Researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute had another idea. They knew a gene called Tbx18 is normally activated during the sinoatrial node’s development, when an embryo is forming. So they set out to add Tbx18 into a functioning, fully grown heart. To do it, they inserted the code for this gene into a virus, which they then inserted into the hearts of guinea pigs. The infected hearts beat according to this newly formed pacemaker, Eduardo Marbán and colleagues report in Nature Biotechnology. It also worked in a Petri dish.
The team used ventricular cells, one of three main types of heart cells (along with pacemaker cells and atrial cells). The infected cells changed their appearance, taking on a distinctive tapered shape, and this lasts even after the Tbx18 has faded away. That suggests it’s a permanent structural change, which means this could be a lasting treatment for diminished sinoatrial cells.
“This technology thus represents a promising alternative to electronic pacing devices,” Marbán et al. write. Longer-term experiments are still needed, but the work so far is promising, they say.
Startup Interaxon has announced that it will ship a $199 headset called the Muse next spring. It will let people use their brainwaves to directly control videogames and other computing operations.
MIT’s Technology Review reports advances in genome sequencing in several areas. Most applicable to ApplySci is the melding of mind and machine. Their coverage follows:
“The melding of mind and machine was also big this year. Scientists in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, demonstrated that a brain implant could replace some cognitive function in primates, which could one day help people with brain damage. On the flip side, two research groups published the first accounts of quadriplegic people using brain implants to control robotic limbs. The implants recorded the participants’ intentions to move, which were translated by a computer into instructions for a robotic arm. The idea is that one day people with severe paralysis or amputations could use such neural prosthetics at home to help with the tasks of daily life.
Brain electronics were also implanted into Alzheimer’s patients this year in an attempt to slow a disease that has so far evaded pharmaceutical treatment. The urgency for treatment is growing, but the community still doesn’t know what sets into motion the cascade of molecular events that robs people of their memory and thinking skills. With better diagnostic tools and the discovery that there are warnings decades before symptoms, scientists are turning to treating patients with a genetic predisposition for the disease before they start having symptoms. Perhaps this will be the key to treatments in future years. ”
MIT Technology Review, December 24, 2012
A recent Royal Philips Electronics survey found that consumers believe web-enabled, mHealth and mobile apps are part of their health care solutions and key to living long lives. While about half of Americans (49 percent) are comfortable with symptom checker technologies or home-based vital sign monitors automatically sharing information with their doctor, more than one third of those surveyed believe technology that allows one to monitor his/her own health is now the key to living a long life.
Philips is developing unique healthcare technology solutions that combine superior clinical expertise with deep human insights.
IBM published its annual report, this year focusing on the five basic senses. Highlighted future abilities of computers include:
-the ability to identify distinctive image features, foregoing the need for tags
-the development a sense of taste
-smelling computers that detect explosives in the public and cancer in our bodies
-touch sensitivity, allowing us to feel textures
Esteemed futurist Ray Kurzweil has joined Google as Director of Engineering. His focus will be machine learning and language processing, and will lead to advances in networks, data centers and algorithms.
“I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Google to work on some of the hardest problems in computer science so we can turn the next decade’s ‘unrealistic’ visions into reality,” Kurzweil said.
The market for brain health technology will surpass $1 billion by the end of 2012, and is set to grow at a brisk thereafter, to between $4 and $10 billion by 2020.
Technologies in demand include computerized Web-based and mobile cognitive assessments, cognitive training and cognitive behavioral therapies, and biometrics-based monitoring and brain training tools that measure physiological responses such as heart rate variability and electroencephalography.
A new device will let scientists create complex patterns of activity within the brain using optogenetics. The goal is to boost the amount of information and control that current systems deliver. It could also give more flexibility to optogenetics based neural prostheses.
As we approach 2013, the following trends continue to spawn companies, investment, and technologies:
- The proliferation of personalized mobile health technologies.
- The maturation of the Big Data ecosystem in health care.
- The rise of health startup accelerators.
- The emergence of health care exchange and alternative care delivery platforms.
The Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network (Spaun) is a computer model of the human brain built by Professor Chris Eliasmith and colleagues of the University of Waterloo in Canada. It comprises around two and a half million virtual neurons organized into functional groups rather like real neurons in regions of the human brain associated with vision, short-term memory, and so on. (The human brain has roughly 100 billion neurons.)