Posts Tagged ‘Kebmodee’

By James Gallagher

An implant that beams instructions out of the brain has been used to restore movement in paralysed primates for the first time, say scientists.

Rhesus monkeys were paralysed in one leg due to a damaged spinal cord. The team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology bypassed the injury by sending the instructions straight from the brain to the nerves controlling leg movement. Experts said the technology could be ready for human trials within a decade.

Spinal-cord injuries block the flow of electrical signals from the brain to the rest of the body resulting in paralysis. It is a wound that rarely heals, but one potential solution is to use technology to bypass the injury.

In the study, a chip was implanted into the part of the monkeys’ brain that controls movement. Its job was to read the spikes of electrical activity that are the instructions for moving the legs and send them to a nearby computer. It deciphered the messages and sent instructions to an implant in the monkey’s spine to electrically stimulate the appropriate nerves. The process all takes place in real time. The results, published in the journal Nature, showed the monkeys regained some control of their paralysed leg within six days and could walk in a straight line on a treadmill.

Dr Gregoire Courtine, one of the researchers, said: “This is the first time that a neurotechnology has restored locomotion in primates.” He told the BBC News website: “The movement was close to normal for the basic walking pattern, but so far we have not been able to test the ability to steer.” The technology used to stimulate the spinal cord is the same as that used in deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s disease, so it would not be a technological leap to doing the same tests in patients. “But the way we walk is different to primates, we are bipedal and this requires more sophisticated ways to stimulate the muscle,” said Dr Courtine.

Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon from the Lausanne University Hospital, said: “The link between decoding of the brain and the stimulation of the spinal cord is completely new. “For the first time, I can image a completely paralysed patient being able to move their legs through this brain-spine interface.”

Using technology to overcome paralysis is a rapidly developing field:
Brainwaves have been used to control a robotic arm
Electrical stimulation of the spinal cord has helped four paralysed people stand again
An implant has helped a paralysed man play a guitar-based computer game

Dr Mark Bacon, the director of research at the charity Spinal Research, said: “This is quite impressive work. Paralysed patients want to be able to regain real control, that is voluntary control of lost functions, like walking, and the use of implantable devices may be one way of achieving this. The current work is a clear demonstration that there is progress being made in the right direction.”

Dr Andrew Jackson, from the Institute of Neuroscience and Newcastle University, said: “It is not unreasonable to speculate that we could see the first clinical demonstrations of interfaces between the brain and spinal cord by the end of the decade.” However, he said, rhesus monkeys used all four limbs to move and only one leg had been paralysed, so it would be a greater challenge to restore the movement of both legs in people. “Useful locomotion also requires control of balance, steering and obstacle avoidance, which were not addressed,” he added.

The other approach to treating paralysis involves transplanting cells from the nasal cavity into the spinal cord to try to biologically repair the injury. Following this treatment, Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame.

Neither approach is ready for routine use.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-37914543

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

By Richard Gray

Etched with strange pictograms, lines and wedge-shaped markings, they lay buried in the dusty desert earth of Iraq for thousands of years. The clay tablets left by the ancient Sumerians around 5,000 years ago provide what are thought to be the earliest written record of a long dead people.

Although it took decades for archaeologists to decipher the mysterious language preserved on the slabs, they have provided glimpses of what life was like at the dawn of civilisation.

Similar tablets and carved stones have been unearthed at the sites of other mighty cultures that have long since vanished – from the hieroglyphics of the Ancient Egyptians to the inscriptions of the Maya of Mesoamerica.

The stories and details they contain have stood the test of time, surviving through the millennia to be unearthed and deciphered by modern historians. But there are fears that future archaeologists may not benefit from the same sort of immutable record when they come to search for evidence of our own civilisation. We live in a digital world where information is stored as lists of tiny electronic ones and zeros that can be edited or even wiped clean by a few accidental strokes on a keyboard. “Unfortunately we live in an age that will leave hardly any written traces,” explained Martin Kunze.

Kunze’s solution is the Memory of Mankind project, a collaboration between academics, universities, newspapers and libraries to create a modern version of those first ancient Sumerian tablets discovered in the desert. Their plan is to gather together the accumulated knowledge of our time and store it underground in the caverns carved out in one of the oldest salt mines in the world, in the mountains of Austria’s picturesque Salzkammergut. “The main point of what we are doing is to store information in a way that it is readable in the future. It is a backup of our knowledge, our history and our stories,” says Kunze.

Creating a stone “time capsule” may seem archaic in the age where most of our knowledge now floats around the internet cloud, but a slide back into the technological dark ages is not beyond comprehension. The advent of the internet has seen people have more information at their fingertips than at any previous point in human history. Yet the huge repositories of knowledge we have built up are perilously vulnerable.

Ever more information is being stored digitally on remote computer servers and hard disks. How many of us have hard copies of the photographs we took on our last holiday, for example.

The situation gets more serious when we consider scientific papers that are now solely published online. Entire catalogues of video footage from news broadcasters, television and film are stored digitally. Official documents and government papers reside in digital libraries.

Yet a conference of space weather scientists, together with officials from Nasa and the US Government, earlier this year warned of the fragile nature of all this digital information. Charged particles thrown out by the sun in a powerful solar storm could trigger electromagnetic surges that could render our electronic devices useless and wipe data stored in memory drives.

Such storms are a real threat, and they happen relatively regularly. A report produced by the British Government last year highlighted that severe solar storms appear to happen every 100 years.

The last major coronal mass ejection to hit the Earth, known as the Carrington event, was in 1859 and is thought to have been the biggest in 500 years. It blew telegraph systems all over the world and pylons threw sparks. In the age of the internet, such an event would be catastrophic.

But there are other threats too – malicious hackers or even careless officials could tamper with these digital records or delete them altogether. And what if we simply lose the ability to read this information? Technology is changing so fast that media formats are quickly rendered obsolete. Minidiscs, VHS and the humble floppy disk have become outdated within decades.

Few computers even come with DVD drives now, while giving the current generation of teenagers a floppy disk would leave them flummoxed. If information is stored on one of these formats and the technology needed to access it disappears completely, then it could be lost forever.

Hence the desire to keep a hard copy of our most important documents. Unfortunately, even the more traditional forms of storing information are also unlikely to keep information safe for more than a few centuries. While we have some paper manuscripts that have survived for hundreds of years – and in the case of papyrus scrolls, for thousands – unless they are stored in the right conditions, most disintegrate to dust after a couple of hundred years. Newspaper can decompose within six weeks if it gets wet.

“It is very likely that in the long term the only traces of our present activities will be global warming, nuclear waste and Red Bull cans,” says Kunze. “The amount of data is inflating rapidly, so the real challenge becomes selecting what we want to keep for our grandchildren and those that come after them.”

Which is why Kunze and his colleagues are instead looking further back in time for inspiration, to those Sumerian stone tablets. The Memory of Mankind team hopes to create an indelible record of our way of life by imprinting official documents, details about our culture, scientific papers, biographies, popular novels, news stories and even images onto square ceramic plates measuring eight inches (20cm) across.

This hinges on a special process that Kunze describes as “ceramic microfilm”, which he says is the most durable data storage system in the world. The flat ceramic plates are covered with a dark coating and a high energy laser is then used to write into them.

Each of these tablets can hold up to five million characters – about the same as a four-hundred-page book. They are acid- and alkali-resistant and can withstand temperatures of 1300C. A second type of tablet can carry colour pictures and diagrams along with 50,000 characters before being sealed with a transparent glaze.

The plates are then stacked inside ceramic boxes and tucked into the dark caverns of a salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria. As a resting place for what could be described as the ultimate time capsule, it is impressive. In the right light the walls still glisten with the remnants of salt, which extracts moisture and desiccates the air.

The salt itself has a Plasticine-like property that helps to seal fractures and cracks, keeping the tomb watertight. Buried beneath millions of tonnes of rock, the records will be able to survive for millennia and perhaps even entire ice ages, Kunze believes.

In some distant future after our own civilisation has vanished, they could prove invaluable to any who find them. They could help resurrect forgotten knowledge for cultures less advanced than our own, or provide a wealth of historical information for more advanced civilisations to ensure our own achievements, and our mistakes, can be learned from.

But it could also have value in the shorter term too.

“We are trying to create something that will not only be a collection of information for a distant future, but it will also be a gift for our grandchildren,” says Kunze. “Memory of Mankind can serve as a backup of knowledge in case of an event like war, a pandemic or a meteorite that throws us back centuries within two or three generations. A society can lose skills and knowledge very quickly – in the 6th Century, Europe largely lost the ability to read and write within three generations.”

Already the Memory of Mankind archive contains an eclectic glimpse of our society. Among the information etched into the ceramic plates are books summarising the history of individual countries around the world. Towns and villages have also opted to include their own local histories. A thousand of the world’s most important books – chosen by combining published lists using an algorithm developed by the University of Vienna – will be cut into the coating on the ceramic plates.

Museums are including images of precious objects in their collections along with descriptions of what we have learned about them. The Krumau Madonna – a sculpture dating to the late 14th Century currently sitting in the Museum of Art History in Vienna – is already there, along with paintings by the Baroque artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck.

There are plates featuring pictures of fossils – dinosaurs, prehistoric fish and extinct ammonites – alongside a description of what we know about them. Even our current understanding of our own origins are included, with pictures of one of the earliest examples of sculpture ever found – the Venus of Willendorf.

Much of the material included on the tablets is in German, but there are tablets in English, French and other languages.

A handful of celebrities have also found themselves immortalised in the salt-lined vaults. Baywatch star and singer David Hasselhoff has a particularly lengthy entry as does German singer Nena who had a hit with 99 Red Balloons in the 1980s. Nestled among them is a plate detailing the story of Edward Snowden and his leak of classified material from the US National Security Agency.

The University of Vienna has been placing prize winning PhD dissertations and scientific papers onto the tablets. Included in the archive are plates describing genetic modification and bioengineering patents, explaining what today’s scientists have achieved and how they managed it.

And alongside research, everyday objects like washing machines, smartphones and televisions are also being documented as a record of what life is like today.

The plates also serve as a warning for future generations – with sites of nuclear waste dumps pinpointed so future generations might know to avoid them or to clean them up if they have the technology. Newspapers have been asked to send their daily editorials to provide a repository of opinions as well as facts.

In many ways, the real problem is what not to include. “We probably have about 0.1% of the antique literature yet in the modern world publishing is as easy as posting something on the internet or sending a tweet,” explains Kunze. “Publications about science, space flight and medicine – the things we really spend money on – drown in the mass of data we produce. The Large Hadron Collider produces something like 30 Petabytes of data a year, but this is equal to just 0.003% of annual internet traffic. “A random fragment of 0.1% of our present day data will result in a very distorted view of our time.”

To tackle this, Kunze and his colleagues are organising a conference in November next year to bring scientists, historians, archaeologists, linguists and philosophers together to create a blueprint for selecting content for the project. The team also hope to immortalise glimpses of mundane, everyday life as members of the public are encouraged to create tablets of their own. “We are saving cooking recipes and stories of love and personal events,” adds Kunze. “On one plate, a little girl has included three photographs of her confirmation and written a short bit of text about it. They give a glimpse of everyday life that will be very valuable.”

Preserved tweets

Memory of Mankind is not the only project to face the daunting task of preserving humanity’s accumulated knowledge. Librarians around the world are also looking at the knotty problem of how to save the information from the modern age.

The University of California Los Angeles, for instance, is archiving tweets related to major events and preserving them in their own archives. “We are collecting tweets from Cairo on the day of the January 25th revolution for example,” explained Todd Grappone, associate university librarian. “We are then translating them into multiple languages and saving them in file formats that are likely to be robust for the future. We are only doing it digitally at the moment as we have something like 1,000 cellphone videos from that event alone, but the value of that is enormous.”

Another project, called the Human Document Project, is aiming to record information on wafers of tungsten/silicon nitride. Initially they have been etching them with dozens of tiny QR codes – a type of two-dimensional barcode – which can be read using smartphones, but they say the final disks will hold information written in a form that can be read using a microscope.

Leon Abelmann, a researcher at Twente University in Enschede, the Netherlands, is one of the driving forces behind the project. He says that they are hoping to produce something that will be able to survive for one million years and are now starting to collaborate with the Memory of Mankind. “We would be really happy if we found information left for us by an intelligence that has already been extinct for a million years,” he said. “So we think future intelligent beings will be too. The mere fact that we need to take a helicopter view of ourselves will hopefully make us realise that the differences between us are trivial.”

Buried under a mountain, it may seem unlikely that any future generations would be able to find these tablets. For this reason, Memory of Mankind will has engraved some small tokens with a map pinpointing the archives’ location, which they will then bury at strategic places around the world. Other tokens are being entrusted to 50 holders who will pass them onto the next generation.

To ensure those who do find it can actually read what is in there, the Memory of Mankind team has been creating their own Rosetta Stone – thousands of images labelled with their names and meanings.

All of which gives a hint at the ambition of what they are trying to do. The individuals who unearth this gold-mine of knowledge could be very different from our own. In a few thousand years civilisation may have advanced beyond our reckoning or descended back to the dark ages. Perhaps it will not even be humans who end up uncovering our memories. “We could be looking at some other form of intelligent life,” adds Kunze.

We will never know what those future archaeologists will make of our civilisation when they wipe the dust away from the tablets in thousands of years’ time, but we can hope that like the ancient Sumarians, we will not be forgotten.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161018-the-worlds-knowledge-is-being-buried-in-a-salt-mine

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Written by Honor Whiteman

Anew study has questioned the benefits of opioid painkillers, after finding the drugs might worsen chronic pain rather than ease it.

Study co-leader Prof. Peter Grace, of the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder), and colleagues recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Opioids are among the most commonly used painkillers in the United States; almost 250 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2013 – the equivalent to one bottle of pills for every American adult.

Previous studies have suggested opioids – such as codeine, oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl – are effective pain relievers. They bind to proteins in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract called opioid receptors, reducing pain perception.

Increasing use and abuse of opioids, however, has become a major public health concern in the U.S.; opioid overdoses are responsible for 78 deaths in the country every day.

Now, Prof. Grace and colleagues have questioned whether opioids really work for pain relief, after finding the opioid morphine worsened chronic pain in rats.

Just 5 days of morphine treatment increased chronic pain in rats
According to Prof. Grace, previous studies assessing morphine use have focused on how the drug affects pain in the short term.

With this in mind, the researchers set out to investigate the longer-term effects of morphine use for chronic pain.

For their study, the team assessed two groups of rats with chronic nerve pain. One group was treated with morphine, while the other was not.

Compared with the non-treatment group, the team found that the chronic pain of the morphine group worsened with just 5 days of treatment. What is more, this effect persisted for several months.

“We are showing for the first time that even a brief exposure to opioids can have long-term negative effects on pain,” says Prof. Grace. “We found the treatment was contributing to the problem.”

Another ‘ugly side’ to opioids
According to the authors, the combination of morphine and nerve injury triggered a “cascade” of glial cell signaling, which increased chronic pain.

Glial cells are the “immune cells” of the central nervous system, which support and insulate nerve cells and aid nerve injury recovery.

They found that this cascade activated signaling from a protein called interleukin-1beta (IL-1b), which led to overactivity of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that respond to pain. This process can increase and prolong pain.

The researchers say their findings have important implications for individuals with chronic pain – a condition that is estimated to affect around 100 million Americans.

“The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting. This is a very ugly side to opioids that had not been recognized before.”

Study co-leader Prof. Linda Watkins, CU-Boulder

It is not all bad news, however. The researchers found they were able to reverse morphine’s pain-increasing effect using a technique called “designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drugs” (DREADD), which involves the use of a targeted drug that stops glial cell receptors from recognizing opioids.

“Importantly, we’ve also been able to block the two main receptors involved in this immune response, including Toll-Like receptor 4 (TLR4) and another one called P2X7R, which have both been separately implicated in chronic pain before,” notes Prof. Grace.

“By blocking these receptors, we’re preventing the immune response from kicking in, enabling the painkilling benefits of morphine to be delivered without resulting in further chronic pain.”

He adds that drugs that can block such receptors are currently in development, but it is likely to be at least another 5 years before they are available for clinical use.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/310645.php

Thanks to Kebmnodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

67p-jets
Instruments on the Rosetta spacecraft have detected compounds critical to life, including the amino acid glycine and the element phosphorus, in the shroud of gases surrounding Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

For the first time, scientists have directly detected a crucial amino acid and a rich selection of organic molecules in the dusty atmosphere of a comet, further bolstering the hypothesis that these icy objects delivered some of life’s ingredients to Earth.

The amino acid glycine, along with some of its precursor organic molecules and the essential element phosphorus, were spotted in the cloud of gas and dust surrounding Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the Rosetta spacecraft, which has been orbiting the comet since 2014. While glycine had previously been extracted from cometary dust samples that were brought to Earth by NASA’s Stardust mission, this is the first time that the compound has been detected in space, naturally vaporized.

The discovery of those building blocks around a comet supports the idea that comets could have played an essential role in the development of life on early Earth, researchers said.

“With all the organics, amino acid and phosphorus, we can say that the comet really contains everything to produce life — except energy,” said Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern in Switzerland, the principal investigator for the Rosetta mission’s ROSINA instrument.

“Energy is completely missing on the comet, so on the comet you cannot form life,” Altwegg told Space.com. “But once you have the comet in a warm place — let’s say it drops into the ocean — then these molecules get free, they get mobile, they can react, and maybe that’s how life starts.”

Getting a glimpse

Glycine, one of the simplest amino acids, is usually bound up as a solid, which means it’s difficult to detect from afar, Altwegg said.

While scientists have searched for glycine through telescopes in star-forming regions of the sky, the newly reported detection marks the first sighting of the compound in space. In this case, the orbiting Rosetta was close enough to pick up the glycine released by the comet’s dust grains as they heated up in the sun.

The study is a powerful confirmation of earlier, earth-bound detections of life’s building blocks in comet and meteor material.

“We know the Earth was pretty heavily bombarded both with asteroidal material and cometary material,” said Michael A’Hearn, a comet researcher at the University of Maryland who was not involved in the new study.

“There have been various claims of amino acids in meteorites, but all of them have suffered from this problem of contamination on Earth. The Stardust [samples] — which are from a comet, not an asteroid — are probably the least susceptible to the terrestrial contamination problem, but even there the problem is severe,” A’Hearn told Space.com. “I think they [Stardust] really did have glycine, but this is a much cleaner detection in many ways.”

Cooking up life
Amino acids form the basis of proteins, which are complexly folded molecules that are critical to life on Earth. Altwegg’s team searched for other amino acids around the comet as well, but located only glycine — the only one that can form without liquid water (as in the frigid reaches of space).

The glycine probably didn’t form on the comet itself, Altwegg said, but rather in the broad stretches of dust and debris that made up the solar system before planetary bodies formed.

“The solar system was made out of material which formed in a disk, in a solar nebula,” Altwegg said. “In these clouds, it’s pretty cold, so the chemistry you do there is catalytic chemistry on the dust surfaces. And these very small dust grains [1 micron in size] are very good to lead to organic chemistry. This is also done in the lab.” Earth itself was far too hot for similar delicate amino acids to survive its formation, Altwegg said; only the smallest solar system bodies stayed cold.

So glycine formed during that time could have provided a boost to newly forming life if it was delivered to Earth by comets.

“It’s not that it couldn’t have formed on Earth — it certainly could — it’s just that it didn’t have to,” A’Hearn said. “Basically, the Earth got a head start.”

Other, more complex amino acids require liquid water, and so would have likely formed on Earth itself, Altwegg said. This idea is supported by the fact that Rosetta has not identified any amino acids other than glycine near Comet 67P.

Phosphorus is also vital to life as we know it. Among other things, the element is a key constituent of DNA and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that stores the chemical energy used by cells.

See more at: http://www.space.com/33011-life-building-blocks-found-around-comet.html#sthash.47SrU6BY.dpuf

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.