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Better memory through electricity

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation found to boost memory and mental performance of laboratory mice; may lead to treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s
March 1, 2016

Transient increase in intracellular Ca2+ during tDCS initiates molecular cascades leading to persistent changes in chromatin structure of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These include the phosphorylation of CREB, its binding to BDNF promoter I and recruitment of CREB/CREB-binding protein (CBP). CBP, in turn, promotes H3 acetylation at lysine 9 (H3K9ac) acetylation of BDNF (specifically at promoter I). As a result, stimuli such as long-term potentiation (LTP) induction protocol in slices or learning and memory in vivo are more effective in promoting transcription of BDNF previously primed by anodal tDCS. (credit: Maria Vittoria Podda et al./Scientific Reports)

Researchers at Catholic University Medical School in Rome have boosted the memory and mental performance of laboratory mice by transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) and identified the molecular trigger for the improvement.

A noninvasive technique for brain stimulation, tDCS is applied using two small electrodes placed on the scalp, delivering short bursts of low-intensity electrical currents.

After exposing the mice to single 20-minute tDCS sessions, the… read more

‘Fingerprinting’ and neural nets could help protect power grid, other industrial systems

Scenario: Terrorists have just hacked into the U.S. electrical grid and sent false data or malicious commands to destroy a remote electrical substation, turning off power to a city...
March 1, 2016

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Georgia Tech researchers have developed a device fingerprinting technique that could improve the security of the electrical grid and other industrial systems.

“The stakes are extremely high; the systems are very different from home or office computer networks,” said Raheem Beyah, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The networked systems controlling the U.S.… read more

Should you trust a robot in emergencies?

Subjects show blind obedience to a broken-down robot in a experiment with a mock fire
March 1, 2016

Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Research Engineer Paul Robinette adjusts the arms of the “Rescue Robot,” which was built to study issues of trust between humans and robots. (credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

In a finding reminiscent of the bizarre Stanford prison experiment, subjects in an experiment blindly followed a robot in a mock building-fire emergency — even when it led them into a dark room full of furniture and they were told the robot had broken down.

The research was designed to determine whether or not building occupants would trust a robot designed to help them evacuate a high-rise… read more

How predicting Shakespeare’s writing could improve our understanding of natural language

March 1, 2016

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A Google natural language understanding research group led by Ray Kurzweil is building software systems that can understand natural language at a human level. The goal is to understand and interpret meanings of spoken or written language.

One key to achieving that understanding is establishing context, suggest researchers Chris Tar; Marc Pickett, PhD.; and Brian Strope, PhD., on the Google Research Blog.

For example, take the… read more

Futurists worldwide celebrate ‘Future Day’ March 1st

To be hosted online by the Millennium Project
February 29, 2016

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Today, March 1, five international futurist organizations will conduct a 24-hour global online conversation about the world’s potential futures, challenges, and opportunities. The objective is to support humanity in thinking about a more positive future.

Already started in New Zealand, the conversation is moving across the world with people entering and leaving the conversation whenever they want. The five organizations (The Millennium Project; the Association of Professional Futurists; “Science,… read more

Engineered swarmbots rely on peers for survival

Could be used as a safeguard to stop genetically modified organisms from escaping into the wild
February 29, 2016

Design and modeling of safeguard control in microbial swarmbots. Design concept. Bacteria are engineered to exhibit collective survival. Bacteria confined in the microbial swarmbot can maintain a high local density and survive. Cells escaping the swarmbot will have a reduced density due to a larger extra-capsule environment. If their density drops below their survival threshold, they will die, leading to safeguard control. (credit: Shuqiang Huang et al./Molecular Systems Biology)

Duke University researchers have engineered microbes as “swarmbots” designed to only survive in a crowd.

The system could be used as a safeguard to stop genetically modified organisms (created with tools such as CRISPR) from escaping into the surrounding environment.

Collective survival

“Other labs have addressed this issue by making cells rely on unnatural amino acids for survival or by introducing a ‘kill switch’ that… read more

Engineered ‘mini-organs’ produce insulin in mice

Harvard scientists are now working on "mini-stomachs" with insulin-producing cells as a diabetes treatment
February 29, 2016

A section of the gastric mini-organ engineered to produce insulin-secreting cells, with immunofluorescent staining. This image shows many induced insulin-producing cells (red) present in the mini-organ. Gastric stem and progenitor cells (green) are detected at the base of the glands. Cell nuclei labeled in blue. (credit: Chaiyaboot Ariyachet)

Harvard University scientists have made major progress in dealing with a long-standing hurdle in treating diabetic patients.

People with diabetes have high blood sugar because their pancreatic beta cells (which store and release insulin) are not producing enough insulin. In type 1 diabetes (“juvenile diabetes”), the beta cells are even destroyed. In most cases, physicians treat type 1 diabetes with insulin injections, but people with complications may… read more

A practical solution to mass-producing low-cost nanoparticles

February 26, 2016

Nanoparticles form in a 3-D-printed microfluidic channel. Each droplet shown here is about 250 micrometers in diameter, and contains billions of platinum nanoparticles. (credit: Richard Brutchey and Noah Malmstadt/USC)

USC researchers have created an automated method of manufacturing nanoparticles that may transform the process from an expensive, painstaking, batch-by-batch process by a technician in a chemistry lab, mixing up a batch of chemicals by hand in traditional lab flasks and beakers.

Consider, for example, gold nanoparticles. Their ability to slip through the cell’s membrane makes them ideal delivery devices for medications to healthy cells, or fatal… read more

Quantum dot solids: a new era in electronics?

February 26, 2016

Connecting the dots: Playing 'LEGO' at the atomic scale to build atomically coherent quantum dot solids. (credit: Kevin Whitham, Cornell University)

Just as the single-crystal silicon wafer forever changed the nature of communication 60 years ago, Cornell researchers hope their work with quantum dot solids — crystals made out of crystals — can help usher in a new era in electronics.

The team has fashioned two-dimensional superstructures out of single-crystal building blocks. Using a pair of chemical processes, the lead-selenium nanocrystals are synthesized into larger crystals, then fused together… read more

The case of the silent synapses: Why are only 20% of synapses active during neurotransmission?

Unknown information coding in the brain?
February 26, 2016

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Columbia University scientists recently tested a new optical technique to study how information is transmitted in the brains of mice and made a surprising discovery: When stimulated electrically to release dopamine (a neurotransmitter or chemical released by neurons, or nerve cells, to send signals to other nerve cells), only about 20 percent of synapses — the connections between cells that control brain activity —… read more

Rapidly building artificial arteries for testing drugs

Could also help research in creating replacement arteries for patients
February 26, 2016

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Duke University researchers have developed a rapid new technique for making small-scale artificial human arteries for use in a system for testing drugs — one that is more accurate and reliable than using animal models. That means promising drugs could be better tested before entering human trials.

The new technique produces the artificial arteries ten times faster than current methods and the arteries are functional.

The… read more

Regenerative medicine scientists ‘print’ replacement tissue

February 24, 2016

Completed ear and jaw bone structures printed with the Integrated Tissue-Organ Printing System (credit: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center)

Using a sophisticated, custom-designed 3D printer, regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have proved that it is feasible to print living tissue structures to replace injured or diseased tissue in patients.

Reporting in Nature Biotechnology, the scientists said they printed ear, bone and muscle structures. When implanted in animals, the structures matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels. Most importantly,… read more

New electronic stethoscope and app diagnose lung conditions

February 24, 2016

Based on an analysis of the characteristics of respiratory sounds, the Respiratory Sounds Visualizer app generates this diagnostic chart. The total area in red represents the overall volume of sound, and the proportion of red around each line from the center to each vertex represents the proportion of the overall sound that each respiratory sound contributes. (credit: Shinichiro Ohshimo et al./Annals of Internal Medicine)

The traditional stethoscope has just been superseded by an electronic stethoscope and an app called Respiratory Sounds Visualizer, which can automatically classify lung sounds into five common diagnostic categories.* The system was developed by three physician researchers at Hiroshima University and Fukushima Medical University in collaboration with Pioneer Corporation.

The respiratory specialist doctors recorded and classified lung sounds of 878 patients, then turned these… read more

A ‘magic wand’ to simplify network setup and improve security

February 24, 2016

Dartmouth College Professor David Kotz demonstrates a commercial prototype of 'Wanda' imparting information such as the network name and password of a WiFi access point onto a blood pressure monitor. (credit: Dartmouth College)

Ever just want to wave a magic wand instead of dealing with a complex home network setup?

Well, Dartmouth College computer science professor David Kotz has figured out how to do just that. Called “Wanda,” it’s a small rod that makes it simple to link a new device (such as a blood-pressure meter or smartphone) to a WiFi network by just pointing the rod at the device.… read more

Cancer cells in 3D

What researchers miss on glass slides
February 22, 2016

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Cancer cells don’t live on glass slides. Yet the vast majority of images related to cancer biology come from the cells being photographed on flat, two-dimensional surfaces — images sometimes used to draw conclusions about the behavior of cells that normally reside in a more complex environment.

Now a new high-resolution microscope, presented (open access) February 22 in Developmental Cell, makes it possible to visualize cancer cells in 3D and… read more

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