Company Blog & Industry News

11 May, 2017

The trailblazing visionaries who recently announced new ventures in neuroscience

"We have very little access to our own brains, limiting our ability to co-evolve with silicon-based machines in powerful ways" - Mark Zuckerberg, Apr 2017

"Over time, I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence." - Elon Musk, Feb 2017

1 May, 2017

How science fares in the U.S. budget deal

How science fares in the U.S. budget deal

Congress has finally reached a deal on spending bills for the 2017 fiscal year, which ends on 30 September. House of Representatives and Senate leaders announced last night that they expect lawmakers to vote this week on an agreement that wraps together all 12 appropriations bills that fund federal operations. For the past 7 months, the government has been operating under a continuing resolution that froze 2017 spending at most agencies at 2016 levels and generally prevented them from starting new programs. The new deal allows agencies to operate normally within the constraints of the spending plans, assuming that President Donald Trump signs the legislation (as is expected). It also averts a shutdown of the government that would have occurred next weekend if Congress failed to act in time.

26 April, 2017

UT Dallas Researchers Investigate Technique to Accelerate Learning [Video]

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Approach May Make It Easier to Acquire Complex Skills in Short Amount of Time

Researchers at the Texas Biomedical Device Center (TxBDC) at The University of Texas at Dallas have been awarded a contract worth up to $5.8 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to investigate a novel approach to accelerate the learning of foreign languages.

The contract is part of DARPA's Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program, which seeks to advance the pace and effectiveness of a specific kind of learning -- cognitive skills training -- through precise activation of peripheral nerves, which in turn can strengthen neural connections in the brain.

Targeted Plasticity from UT Dallas on Vimeo.

"Military personnel are required to utilize a wide variety of complex perceptual, motor and cognitive skills under challenging conditions," said Dr. Robert Rennaker, Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering, director of the TxBDC and chairman of the Department of Bioengineering.

"Mastery of these difficult skills, including fluency in foreign language, typically requires thousands of hours of practice," said Rennaker, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

DARPA's TNT program aims to develop an optimized strategy to accelerate acquisition of complex skills, which would significantly reduce the time needed to train foreign language specialists, intelligence analysts, cryptographers and others.

Rennaker and his colleagues at the TxBDC will focus on developing an approach that uses vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) during training to specifically reinforce neural networks that are involved in learning a particular task.

VNS is an FDA-approved method for treating various illnesses, such as depression and epilepsy. It involves sending a mild electric pulse through the vagus nerve in the neck. When stimulated, the vagus nerve affects the brain, where it boosts the release of chemicals called neuromodulators. These chemicals facilitate synaptic plasticity, a process in which the connections between brain cells change and strengthen during learning.

"Imagine you're struggling to learn something new, like multiplication tables or how to hit a golf ball. When you get it right, when that light bulb comes on, this system is being activated," Rennaker said. "By stimulating the vagus nerve during the learning process, we're artificially releasing these chemicals to enhance those connections active during learning."

In the DARPA project, the aim is to accelerate learning of foreign languages by stimulating the vagus nerve during specific tasks.

"DARPA is approaching the study of synaptic plasticity from multiple angles to determine whether there are safe and responsible ways to enhance learning and accelerate training for skills relevant to national security missions," said Doug Weber, TNT program manager at DARPA.

Over the past several years, researchers at the TxBDC have developed techniques to pair VNS with traditional rehabilitation to enhance recovery from an injury, an innovation they call Targeted Plasticity Therapy (TPT). In preliminary clinical studies, their technique has been shown to restore movements, reduce pain, increase feeling, improve memory and possibly speed up learning.

"This new project is focused on understanding if TPT can be used to accelerate learning in non-injured individuals," Rennaker said. "If successful, this approach could benefit not only those that need to rapidly learn a new language but also those with learning impediments or conditions such as autism or brain injuries."

Dr. Michael Kilgard, Margaret Fonde Jonsson Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and associate director of the TxBDC, is the principal investigator.

"We believe that we will be able to substantially increase the rate of language learning. With VNS, we may be able to improve on the brain's natural ability to learn," Kilgard said. "We're trying to march forward and make new technologies that aren't currently available. I think it's exciting."

In addition to Rennaker and Kilgard, other co-principal investigators on the project are Dr. Seth Hayes, assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering; Dr. Sven Vanneste, associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences; and Dr. Diana Easton, clinical professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Also participating are Dr. Jane Wigginton from UT Southwestern Medical Center and Dr. Beverly Wright from Northwestern University.

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Learn more about implantable devices & human augmentation here 

Why the Future of Medical Things is the Future of Healthcare

Source: Eureka Alert: The Global Source for Science News

26 April, 2017

DARPA Wants to Hack Your Brain to Make You Learn Faster

If the brain is just a bunch of wires and circuits, it stands to reason that those components can simply be re-wired in order to create a better, smarter us. At least, that’s the theory behind a new project from the military’s secretive DARPA research branch announced on Wednesday, which aims to enhance human cognitive ability by activating what’s known as “synaptic plasticity.”

21 April, 2017

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy: How IT Can Curb Cluster Headaches, Other Health Woes

The Food and Drug Administration approved on April 18 a handheld vagus nerve stimulation device for treating episodic cluster headaches.

18 April, 2017

Facebook Is Working on a Brain Interface That Lets You "Communicate Using Only Your Mind"

Building a Better Brain

In case you missed it, Facebook’s annual developer conference started today. At the event, CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed key details about where the company is going next, specifically focusing on what Facebook is working on in relation to bots, virtual reality, augmented reality, and new communication methods (such as advances they are working on in Messenger).

17 April, 2017

Kaiser Permanente Dramatically Diminishes Patient’s Tremors

For Richard Williams, the past 20 years have not been easy.  He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor in 2004. Through the years, his symptoms grew progressively worse.

7 April, 2017

Deep brain stimulation may reduce severe Tourette’s syndrome

An experimental technique reduces the tics, or involuntary movements and vocal outbursts, associated with severe Tourette's syndrome in young adults, a study published Friday found.

The surgical technique, called thalamic deep brain stimulation (DBS), sends electrical impulses to a specific area of the brain that reduces the tics, according to the study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. The finding adds to the growing body of evidence about the safety and effectiveness of deep brain stimulation, which might eventually lead the Food and Drug Administration to approve the treatment for Tourette's syndrome, according to the researchers.

27 March, 2017

Elon Musk launches Neuralink, a venture to merge the human brain with AI [video]

Rockets, cars, and now brain chips

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is backing a brain-computer interface venture called Neuralink, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company, which is still in the earliest stages of existence and has no public presence whatsoever, is centered on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence. These enhancements could improve memory or allow for more direct interfacing with computing devices.

24 March, 2017

I Have a Computer Chip in My Brain That Reads My Thoughts

The electrode is part of a system that could help people with paralysis bypass their injuries and reanimate their limbs. 

I've always been fascinated with the promise of computers. Because of that, I make it a point to get the latest and greatest technology. Even as a kid, I was the one in the family who would set up our new electronics and computers. It's this lifelong passion that helped lead me to becoming a pioneer in bionic technology. Right now, I'm the only person on the planet who has a special computer chip implanted in my brain that can read my thoughts and send those signals through a port in my skull out to a computer, which can then send that information back to my body and make my body do stuff.

For the past three years, I've been using this groundbreaking technology, called NeuroLife, to bypass a spinal injury that left me with quadriplegia. Although I'm paralyzed from the chest down, when I'm hooked up to the computer, and the computer is connected to a special sleeve wrapped around my forearm, I can use my hands to pick up and put things down. The technology reanimates my arm and allows me to control it with my mind, similar to the the way I moved before I had my accident.

The accident happened in 2010, during my freshman year at Ohio University in Athens. A few days after my final exams, I headed out to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, for a brief vacation with my girlfriend at the time and some friends. I remember sitting behind the wheel on the nine-hour drive, thinking about all the fun we were going to have and relishing in the fact that we were going to spend a few days just kicking back and letting our hair down. When we finally arrived, we headed straight for the ocean to enjoy the waves.

I was so excited to be there that I was the first person to get into the water, even though it was pretty cold. I dove headfirst into a wave like I had done a million times before. But this time, the waves pushed me down, and the water below wasn't very deep. I hit my head on a sandbar. Immediately, I knew something was wrong because I couldn't get up out of the water. Thankfully, I wasn't by myself. My friends pulled me onto the shore.

At first, I was really optimistic. I thought that I'd be back doing whatever I wanted in about six weeks. I didn't really get a clear diagnosis until the morning after the accident. But when I did, it was pretty bleak. I was a quadriplegic: They said I could move my arms around a little bit, but I wouldn't be able to do much else. They said I would need help with everything, from getting dressed and eating to drinking or turning on the lights. "This is what it's going to be like for the rest of your life," they told me. That really hit home. But I took it as a challenge. I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to get as strong as I could and make my life the best that it could be in spite of my injury.

 

First, I had to relearn every aspect of my life to adapt to my paralysis. I did outpatient therapy with Ohio State University in Columbus because the campus was only 20 minutes from my parent's house. With support from the doctors there, I was able to start doing more for myself than initially expected. After a lot of work, I could eat on my own, I could control a wheelchair, and I could even drive a car.

But I realized that eventually the therapy that was helping me so much would have to end, due to my insurance. So I had to look for other options. I started asking my doctors, "What are some other ways for me to get therapy and continue getting better?" That led me to doing research studies that would enable me to continue therapy without having to rely on support from my insurance. These studies also exposed me to some of the most advanced technological advances in the world today.

Ohio State University doctors in the midst of a deep-brain implant surgery that is similar to the one Ian went through. Photo by Andrew Cagle

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