By Shea Gillet
When a neuroscientist is asked about Alzheimer’s research, some of the first things that may come to mind are genetic predispositions, amyloid plaques, and tau proteins. One may think of researchers in labs running experiments on cultures of cells, or slice studies from brains of those affected with the disease. However, there is a whole other world of research being conducted on Alzheimer’s that I’m sure escapes many scientists’ minds. More
In the 1984 film The Terminator, an artificial intelligence machine is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to exterminate a woman named Sarah Connor. The Terminator had not only a metal skeleton, but also an external layer of living tissue as well, and was thus deemed a cyborg, a being with both biological and artificial parts. In 1984, no such cyborgs existed in the real world. However, fourteen years later, that would change.
Kevin Warwick is a Professor of Cyberkinetics at the University of Reading in England, and in 1998, he became the world’s first cyborg. Using only local anesthetic, a small silicon chip transponder was implanted into his forearm. The chip had a unique frequency that was able to track him throughout his workplace, and with a clench of his fist, he was able to turn lights on and off, as well as operate doors, heaters, and computers.
To take the experiment to the next level, in 2002 Warwick received another implant. A one hundred electrode array was implanted into the median nerve fibers of Warwick’s left forearm. With this implant, he was able to control electric wheelchairs and a mechanical arm. The neural signals being used to control the arm were detailed enough that the mechanical arm was able to mimic Warwick’s arm perfectly. While traveling to Columbia University in New York, Warwick was even able to control the mechanical arm from overseas and get sensory feedback transmitted from the arm’s fingertips (the electrode array could also be used for stimulation).
Although Warwick’s work could profoundly affect the world of medicine through its potential to aid those who have nervous system damage, his work has been considered quite controversial. After his first implant, Warwick announced that his enhancement made him a cyborg. However, questions are being asked, “when does a cyborg become a robot?” If these types of implants become more common in the future, how would the population feel about these “enhanced” individuals? In the future, it is possible that these implants could be used for anything from carrying a travel Visa to storing our medical records, blood type, and allergies in case of medical emergencies. Warwick is proud of his work because he is pioneering how humans can be integrated with computerized systems, but he has his own concerns as well. In one interview, he claims that it is a realistic possibility that one day, humans will create such intelligent artificial beings that it is possible we won’t be able to turn them off. Will cyberkinetic research ever take us that far? We will just have to wait and see.
For more information of the work of Kevin Warwick, visit his website.
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to return to Earth after flying around in space? Until now, astronauts in training wondered the same thing.
Upon returning to Earth after spaceflight, astronauts may experience neurological symptoms such as dizziness and loss of balance. In the past, scientists had no way to replicate these symptoms during simulation landings. This raised a concern that although astronauts were capable of landing a spacecraft under normal neurological conditions, they may not be able to with impaired sensory and mobility signals.
Dr. Steven Moore at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York developed a tool to solve this problem. The Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation (GVS) system induces sensory and motor disturbances that safely replicate the sensations astronauts experience upon returning to Earth’s atmosphere. This is accomplished by delivering small amounts of electrical simulation to the vestibular nerve of the ear.
To test the effects of GVS, twelve subjects, including NASA and air force pilots, performed simulation landings both with and without stimulation. It was found that landings while under stimulation were outside of the optimal performance range more frequently than those performed under normal conditions. The creators of GVS were happy with this result because it accurately mimicked the effects that occur while returning to Earth.
Not only can NASA benefit from this technology, but military pilots can as well. For the full story, click here.
Until now, it was believed that antibodies were proteins created by the immune system to solely protect the body against viruses and bacteria. However, a new study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine may give insight into another function of these vital proteins – nerve repair.
In a study conducted on mice, the scientists at Stanford demonstrated that antibodies are able to repair nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS contains all of the nervous tissue outside of the brain and spinal cord.
It has been largely unknown why nerve tissue in the PNS is able to regenerate whereas the tissue in the brain and spinal cord cannot. Perhaps antibodies provide an answer. While antibodies have access to the peripheral nervous tissue, the blood brain barrier, as well as the blood spinal barrier, does not allow antibodies to pass into these structures.
The process by which the antibodies are able to repair peripheral nervous tissue is believed to be attributed to their ability to degenerate myelin. Myelin, the fatty tissue covering the axons of neurons, remains after neuronal death in the brain and spinal cord. However, in the remainder of the nervous system, the myelin is broken down by antibodies after damage to a particular neuron. In the laboratory, researchers created mice that can’t make antibodies, and as a result, repair to peripheral nervous tissue was impeded, as was the removal of the myelin. After injecting these mice with healthy antibodies, the myelin was removed and the nervous tissue was repaired.
It is scientists’ hope that this finding will lead to a way to repair central nervous system tissue damage caused by strokes and spinal cord injury. One researcher claims, “‘One idea,” said Barres, “would be to bypass the blood-brain barrier by delivering anti-degenerating-myelin proteins directly into the spinal fluid. We’re hoping that these antibodies might then coat the myelin, signaling to microglia — macrophages’ counterparts in the central nervous system — to clear the degenerating myelin.” That might, in turn, jump-start the regeneration of damaged nervous tissue, he added.”
For the full article, click here.