Neuroengineers at MIT have created an implantable fuel cell that generates electricity from the glucose present in the cerebrospinal fluid that flows around your brain and spinal cord.
Neuroengineers at MIT have created a implantable fuel cell that generates electricity from the glucose present in the cerebrospinal fluid that flows around your brain and spinal cord. In theory, this fuel cell could eventually drive low-power sensors and computers that decode your brain activity to interface with prosthetic limbs.
The glucose-powered fuel cell is crafted out of silicon and platinum, using standard semiconductor fabrication processes. The platinum acts as a catalyst, stripping electrons from glucose molecules, similar to how aerobic animal cells (such as our own) strip electrons from glucose with enzymes and oxygen. The glucose fuel cell products hundreds of microwatts (i.e. tenths of a milliwatt), which is a surprisingly large amount — it’s comparable to the solar cell on a calculator, for example. This should be more than enough power to drive complex computers — or perhaps more interestingly, trigger clusters of neurons in the brain. In theory, this glucose fuel cell will actually deprive your brain of some power, though in practice you probably won’t notice (or you might find yourself growing hungry sooner…)
Scientists claim brain memory code cracked, demonstrate a plausible mechanism for encoding synaptic memory in microtubules
Despite a century of research, memory encoding in the brain has remained mysterious. Neuronal synaptic connection strengths are involved, but synaptic components are short-lived while memories last lifetimes. This suggests synaptic information is encoded and hard-wired at a deeper, finer-grained molecular scale.
In an article in the March 8 issue of the journal PLoS Computational Biology, physicists Travis Craddock and Jack Tuszynski of the University of Alberta, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff of the University of Arizona demonstrate a plausible mechanism for encoding synaptic memory in microtubules, major components of the structural cytoskeleton within neurons.
Microtubules are cylindrical hexagonal lattice polymers of the protein tubulin, comprising 15 percent of total brain protein. Microtubules define neuronal architecture, regulate synapses, and are suggested to process information via interactive bit-like states of tubulin. But any semblance of a common code connecting microtubules to synaptic activity has been missing. Until now.
That’s where this study begins to tie together loose ends seen in prior research. Previous data have suggested that the high levels of stress hormones associated with child maltreatment can damage the hippocampus, which may in turn affect people’s ability to cope with stress later in life. In other words, early stress makes the brain less resilient to the effects of later stress. “We suspect that [the reductions we saw are] a consequence of maltreatment and a risk factor for developing PTSD following exposure to further traumas,” the authors write."
Maia Szalavitz, “How Child Abuse Primes the Brain for Future Mental Illness”
This hits pretty close to home. It wasn’t until I had a therapist that said I was displaying symptoms of PTSD and I was treated for those symptoms that I started making progress.
Just a few years ago, I wasn’t nearly as emotionally stable as I am now.
Brain activity decoded to play back heard words - The brain’s representation of speech can be read out, decoded and reconstructed to play back words that a person is hearing, reports a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley
The Guardian - Brian Pasley and his colleagues recorded neural representations of speech sounds directly from the brains of conscious neurosurgical patients and used a computational model to reconstruct them accurately enough for individual words to be recognizable. Here’s my news story about it, which includes an audio file of the word reconstructions, and here’s a podcast interview with Pasley and senior author Bob Knight.
The study involved taking recordings from a part of the brain called Wernicke’s area, at the back of the left temporal lobe, which is involved in speech comprehension. Several years ago, another research team used the same technique to probe the neural mechanisms of speech production. They recorded from another speech centre called Broca’s area, which is located further forward, and revealed new details about its function. Below is what I wrote about that study at the time.
Major Depressive Disorder linked to connectivity dysfunctions across emotional/cognitive circuitry in the brain
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a severely debilitating illness characterized by sadness and an inability to cope. Not only does it affect a person’s ability to concentrate and make decisions, it also alters their ability to experience pleasurable emotion, and instead prolongs negative thoughts and feelings. New research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show aberrant connectivity in depressed brains.
Researchers from Stanford University compared the fMRI scans of women who were resting (but still awake). Half of the women were diagnosed with depression at the time of the scan and the other group consisted of women who did not currently have, nor had ever had, severe depression.
fMRI measures changes in blood flow and by overlaying images of depressed and unaffected brains, a number of differences came to light. The images showed that the depressed had decreased connectivity between several key regions of the brain responsible for emotional behaviour, learning, memory and decision making.
Daniella Furman explained, “In addition to decreased connectivity between emotion processing regions of the brain, we found that depression was linked to an increase in connectivity between the dorsal caudate and an area of the prefrontal cortex. Deep within the brain, the caudate is thought to be involved in learning, motivation, and emotion while the prefrontal cortex at the front of the head is involved in maintaining goals and likely regulating emotional behaviour. Together, these regions may act to filter out irrelevant thoughts or actions.”
She continued, “Greater connectivity between the dorsal caudate and prefrontal cortex might reflect the inability of the depressed to update their working memory and, as a result, sustains negative thoughts. In fact we found evidence for a parallel increase in tendency to ruminate on bad thoughts.”
Interesting article, I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder twice, once in my teens and again when I was in my early 30’s.
I’m now in remission and have learned how to “manage” it, but it’s fascinating to see that it may have to do with something physical in the brain.
The brain learns through changes in the strength of its synapses — the connections between neurons — in response to stimuli. Now, in a discovery that challenges conventional wisdom on the brain mechanisms of learning, UCLA neuro-physicists have found there is an optimal brain “rhythm,” or frequency, for changing synaptic strength. And further, like stations on a radio dial, each synapse is tuned to a different optimal frequency for learning.
The actual “workings” of the brain have always been so interesting to me…
— Ray Kurzweil in The Singularity is Near, referencing Roska and Werblin’s article in Nature ‘Vertical Interactions Across Ten Parallel, Stacked Representations in the Mammalian Retina’ (March 29, 2001)
A while back I wrote a post titled “If you hate yourself who is the “self” that you hate” where I was musing about neuroscience and how the “self” arises in the brain, and while it is interesting how all of these processes and different parts of the brain work together to form a cohesive sense of identify, recently, I started thinking a lot about how we can apply techniques in day to day life utilizing the knowledge that a cohesive identity is really not much more than a manifestation of memories, emotions reactions as well as a number of other bio-chemical processes occurring in the brain at the same time.
I often hear the term “wrapped in thought”, or “in my head”, in these instances maybe we are experiencing an internal monolog, or perhaps we are wrapped up in a memory along with the emotions associated with that memory, maybe going through scenarios and predicting outcomes based of past experiences and feelings associated with those experiences.
A good deal of us (myself included) have a habit of letting our thoughts rule us, that is, a memory can trigger an emotion and suddenly we are feeling blue or a stressful situation can trigger memories of previous stressful situations and suddenly it snowballs into a full blown “shitty mood” or even worse depression.
We all have these “gut” or “knee jerk” reactions to situations and stimuli, whether it’s internal stimuli (thoughts, memories, and associated emotions) or external stimuli (people, situations). These all work together to make who you “are” as a person, everyone reacts to various situations in different ways, while one person may get angry or frustrated in a particular scenario, another might become sullen or withdrawn under the same circumstances.
This is because somewhere under our awareness our brain is making all these reactions and split second decisions, for example, a person who is angry all the time might have found that early in life reacting with anger intimidated the people around them and they were able to get desirable results or reactions out of it. The same could be said for someone who becomes blue or sullen at every little thing life throws at them, perhaps when they were young, when they expressed these types of feelings a parent or friend showed them sympathy and over time this became an automatic response.
As I stated earlier, often these examples happen below the threshold of our awareness, something makes us angry, or certain situations make us uncomfortable, though we’re not sure why we just know we react that way.
The same could be said for the stereotypes and prejudices we hold, and we all hold them, no matter how bad we want to tell our selves that we don’t, and again many of these exist below the threshold of our awareness, even many of our fears and desires are this way.
A good majority of people simply exist, that is, they live their lives on these knee jerk reactions, these “programmed” behaviors. We all know people who seem to make the same mistakes over and over, or seem like they always get into the same messes or situations.
I’m guilty of this myself, and was for most of my life, I simply existed, almost like I was living on instincts, emotions, and pre-programmed behaviors based on past experiences and results I got from reacting certain ways in certain situations.
But what if you were to step back and look at your thought process, and I mean really analyze it.
I’ve tried to make a habit of looking at my thoughts as an outside observer, by doing this you can start to see the connection between reactions, thoughts, memories and emotions.
It might sound like in doing this you would be over thinking or second guessing yourself constantly, but I’ve found that what happens is, at first, it’s difficult, you still want to get wrapped up in your thoughts, but if you observe a thought objectively, if you observe the feelings or emotions associated with it, you start to become much more aware of what exactly is going on in your head.
It takes practice, and I’ve actually found meditation to be a great exercise for this, almost in the same way you jog or lift weights to keep your body healthy, setting apart even five minuets a day and observing your thoughts as they come up, and not judging yourself or getting wrapped up in the associated emotions can exercise your mind for better mental health.
After a while you learn to think outside your self, when you feel a gut reaction to something (be it positive or negative) you can observe the associated thoughts and emotions that go along with that reaction and start to understand why you behave the way you do in an objective manner, that is, you don’t judge yourself or tell yourself it’s “good” or “bad” to think or feel a particular way in whatever situation your in, but you are aware of it, aware of what is going on in your head.
I’ve found this a way to remain cool-headed in almost any situation any more and not let myself sweat small things or get wrapped up in the “whys” or “hows” when things go wrong and instead assess the situation and the events along with the thoughts and emotions associated with the decisions that lead to a particular situation.
This way, if we remain ever mindful of what is going on internally, we can begin to control our thoughts and not let our thoughts control us, when we realize we’re feeling down you can assess why instead of letting it spiral out of control, the same could be said for anger, guilt, or any other negative emotion, mind you, it’s okay to feel these things, I’m not saying you should suppress them, but you should be aware of why you are feeling that way, experience it, and then let it pass, always observing your feelings and thoughts as an objective third party.
I’ve found since I have been doing this, that I have greater peace with myself, am far less emotionally reactive, and am able to use logic much more effectively.