People can control a robotic arm with only their minds

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have made a major breakthrough that allows people to control a robotic arm using only their minds. The research has the potential to help millions of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases.

The study is published online today in Scientific Reports, a Nature research journal.

"This is the first time in the world that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant," said Bin He, a University of Minnesota biomedical engineering professor and lead researcher on the study. "Just by imagining moving their arms, they were able to move the robotic arm."

The noninvasive technique, called electroencephalography (EEG) based brain-computer interface, records weak electrical activity of the subjects' brain through a specialized, high-tech EEG cap fitted with 64 electrodes and converts the "thoughts" into action by advanced signal processing and machine learning.

Eight healthy human subjects completed the experimental sessions of the study wearing the EEG cap. Subjects gradually learned to imagine moving their own arms without actually moving them to control a robotic arm in 3D space. They started from learning to control a virtual cursor on computer screen and then learned to control a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in fixed locations on a table. Eventually, they were able to move the robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in random locations on a table and move objects from the table to a three-layer shelf by only thinking about these movements.

All eight subjects could control a robotic arm to pick up objects in fixed locations with an average success rate above 80 percent and move objects from the table onto the shelf with an average success rate above 70 percent.

"This is exciting as all subjects accomplished the tasks using a completely noninvasive technique. We see a big potential for this research to help people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases to become more independent without a need for surgical implants," He said.

The researchers said the brain-computer interface technology works due to the geography of the motor cortex -- the area of the cerebrum that governs movement. When humans move, or think about a movement, neurons in the motor cortex produce tiny electric currents. Thinking about a different movement activates a new assortment of neurons, a phenomenon confirmed by cross-validation using functional MRI in He's previous study. Sorting out these assortments using advanced signal processing laid the groundwork for the brain-computer interface used by the University of Minnesota researchers, He said.

The robotic arm research builds upon He's research published three years ago in which subjects were able to fly a small quadcopter using the noninvasive EEG technology.

"Three years ago, we weren't sure moving a more complex robotic arm to grasp and move objects using this brain-computer interface technology could even be achieved," He said. "We're happily surprised that it worked with a high success rate and in a group of people."

He anticipates the next step of his research will be to further develop this brain-computer interface technology realizing a brain-controlled robotic prosthetic limb attached to a person's body or examine how this technology could work with someone who has had a stroke or is paralyzed.

In addition to Professor He, who also serves as director of the University of Minnesota Institute for Engineering in Medicine, the research team includes biomedical engineering postdoctoral researcher Jianjun Meng (first author); biomedical engineering graduate student Bryan Baxter; Institute for Engineering in Medicine staff member Angeliki Bekyo; and biomedical engineering undergraduate students Shuying Zhang and Jaron Olsoe. The researchers are affiliated with the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering and the Medical School.

The University of Minnesota study was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the University of Minnesota's MnDRIVE (Minnesota's Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy) Initiative funded by the Minnesota Legislature.

The first-in-human clinical trial targeting Alzheimer's tau protein

So far, many of the antibody drugs proposed to treat Alzheimer's disease target only the amyloid plaques. Despite the latest clinical trial that is hailed as our best chance in the quest for treating AD, all later phase trials have failed with many causing severe side effects in the patients, such as abnormal accumulation of fluid and inflammation in the brain. One of the reasons for side effects, many speculate, is due to the antibody directing a reaction towards normal amyloid present in blood vessels or simply releasing beta-amyloid caught in the vessel wall.

The authors of the study have developed a vaccine that stimulates the production of an antibody that specifically targets pathological tau, discovering its "Achilles' heel." It is able to do this because healthy tau undergoes a series of changes to its structure forming a new region that the antibody attacks. This new region (the "Achilles' heel"), while not present in healthy tau, is present in diseased tau early on. Therefore, the antibody tackles all the different varieties of pathological tau. In addition to this important specificity, the antibody is coupled to a carrier molecule that generates a considerable immune response with the added benefit that it is not present in humans, thus avoiding the development of an immune reaction towards the body itself.

Side effects have included a local reaction at the site of injection. This skin reaction is thought to occur due to the aluminum hydroxide, an adjuvant used in vaccines to enhance the body's own antibody production. No other serious secondary effects were directly related to the vaccine. Overall, the safety of the drug and its ability to elicit an immune response were remarkable.

While many trials against Alzheimer's disease stubbornly continue to target amyloid, our study dares to attack the disease from another standpoint. This is the first active vaccination to harness the body's ability to produce antibodies against pathological tau. Even though this study is only a phase 1 trial, its success so far gives the authors confidence that it may be the answer they are looking for to halt the progress of this devastating disease.


World first MRI study sheds light on heart damage during kidney dialysis

Experts in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and kidney disease have carried out the first ever scans to study the heart function of kidney patients while they are having dialysis treatment.

People with kidney failure need regular dialysis to remove fluid and waste products from their blood, but this process can cause falls in blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the heart. Over time this can cause long-term damage to the heart.NOTTI

Research at The University of Nottingham was undertaken to investigate stress on the heart during kidney dialysis and to compare two different types of dialysis in this regard: standard haemodialysis (HD) and hemodiafiltration (HDF), a process that removes more fluid during treatment but with additional replacement fluid being given to the patient.

Experts from the University's Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (SPMIC) and the Centre for Kidney Research and Innovation (CKRI) carried out MRI scans on 12 kidney dialysis patients who were each allocated to receive both standard haemodialysis (HD) and HDF in a random order.

The study found significant cardiovascular effects with both standard haemodialysis and HDF, but no differences between the two. Results demonstrate that cardiac MRI can be a vital tool for evaluating future improvements to dialysis treatment.

Professor of Physics, Sue Francis, said: "This is the first time that MRI has been used to look at heart function while the kidney patient is actually undergoing dialysis. There were several hurdles to overcome to achieve this. We had to set up a dialysis machine in our MRI research centre, change the metal needles that go into the patient to non-magnetic silicone ones, extend and insulate the lines that connect the patient to the dialysis machine and position the equipment using our knowledge of the magnetic fields in the MRI unit."

Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), Maarten Taal, said: "Using this unique set-up we were able to monitor multiple cardiovascular measurements while dialysis was taking place in the patients. We measured how many litres of blood were pumped per minute by the left ventricle of the heart, how well the heart muscle was able to contract, blood flow in the coronary artery which supplies the heart muscle and myocardial perfusion to check the efficiency of blood flow to the capillaries or tiny blood vessels in the heart muscle."

"Interestingly, we found all measures of systolic contractile function fell during both standard haemodialysis and haemodiafiltration with partial recovery after dialysis. All patients showed some degree of left ventricular dysfunction and blood flow to the small capillaries in the heart muscle decreased significantly during both types of treatment. Our observations confirm the need for interventions to reduce the negative impact of dialysis on the heart."

Having successfully tested this method, the research team is now aiming to test the effects of other dialysis treatments using MRI.

'Vaccine Against HIV Closer To Reality', Say Researchers

Melbourne: In a significant progress towards the development of a vaccine against HIV, scientists have developed a new approach to help the immune system actively fight the virus in the body.

For the first time, researchers showed that a combined approach - using a common cold virus to introduce a vaccine into the body, as well as an injection of a DNA-based vaccine - may help protect against HIV in the gut and bodily cavities.

"With sexual activity being one of the primary methods of HIV transmission, it is necessary to try to protect those parts of the body that are most likely to encounter the virus first," said Branka Grubor-Bauk, from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"A possible reason why previous HIV vaccine trials have not been successful is because of this lack of a front-line protection," Mr Grubor-Bauk said.

The laboratory studies, conducted so far in mice represent an important step forward in attempts to introduce a first line of defence against HIV at the site of infection.

"In mice, we delivered a rhinovirus (or common cold virus) inside the nose, and this virus had been altered to include HIV proteins," Mr Grubor-Bauk said.

"At the same time, the mice also received an injection into the skin containing a DNA-based vaccine. This approach resulted in very specific responses in the immune system," she said.

"This vaccine approach encompasses two different arms of the immune system: white blood cells that attack the HIV virus, and specific antibodies that recognise and shut down HIV-positive cells," she added.

"There is an element of HIV known as Tat that helps the virus to replicate quite rapidly," said Eric Gowans, professor at University of Adelaide.

The antibodies inhibit the Tat effect, preventing HIV from replicating itself, Mr Gowans added.

"Overall, we found that infection was considerably reduced in the mice we studied," he said.

The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

'Back to the Future' inspires solar nanotech-powered clothing

Marty McFly's self-lacing Nikes in Back to the Future Part II inspired a UCF scientist who has developed filaments that harvest and store the sun's energy -- and can be woven into textiles.

The breakthrough would essentially turn jackets and other clothing into wearable, solar-powered batteries that never need to be plugged in. It could one day revolutionize wearable technology, helping everyone from soldiers who now carry heavy loads of batteries to a texting-addicted teen who could charge his smartphone by simply slipping it in a pocket.

"That movie was the motivation," Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, a nanotechnology scientist at the University of Central Florida's NanoScience Technology Center, said of the film released in 1989. "If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies -- that's the cool thing."

The research was published Nov. 11 in the academic journal Nature Communications.

Thomas already has been lauded for earlier ground-breaking research. Last year, he received an R&D 100 Award -- given to the top inventions of the year worldwide -- for his development of a cable that can not only transmit energy like a normal cable but also store energy like a battery. He's also working on semi-transparent solar cells that can be applied to windows, allowing some light to pass through while also harvesting solar power.

His new work builds on that research.

"The idea came to me: We make energy-storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?" Thomas said.

Thomas, who holds joint appointments in the College of Optics & Photonics and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, set out to do just that.

Taking it further, he envisioned technology that could enable wearable tech. His research team developed filaments in the form of copper ribbons that are thin, flexible and lightweight. The ribbons have a solar cell on one side and energy-storing layers on the other.

Though more comfortable with advanced nanotechnology, Thomas and his team then bought a small, tabletop loom. After another UCF scientists taught them to use it, they wove the ribbons into a square of yarn.

The proof-of-concept shows that the filaments could be laced throughout jackets or other outwear to harvest and store energy to power phones, personal health sensors and other tech gadgets. It's an advancement that overcomes the main shortcoming of solar cells: The energy they produce must flow into the power grid or be stored in a battery that limits their portability.

"A major application could be with our military," Thomas said. "When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they're walking in the sun. Some of them are carrying more than 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It is hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available."

There are a host of other potential uses, including electric cars that could generate and store energy whenever they're in the sun.

"That's the future. What we've done is demonstrate that it can be made," Thomas said. "It's going to be very useful for the general public and the military and many other applications."

November’s supermoon will be bigger than it has been since 1948

November’s full moon is special. Not only is it a supermoon — which appears larger than a “regular” full moon — it will be the closest such moon to Earth since January 1948. We won’t see the full moon this close again until Nov. 25, 2034, according to NASA.

In the middle of November, we savor the splendor of a full moon. With any luck, this awe-inspiring moon will lure people outside to breathe the crisp air of the autumnal night sky, spark people to hold hands and spur interest in relishing the heavens.

The moon officially becomes full on Monday at 8:52 a.m. — it won’t be visible on the East Coast at the exact moment of fullness, but it will on the West Coast.

Since the moon’s orbit around Earth is an elliptical shape, there are times when our lunar companion is closest to Earth. This is called perigee. This month, the perigee occurs Nov. 14 at about 6 a.m. — within two hours of the moon becoming officially full — making this fun event an extra-super, perigee full moon.

Astrologer Richard Nolle defined a supermoon in 1979, but the term has really taken off in the past few years. Sometimes it seems as if every moon is a supermoon. Nolle said that a supermoon is a new or full moon that occurs when the moon is within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.

The distance between Earth and the moon can range from 221,208 miles at its closest possible point to 252,898 miles at its farthest. That’s a difference of nearly 32,000 miles. This month, it gets close at 221,524 miles between Earth and the moon — just 316 miles from its nearest possible location.

The supermoon isn’t just a fun sight for photographers and skywatchers — it has an actual impact on the coastline. Every year from November through February, the highest tides — called “king tides” — sweep onto the shores during full moons. This is due to the combination of gravity from the moon and sun being the closest to Earth as they will be all year. The tides get even higher during “supermoons” simply because the moon is closer to Earth.

On Sunday afternoon, the nearly-full moon rises at 4:43 p.m. in Washington, while the sun sets at 4:55 p.m. The following morning, the moon sets at 6:36 a.m. — so if you scoot out of bed around 5 a.m., you’ll see the moon low in the western sky plump and full. The full moon rises Monday evening at 5:30 p.m., so look for it close to the eastern horizon.

For any location in the United States or abroad, the Naval Observatory provides rise and set times for the moon and sun.

In October, NASA said that “the perigee full moon can be as much as 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than an apogee full moon.” The NASA team goes on to explain, “Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full moon looks much like any other.”

In other words, for the human eye, it is difficult to perceive the difference between a supermoon and any other.

The next perigee full moon occurs Dec. 14 — the third such moon in an October-November-December lunar trifecta. After that, there will be a perigee full moon on Jan. 1-2, 2018 — when the moon and the Earth will be 221,559 miles apart.

FIHAV 2016 Exhibits Farmacuba Export Products

Havana, Nov 4 (Prensa Latina) Farmacuba has been exhibiting export products in the context of the 34th Havana International Fair, FIHAV 2016, the largest commercial event in Cuba and the Caribbean, which ends today in Havana.

One of the products is immunomodulator Biomoduline T, a medicine with an animal origin, composed of specific Thymus fractions, the head of the Farmacuba's marketing group, Nely Cubillas, told Prensa Latina.

The medicine, produced by the National Center of Bio-Preparations (BioCen), is very useful for slowing down some aging processes, the official of the exporting and importing Cuban company of pharmaceutical products, said.

The other products, produced by the Placental Histotherapy Center, range from hair conditioners, polyactive shampoo, dermotrophic cream, bioactive dermal soap, to epidermal photoprotective gel, she stated.

Cubillas stressed that the Farmacuba export portfolio is composed of about 350 products covering generic drugs such as analgesics, anesthetic antipyretics, antiallergics, anticonvulsants, disinfectants, antineoplastics, among others.

  • Published in Cuba

First International Convention on Science, Technology and Innovation

The challenges of Social Sciences in the current context of change is one of the main subjects of discussion at the First International Convention on Science, Technology and Innovation.

The event, which began on Monday, October 31st, at the Conference Center in Havana, will feature teacher, Marta Muñoz, from the Latin American Social Sciences Institute, among the speakers.

Brazilian specialist Carlos Horta, of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, will present a participatory research paper on the Social and Solidarity Economy.

The 14th International Congress of Information, INFO 2016, another of the events being held at the convention, will also include presentations and lectures by specialists from Austria, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Cuba.

More than 1,000 delegates from several countries are involved in the First International Convention on Science, Technology and Innovation, which ends tomorrow. The event comprises a comprehensive scientific program with 10 events, 750 papers and a exhibition fair.

The event is sponsored by the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

  • Published in Cuba
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