Progress for the Artificial Retina

June 29th, 2011 in News 0 comments


For patients who have lost their sight to various eye diseases, artificial retina technology allows them to experience limited vision once more.

The external parts of the artificial retina device include glasses with a mounted camera and a small computer.

External Devices for Artificial Retina

The device also includes an electrode implanted onto the patient’s retina. When the camera “sees” an image, the computer is able to translate these into a pattern of neural signals. This pattern is then transmitted to the implanted electrode, and directly stimulates the optic nerve. These signals are then able to be processed by the brain and interpreted as very rudimentary images.

The first artificial retina to be implanted in a patient, known as Argus I, included only sixteen electrodes that stimulated the optic nerve. However, the patient with this implant was still able to tell the differences between light and dark, and could make out basic shapes. The newer version of the technology, Argus II, now includes sixty electrodes. However, it is still limited in that patients can only tell the differences between light and dark areas, and can only see shapes, outlines, and blurs, and not detailed images. Regardless, this is a large improvement over no sight, and patients with the implant are satisfied with simply a partial regain of their vision, and are hopeful that the technology will continue to improve. As of late, a third model of the artificial retina is in development, and will include over 200 electrodes.

Though the project began almost ten years ago, the implant has recently been approved for patients in Europe. The company has not yet submitted approval to the FDA, but hopes to do so by the end of this year.

Second Sight – How is Argus II Designed to Produce Sight?

CBS News HealthPop – First Artificial Retina Approved in Europe

US Department of Energy Office of Science – About the Artificial Retina Project

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Mystical Minds?

June 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized 0 comments


Using the human nervous system as a representational medium, are there parts of the universe that are innately unknowable to us- are there realities that we can experience but not objectively measure? Is spirituality real, or a man-made delusion to justify ambiguous emotions and guide behavior? Is consciousness an emergent property or does it extend beyond?

These are timeless ontological questions that have been posed by both philosophers and the common man for centuries. But only recently has the new field of neurotheology, the study of correlations between neural phenomena and subjelsdctive experiences of spirituality, emerged on the scene to advance our understanding of what the brain undergoes during religious practices. Whereas before we could only rely on logic and speculation in an attempt to tackle some of these controversial issues, today neuroscientists are beginning to uncover substantial information regarding the relationship between brain activity and “the feeling of God”.

Scientists have long been intrigued by claims of mystical encounters. Though these assertions may seem to be all too uncommon and even downright outlandish in an increasingly “secular” nation, still a survey by the Pew Form on Religion and Public Life demonstrated that nearly half of American adults today have had what they consider a “religious” or “mystical experience” of some kind. In order to investigate the biological basis of these obscure episodes, scientists first explored the effects of psychedelic drugs, which have a long history of traditional use in religion. Since users of psychedelics often report of the drug’s ability to elicit a sense of the spiritual, as well as promote mental healing, researchers sought empirical support for the notion that psychedelic drugs could facilitate “religious experiences”. More

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Mind and Heart

June 27th, 2011 in News 3 comments


I have some news that might be a bit disappointing to…well, pretty much anyone who would find themselves on a blog dedicated to the mind and brain.  Bear with me (or not, if you’d like, really), but this is a post primarily about the heart.

I was recently introduced via a grad student in the (yes, neuroscience) lab I work in to the latest advancement in the race to perfect an artificial heart. That link is to an NPR article that really tells you everything you need to know…and you should absolutely read it.  But to summarize the details you need to know for my purposes here, the design is completely novel, and unlike previous designs, it doesn’t use nature as its inspiration. More

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Neither free nor completely determined

June 21st, 2011 in Uncategorized 8 comments


Free will is a hackneyed topic. Science seems to be telling us that free will doesn’t exist because behavior is governed by the brain and the brain operates on physical rules of cause and effect. There is no such thing as uncaused cause, which free will requires. For some people this is an unbearable notion; these folks hang on to their perceived volition as evidence that they are in fact free to do as they choose, without being constrained by their biology. Others swallow what science has espoused long ago; of these folks, some tend to be pessimistic, thinking that their lack of free will means that everything is pointless and that the best thing they can do for themselves is to blur the line between their behind and a comfortable couch, until scientists discover the new species Homo sofus. More

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