniques and drugs involved posed unacceptable risks to women's health.

Research Ethics and Stem Cells (National Institutes of Health, USA) - Stem cells show potential for many different areas of health and medical research, and studying them can help us understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are caused by problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions

Stem Cell Research & George Bush

Scientists Sideline Bush Opposition to Stem Cell Research (Jun 2006) - Harvard scientists have said they will bypass President Bush's moratorium on state funding of embryonic stem cell research by using privately sourced cash. It's thought it will be the first non-commercial enterprise to work on human embryos in the US. An executive order from Bush in 2001 banned the use of public money for research on human embryonic stem cells other than just 22 old lines which have since been branded useless because of contamination. Two groups will work on creating new human stem cell lines derived from surplus IVF embryos. They will work towards using the cells to treat diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and blood disorders.

Stem Cell Pioneer Does a Reality Check (Jun 2005) - Thomson, a developmental biologist and veterinarian at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, made history in 1998 when he and fellow researchers derived the first embryonic stem cell lines from frozen human embryos. The breakthrough came after the news that a sheep named Dolly was born as the first cloned mammal — and together, the two announcements hinted at a brave new world of medical possibilities and moral debates. Since then, five of the university's cell lines have been approved for federal funding under the terms of the Bush administration's stem cell compromise of August 2001. Not surprisingly, Thomson believes that President Bush should call off his threat to veto the legislation — and that the federal government should put more money into embryonic stem cell research. Critics point out that embryonic stem cells are not being used in any clinical applications yet, while alternatives such as adult stem cells figure in scores of therapies

Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ Convinced Bush To Ban Embryonic Stem Cell Research (Dec 2007) - Shortly after taking office, President Bush announced a policy allowing federal funding of research only on existing stem cell lines, despite the urging of several of his advisers and the scientific community for expanded funding. Bush has nevertheless remained stubborn, twice vetoing legislation that would have lifted the restrictions. In a new piece in Commentary magazine, Jay Lefkowitz — who advised Bush on stem cells — reveals how the President formulated his 2001 policy. While Bush heard from a variety of groups on both sides of the issue, the turning point appeared to come when Lefkowitz read from Aldous Huxley’s fictional novel, Brave New World, and scared Bush: "A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room"

Bush's Stem Cell Veto: What's Wrong With This Picture? (Jul 2006) - In the first ever veto of his administration, President Bush has killed legislation that would have expanded federal support of stem cell research by making available to scientists new “lines” of such cells that experts generally agree are needed to move forward in finding treatments for spinal cord injury, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other life threatening diseases.

Scientists Excited Bush Stem Cell Research Policy May Change After Elections (Mar 2008) - Scientists who engage in stem cell research are excited that the policy President Bush has put in place about the practice could be overturned with the election of a new president. See also this related news report

Related Useful Resources

Stem Cell Resources Stem Cell Basics

And some fun - First Lady Laura Bush's Take on Stem Cells

Here's a huge 2001 Time Magazine resource on stem cells

Stem Cell Research home page

Moral relativism is absolutely great

Evolution or Exodus?

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Very Small Microchip To Aid in Future Disease Diagnosis

A tiny, highly sensitive device that could give medics a head start in testing for a range of diseases is being developed by engineers at the University of Leeds. The Leeds device is more than ten times smaller than existing models while offering the accuracy and sensitivity required for clinical diagnostics - and the researchers believe the technology could allow them to reduce the size much further still.

The inventors used an array of electrodes as the base of their device rather than the conventional glass slide. The individual electrodes are created using the same technology used to produce modern microchips, so are very small and very closely spaced.

Conventional techniques use antibodies as receptors on their sensors to bind to the target proteins – but these are not very stable when attached to a sensor and tend to lose their specificity. So the developers created an artificial robust antibody called a ‘peptide aptamer’ that is so stable that it can be attached to the electrodes and still bind to a specific target protein.

Full report here

Related blogposts
Microchip Could Aid In Future Disease Diagnosis

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Peter Zandstra - Stem Cell Research from Mouse to Man

For more than a decade, Peter Zandstra has been working at the University of Toronto to rev up the production of stem cells and their descendants. The raw materials are adult blood stem cells and embryonic stem cells. The end products are blood and heart cells – lots of them. Enough mouse heart cells that they form beating tissue.

To do this, he has been applying engineering principles to stem cell research – work that has just earned him recognition by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Starting with computer models of stem cell growth and differentiation (the process by which a stem cell matures into its final form), Zandstra has moved on to develop more sophisticated culture methods that fine-tune the microenvironments to guide the generation of the different cells types that make up the mature cells in our tissues: heart cells for the heart or blood cells for blood.

Dr. Zandstra, the Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Bioengineering, also held a prestigious NSERC Steacie Fellowship. The Steacie prize - which goes to six select Canadian professors annually – allowed Zandstra to extend his work from mouse to man.

“There's only so much we can do with mouse cells,” notes Dr. Zandstra. “Now if we can also figure out how to get human embryonic stem cells to differentiate on command to generate functional adult-like cells, you can begin to think about the kinds of medical conditions you could treat with them.”


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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Computational Fluid Dynamics for Improved Bioreactor Design, 3D Culture

The complex relationship between the hydrodynamic environment and surrounding tissues directly impacts on the design and production of clinically useful grafts and implants. Tissue engineers have generally seen bioreactors as 'black boxes' within which tissue engineering constructs (TECs) are cultured. It is accepted that a more detailed description of fluid mechanics and nutrient transport within process equipment can be achieved by using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) technology. This review discusses applications of CFD for tissue engineering-related bioreactors - fluid flow processes have direct implications on cellular responses such as attachment, migration and proliferation. We conclude that CFD should be seen as an invaluable tool for analyzing and visualizing the impact of fluidic forces and stresses on cells and TECs.

See full abstract here

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Engineering Safer Tobacco - Removing A Gene Reduces Carcinogens

Knocking out a specific gene in burley tobacco plants significantly reduces harmful carcinogens in cured tobacco leaves, scientists at a North Carolina university have shown.

The findings could lead to less-harmful tobacco products, particularly smokeless forms such as chewing tobacco. The research was sponsored by the tobacco company Philip Morris and conducted at North Carolina State University.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Destroyiong Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria - MIT Graduate Invents Knock-out Punch

MIT graduate student and synthetic biologist Timothy Lu is passionate about tackling problems that pose threats to human health. His current mission: to destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The 27-year-old M.D. candidate and Ph.D. in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology received the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventing processes that promise to combat bacterial infections by enhancing the effectiveness of antibiotics at killing bacteria and helping to eradicate biofilm – bacterial layers that resist antimicrobial treatment and breed on surfaces, such as those of medical, industrial and food processing equipment.

Lu explained that fewer pharmaceutical companies are inventing new antibiotics due to long development times, high failure rates and large costs. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also becoming more prevalent. His inventions enable the rapid design and production of inexpensive antibacterial agents that can break through the defenses of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and bacterial biofilms.

Full report here

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Learning Industrial and Machine Design from Nature's Genius

If building zero-waste machines is one aspect of achieving interstellar travel, we may one day look back at the turn of the 21st century as the time when humans began to look at industrial design in such a way as to make this possible. How? By consulting the ultimate teacher - Mother Nature.

Some of the most advanced work in the field is being done here, on both the corporate and academic level. Students and teachers at local universities are exploring biomimicry research and education as companies such JDS Uniphase in Milpitas and Qualcomm in San Jose turn to nature's ingenuity for their designs. All this is just a microcosm of what's going on globally, where biomimicry is a burgeoning science.

Full report here

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Wearable Biomechatronic Exoskeletons: the Future is Already Here

Press release

Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c84816) has announced the addition of “Wearable Robots: Biomechatronic Exoskeletons” to their offering.

A wearable robot is a mechatronic system that is designed around the shape and function of the human body, with segments and joints corresponding to those of the person it is externally coupled with. Teleoperation and power amplification were the first applications, but after recent technological advances the range of application fields has widened. Increasing recognition from the scientific community means that this technology is now employed in telemanipulation, man-amplification, neuromotor control research and rehabilitation, and to assist with impaired human motor control.

Logical in structure and original in its global orientation, this volume gives a full overview of wearable robotics, providing the reader with a complete understanding of the key applications and technologies suitable for its development. The main topics are demonstrated through two detailed case studies; one on a lower limb active orthosis for a human leg, and one on a wearable robot that suppresses upper limb tremor. These examples highlight the difficulties and potentialities in this area of technology, illustrating how design decisions should be made based on these.

As well as discussing the cognitive interaction between human and robot, this comprehensive text also covers:

-the mechanics of the wearable robot and it’s biomechanical interaction with the user, including state-of-the-art technologies that enable sensory and motor interaction between human (biological) and wearable artificial (mechatronic) systems;

- the basis for bioinspiration and biomimetism, general rules for the development of biologically-inspired designs, and how these could serve recursively as biological models to explain biological systems;

- the study on the development of networks for wearable robotics.

Wearable Robotics: Biomechatronic Exoskeletons will appeal to lecturers, senior undergraduate students, postgraduates and other researchers of medical, electrical and bio engineering who are interested in the area of assistive robotics. Active system developers in this sector of the engineering industry will also find it an informative and welcome resource.

Contents:

Foreword

Preface

List of Contributors

1 Introduction to wearable robotics

2 Basis for bioinspiration and biomimetism in wearable robots

3 Kinematics and dynamics of wearable robots

4 Human–robot cognitive interaction

5 Human–robot physical interaction

6 Wearable robot technologies

7 Communication networks for wearable robots

8 Wearable upper limb robots

9 Wearable lower limb and full-body robots

10 Summary, conclusions and outlook

Index

For more information visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c84816

Contacts
Research and Markets
Laura Wood, Senior Manager
Fax: +353 1 4100 980

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Wearable Biomechatronic Exoskeletons: the Future is Already Here
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Lab Rats Could be Replaced by High-Tech Alternatives

Medical advances ranging from polio vaccines to artificial heart valves owe a debt to lab rats, mice, rabbits, dogs monkeys and pigs. These Animals are still routinely used to test the toxicity of chemical compounds.

The lab rat of the future, however may have no whiskers and no tail — and might not even be a rat at all. With a European ban looming on animal testing for cosmetics, companies are giving a hard look at high-tech alternatives like the small, rectangular glass chip professor Jonathan Dordick holds up to the light in his lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The chip looks like a standard microscope slide, but it holds hundreds of tiny white dots loaded with human cell cultures and enzymes. It's designed to mimic human reactions to potentially toxic chemical compounds.

Could these chips, already going by the moniker "lab-on-a-chip", replace the mice and other guinea pigs that are regularly used for testing?

Not so fast, says the research community. Animal testing also still has an essential role in making sure new pharmaceutical products are safe and effective for humans. Animal studies generally are needed before the federal FDA approves clinical trials for a drug. So no one expects the chips to totally replace animals just yet. At the same time, even in the near future the ability of these chips and other emerging alternatives to flag toxins could spare animals discomfort or death. At the end of the day, it is likely that you will have fewer animals being tested.

Alternatives to animal tests include synthetic skin substitutes and computer simulations. But in vitro products show the most promise because they can are efficient, fast and easy to manipulate. So expect more and more of preliminary testing to be done in-vitro, literally meaning "in glass".

Read a detailed story on this topic @ MSNBC here

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Can a Supercomputer Think Like a Brain?

Computers have long been thought of as "electronic brains", but most scientists of course smirked at that term because the machines were very crude representations of our brains for the most part. A fairly significant number of intelligent scientists have been convinced that it could take many more generations, if at all, before we can come up with machines that can think like humans. For one, it might require far more computing power than what even the highest end computers of today have on offer; for another, the human brain is far too complex, and it is not clear to everyone that we have understood its functioning even remotely. Such thoughts however do not deter some determined folks.

In the basement of a university in Switzerland sit four black boxes, each about the size of a refrigerator, and filled with 2,000 IBM microchips stacked in repeating rows. Together they form the processing core of a machine that can handle over 20 trillion operations per second. This is Blue Brain. As their web site explains, "The Blue Brain project is the first comprehensive attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain, in order to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed simulations." This is done using a computer that has phenomenal computing power - a supercomputer, in layman's terms.

The name of the supercomputer is literal: Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. The Blue Brain team started with a neuron, a nanoscale pipette, and added some really bold thinking and advanced electronic design, and wow, they have ended up with something really commendable. The behavior of the computer replicates, with surprising precision, the cellular events unfolding inside a mind. "This is the first model of the brain that has been built from the bottom-up," says Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the director of the Blue Brain project.

This is hardly the first time scientists have made efforts to make computers mimic the brain. All of us saw how Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer, even beat the then world champ Gary Kasparov in the famous chess championship. But most of these efforts were aimed at computers trying to replicate human thought processes in a very narrow domain, and these domains were often dominated by quantitative logic rather than qualitative ones.

Blue Brain can certainly be thought of as being only the next effort in this continuum, but the difference is this one is biologically much closer. With previous basic structures, scientists have been able to unveil physical details, molecules, chemical pathways, enzymes and genes that power the brain. These efforts and experiments offered insights that enabled scientists in understanding what the brain does, but not how it does it. This experiment however emulates chemical signaling and actually functions as a real brain. The current simulation uses 400 segments for each neuron and they have precisely researched individual ion channels and biological functions to precisely generate the simulation.

What has been most difficult even for supercomputers so far is to understand "experience". Blue Brain, if it is to simulate our brains, needs to somehow figure out what "experiencing something" means. (A nice quote from the philosopher David Chalmers, “Experience is information from the inside; physics is information from the outside.” - Thank you, Clusterflock ). The Blue Brain team intends to succeed in this by deciphering the connection between the sensations entering the machine and the flickering voltages of its brain cells. Once the team has been able to get this correlation right (and I'm not sure this will be easy!), reversing this process should be relatively easy. If they are able to complete this cycle, the supercomputer should be in a position to generate "experieces". Fascinating!

Analogous in scope to the Genome Project, the Blue Brain will provide a huge leap in our understanding of brain function and dysfunction and help us explore solutions to intractable problems in mental health and neurological disease.

By the end of 2006, the Blue Brain project had created a model of the basic functional unit of the brain, the neocortical column. At the push of a button, the model could reconstruct biologically accurate neurons based on detailed experimental data, and automatically connect them in a biological manner, a task that involves positioning around 30 million synapses in precise 3D locations.

In November, 2007, the Blue Brain project reached an important milestone and the conclusion of its first Phase, with the announcement of an entirely new data-driven process for creating, validating, and researching the neocortical column. Blue Brain has currently simulated one column of a neocortex of a rat with 10,000 neurons and 30 million synapses - a human neocortex column has 60,000 neurons.

Impressive!

Read a nice story on Blue Brain here, more updates from the Blue Brain Project web site, and the Blue Brain IBM/EPFL page @ IBM


Other Related Web Resources

Blue Brain @ Wikipedia
Blue Brain - success?
The Blue Brain Breakthrough
Blue Brain Status and the Future of Whole Brain Simulation
A 2005 article from The Speculist
A 2005 BusinessWeek article

There's a whole range of fascinating resources on the topic of computers and human brains. We try to list some that we found most useful and interesting:

Why People Think Computers Can't - by Marvin Minsky, the renowned AI pioneer. "Today, surrounded by so many automatic machines, industrial robots. and the R2-D2's of Star Wars movies, most people think AI is much more advanced than it is. But still. many `'computer experts" don't believe that machines will ever "really think." I think those specialists are too used to explaining that there's nothing inside computers but little electric currents. This leads them to believe that there can't be room left for anything else-like minds or selves. And there are many other reasons why so many experts still maintain that machines can never be creative. intuitive. or emotional, and will never really think, believe, or understand anything. This essay explains why they are wrong. (see this article in PDF format)

Brain vs. Computers @ Neuroscience for Kids - well, this has been written for kids, but precisely for that reason, the language is so simple and easy to understand that all of us can learn something from it!

Brains Don't Learn Using 0s and 1s, but They Learn Through Shades of Grey - The processors, in our brain or in a cluster of computers, is supposed to act sequentially. Not so fast! According to a new study from Cornell University, this is not true, and our mental processing is continuous. By tracking mouse movements of students working with their computers, the researchers found that our learning process was similar to other biological organisms: we're not learning through a series of 0's and 1's. Instead, our brain is cascading through shades of grey."

Computer Intelligence in the Extra-ordinary Future - One requirement for the extraordinary future is that computers will be as smart as humans. Actually, the authors who present the extraordinary future clearly think that within the next century computers will far surpass humans in intelligence. In this chapter the writer describes their reasons for making this claim and considers whether it is plausible. In order to do this the writer considers related issues such as the nature of human intelligence, how the brain works, how computers work, realistic projections of increases in computer processing speed, and different understandings of the concept of thought.

The Chinese Room - A person inside a room gets input in the form of Chinese characters on cards, and produces output in the form of Chinese characters by looking up the input Chinese characters in a rule book (written in English) that shows him what Chinese characters to give back.? It turns out that the input Chinese characters are meaningful questions and the output Chinese characters are appropriate answers to the questions, so to an outside observer, it looks as if whatever's inside the room understands Chinese. But he doesnt: he's just following rules. MORAL: computers are like the rule-follower.? They don't understand anything, even if they appear to do so. Brief but interesting stuff discussed here titled Can Computers Think?...see a related article by John Searle Is The Brain a Digital Computer?

Most neuroscientists adhere to the pixel view of neurons, arguing that individual cells can't possibly be clever enough to make sense of subtle concepts; after all, the world's fastest supercomputers have difficulty performing that pattern-recognition feat. But Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon who leads this UCLA research program, believes he has found "thinking cells" in the brains of his subjects. If he's right, neuroscientists may be forced to overhaul their view of how the human brain works, says this 2005 article from MIT titled "Can A Single Brain Cell Think?"

In a new MIT study (2007), a computer model designed to mimic the way the brain itself processes visual information performs as well as humans do on rapid categorization tasks. The model even tends to make similar errors as humans, possibly because it so closely follows the organization of the brain's visual system. More from here

Human Brain Region Functions Like Digital Computer - ScienceDaily Oct., 2006 - A region of the human brain that scientists believe is critical to human intellectual abilities surprisingly functions much like a digital computer, according to psychology Professor Randall O'Reilly of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In a review of biological computer models of the brain that appeared in the Oct. 6 (2006) edition of the journal Science, O'Reilly contends that the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia operate much like a digital computer system. More from here

10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers - this is a phenomenally useful and entirely readable article. Please make sure you read it sometime, you will understand why we should take any claims to mimicing the brain with a huge tablespoon of salt.

An interview with John McCarthy, an AI pioneer and the person credited with coining the term Artificial Intelligence

Researchers at the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research have used a biological model to train a computer model to recognize objects, such as cars or people, in busy street scenes. Their innovative approach, which combines neuroscience and artificial intelligence with computer science, mimics how the brain functions to recognize objects in the real world.

When will computer hardware match the human brain? ( a 1997 paper) - This paper describes how the performance of AI machines tends to improve at the same pace that AI researchers get access to faster hardware. The processing power and memory capacity necessary to match general intellectual performance of the human brain are estimated. Based on extrapolation of past trends and on examination of technologies under development, it is predicted that the required hardware will be available in cheap machines in the 2020s.

Jeff Hawkins and his colleagues have been focused on researching the brain's neocortex, and have made significant progress in understanding how it works. Using their theory, called Hierarchical Temporal Memory, or HTM, they have created a software platform that allows anyone to build HTMs for experimentation and deployment. You don't program an HTM as you would a computer; rather you configure it with software tools, then train it by exposing it to sensory data. HTMs thus learn in much the same way that children do. HTM is a rich theoretical framework and this article provides a high level overview of the theory and technology. Details of HTM are available at Numenta. An interview with Jeff here

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