A mere month ago, locked-in patients were given the opportunity to communicate via a computer interface. Now, researchers are using nerve therapy to revive the consciousness of patients in a persistent vegetative state.
The vagus nerve, which the treatment targeted, connects the brain to almost all the vital organs in the body, running from the brain stem down both sides of the neck, across the chest and into the abdomen. In the brain, it is linked directly to two regions known to play roles in alertness and consciousness.
The study, led by French scientists, brought a 35-year-old man out of PVS after being unresponsive for nearly 15 years. He can now track objects with his eyes and even turn his head when asked. Head of study Angela Sirigu believes the research can provide hope for families of locked-in patients.
“Personally I think it’s better to be aware, even if it’s a bad state, to be conscious of what’s happening. Then you can have a decision if you want to go on or if you want [euthanasia].”
At the very least, those in a locked-in state can be in control, which eliminates the nightmare of muscle loss.
Not everyone who has walked through the beautiful pueblos of Spain knows that the country is named after rabbits. Likewise, you may have revelled in the sun-kissed beaches of Maldives, not knowing that the natives called their place a garland of islands. A beautiful name for a beautiful place, really. In an awesomely nerdy project that indulges our interest in travel, the Australian company Credit Card Compare created a map with the literal meaning of all the country names in the world.
“Learning the etymology – the origin of words – of countries around the world offers us fascinating insight into the origins of some of our favourite travel destinations and the people who first lived there,” the company says. Zooming in on continents and regions, from Europe to South America and Africa, the map offers a different perspective.
Varied reactions sprung up online, ranging from pure fascination to a personal need to verify the facts and study further, but one thing is for sure: the company’s research provides us with valuable insight to see the places we have been and the places we have yet to be in a new light.
“The interest has been enormous far beyond Australia because of some of the unexpected names. People are contacting us with their positive feedback and reasons for some corrections to one or two names. We plan to release even high-def downloads suitable for big poster-sized prints.”
A while ago, I wrote about the many different ways you can maximize your weekend. It could be difficult—though definitely not impossible!—to cram an exhilarating getaway in that two-day window. But sometimes, when you cannot go out there yet and travel, relaxing at home and making discoveries about the places you dream to explore could suffice. Make yourself a hot chocolate or a mojito, cozy up, and start with this map.
Do you want to hear astronauts themselves talk about the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon, the adventures of planet protection officers against alien microbes, and other real stories that could have come from science fiction books but definitely didn’t? You might want to check out NASA’s official website for their fantastic podcast.
The podcast features plenty of astronauts reliving their greatest accomplishments and talking about their rigorous training. Recent episodes bring you audio from inside the Orion, the capsule that NASA is developing to carry a crew of four astronauts into deep space, and along Scott Tingle’s path from test pilot to astronaut.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center launched “Houston, We Have a Podcast” last July 2017 and has since released more than 40 episodes on its official site. The cleverly-titled podcast is revitalized every week, which means you only have to wait that long to get your new fill of amazing space-related content.
The show overflows with the voices of the engineers, researchers and mission control flight directors who develop and test NASA’s most complex technology and protect astronauts during their flights. There’s historical information on pioneering missions and space explorers, too.
While on the way home from work, shopping at the grocery, or making dinner, you might want to relive your childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. Thanks to the podcast form, it has never been this contemporary and accessible.
The past few years have seen an increase in various research studies about women’s health that have truly been a long time coming. One example is New Delhi’s move to proliferate biodegradable sanitary pads which not only addresses women’s reproductive needs but also the needs of our environment.
Recently, a new study led by Diana Kuh from University College London in the United Kingdom looked at how the late onset of menopause may benefit the memory of women later in their lives. By using data from 1,315 women, they found out that women whose menopause occurred naturally and later in life scored higher on the memory assessment tests that they conducted.
Kuh comments on the findings, saying, “The difference in verbal memory scores for a 10-year difference in the start of menopause was small — recalling only one additional word, but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later.”
However, she adds, “More research and follow-up are needed to determine whether that is the case.”
The study’s scope also included other aspects about the women’s health like whether they were taking hormone replacement therapy, whether they had a hysterectomy, their cognitive ability since childhood, as well as social factors like their education and line of work.
Kuh and her colleagues conclude: “Our findings suggest lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during the menopause transition, may be associated with verbal memory, consistent with evidence from a variety of neurobiological studies.”
Of course, I agree with Dr. Kuh’s statement. Further research is definitely necessary. I also think, as seen in the recently-won fight for equal pay like in Nordic countries such as Iceland, that perhaps more and more institutions and organizations would see the importance of studying and addressing women’s concerns, as more and more women around the world push further for their rights.
More than half of it has not yet passed, but 2018 already seems to be a great year for zoological findings. There is the sudden resurfacing of a previously extinct insectivore in Australia, there is the identification of a new type of exploding ant in Borneo, and now the first scientific expedition to the Indian Ocean yields at least 11 previously undiscovered species of deep-sea creatures.
The expedition is a collaboration between the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. The team collected over 12,000 specimens from 63 sites in the two weeks that they stayed in the coasts of West Java.
“This is a part of the Indian Ocean that has never been sampled for deep-sea animals so we really didn’t know what to find,” Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at NUS and chief scientist for the Singapore team, told AFP. “We were very surprised by the findings.”
From the specimens, they were able to identify 800 species from families of jellyfish, molluscs, crabs, fish, worms, and others. The 11 newfound deep-sea creatures include a crab nicknamed “big ears” for the ear-shaped plate that covers its eyes, a hermit crab with green eyes, a zebra-striped orange lobster, and many others.
The team has yet to sort, analyse and catalogue the entire collection, but fully expect more new species to emerge — the reason the crustaceans were so quickly picked up is because the expedition included experts in crabs and shrimps.
The scientists from both Singapore and Indonesia are expected to categorize and study further the samples they collected until they are ready to release their results, targeting a 2020 publishing date. Come to think of it, two years is a very short time, relative to the hundreds and hundreds when these deep-sea creatures were previously unknown to science.
Kids these days are ditching Playstations for programming tools, priding themselves on being the smartest generation yet. However, there are some who prefer going back to basics. Classmates bullied 8-year-old Sophia Spencer for her obsession with bugs. The young bug lover got back at her tormenters, co-writing a paper in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
“I really thought loving bugs wasn’t the best hobby,” [said Sophia] “But after I realized bugs are for girls I thought to myself, ‘Well, I think I should start loving bugs again, because just because people say they’re weird and gross doesn’t mean I shouldn’t like them.’”
This kid is more self-aware than I am. Sophia’s passion inspired mom Nicole to contact the Entomological Society of Canada for advice. The group tweeted Spencer’s plea, garnering replies from bug enthusiasts all over the world. Eventually, Ph.D. candidate Morgan Jackson invited Sophia to help compose a scientific thesis promoting women in science.
“It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs,” she wrote. “It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers.”
Sophia’s contribution to a cool scientific thesis at age 8 is living proof that one’s interests are never age nor gender-specific. So a word to parents — encourage your children’s passions, even when it seems “weird” or “gross” or “not for boys/girls.” The era we live in nurtures a plethora of possibilities, and so should you.
With the destigmatization of mental illness in a digital playing field, many are turning to the Internet for treatment. Apps like Koko allow patients to seek help virtually, and now many can use DIY kits to self-diagnose. More alarming cases may call for medication, but a U.K. research team thinks the psychedelic ayahuasca plant may be able to treat depression.
“The psychedelic state induced by ayahuasca often makes users reflect on personal concerns and memories and produces intense emotions,” note Dr. [Will] Lawn and colleagues. “These effects are highly valued by ayahuasca users who characterize the drug experience as similar to a psychotherapeutic intervention.”
The brew does contain addictive compounds but proved in last year’s Global Drug Survey to be psychologically beneficial. Furthermore, users tended not to gravitate towards alcohol.
“Recent research has demonstrated ayahuasca’s potential as a psychiatric medicine,” [Lawn] adds, “and our current study provides further evidence that it may be a safe and promising treatment.”
As a purely observational study, Lawn and his team will have to commit to (possibly years) of additional research about the plant’s potential to treat depression. While their analysis has been the most in-depth to date, controlled trials make for a safe bet. The world could use another upper.
The age of dinosaurs has long come and gone, yet miraculously, their bones have remained intact. Millions of years later, paleontologists have uncovered major finds such as pterosaur eggs in China. Nobody thus far has their sight set on a real-life Jurassic Park, but the discoveries keep on coming. Smack dab in the core of the Sahara desert, the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology has dug up the perfectly preserved fossils of the Mansourasaurus shahinae.
Mansourasaurus helps us address long standing questions about Africa’s fossil record and palaeobiology – what animals were living there, and to what other species were these animals most closely related?”
The talk of the town 80 million years prior, the herbivore was roughly the length of a London double-decker bus. The creature likely donned a long neck, much like the well-known brontosaurus. The discovery is a milestone for researchers in Africa, where it is difficult to uncover dinosaur residue.
“This was the Holy Grail – a well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in Africa – that we paleontologists had been searching for for a long, long time.”
The Mansoura team is confident it’ll stumble into even grander findings. With a landmark achievement like this, I wouldn’t be too surprised!
Yet to conjure up a cure for cancer, researchers are relying mainly on radiation therapy and implant technology to treat patients. Dietitians are even promoting unusual superfoods such as avocados, whose husks can treat harmful diseases. However, a breakthrough by Moderna may soon see individualized vaccines on the market.
With the right combination of letters, Moderna says it can hijack a cell’s protein-making mechanisms to create a drug within the body. If it works, mRNA could have many applications: The company also has programs for infectious diseases, cardiovascular disorders and rare diseases.
Testing the vaccine on a single patient, the research has a lot to prove. Moderna’s current tester vial is a result of meticulous work arranging DNA based on target proteins. While it seems promising, there are still a lot of risks to consider.
“The tumor has all kinds of tricks to fight back,” said Greg Lizee, an associate professor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center who specializes in melanoma. “Cancers can reduce targets on the surface or secrete nasty stuff that’s toxic for the immune system.”
To play it safe, Moderna is experimenting with patients who are already clear of tumors. Though the stakes are high, the research may be worth (literally) a shot.
Current technology such as implantable batteries are opening doors for enhancing the human body. On the other end of the spectrum, engineers are working on artificial intelligences capable of honing skills humans aren’t. To practice building more human-like robots, scientists at Harvard and MIT created a soft muscle that can lift 1,000 times its own weight.
The simple objects are constructed out of metal or plastic “skeletons” that are covered in either a liquid or air, and then sealed in plastic or fabric “skins.” The muscle pulls taught when a vacuum is created inside the skin, and goes slack when the vacuum is released.
The invention, inspired by traditional Japanese origami, are highly durable and easy to make. In fact, developers claim it takes only 10 minutes and less than a dollar to produce a single muscle. The secret to their resilience lies in a simple concept: folding and pressure.
“Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don’t expand when they’re operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body,” [said] Daniel Vogt, a research engineer at the Wyss Institute.
Looks like muscular robots may be a lot less squishy that we pictured.