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Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

Researchers at Boston University have demonstrated a prototype system that wirelessly transmits neural signals from an implanted electrode to a speech synthesizer with a latency of only 50 milliseconds. The electrodes were implanted into a locked-in patient 5 years ago and after 5 months the neurites had grown onto the electrode so that signal patterns could be detected. The volunteer was only able to produce three vowel sounds because only a single three-wire electrode was used, but he was able to reproduce those vowel sounds with up to 89% accuracy. Future implants would access 10 times as many neurons from multiple sites in the ventral premotor cortex  where intended speech patterns are believed to originate.
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From Minnie to Mickey (and all they did was turn off a gene) - Science, News - The Independent

Scientists have discovered that switching off a single gene, FoxL2, causes the ovary cells of adult mice to spontaneously develop into testosterone-producing cells. They speculate that research like this might one day may eliminate the need for surgical removal of the ovaries in gender reassignment treatment; however, much work is needed to determine if the results are applicable to humans.
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Coffee, Tea Might Stave Off Diabetes - US News and World Report

A recent Australian study noted that increased consumption of coffee and tea, with or without caffeine, correlated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Earlier studies had linked coffee consumption to decreased risk of prostate cancer, liver disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease. Unlike previous studies, however, this one discovered that the health benefits of coffee and tea include decaffeinated versions.
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BBC News - Scientists hail robotic hand 'breakthrough'

For one month, Italian scientists demonstrated that a person could control a robotic hand using only neural signals from the nerves in his arm, and was able to perform complex tasks. He was also able to detect sensations in his hand because the link was designed to be two-way. Visit the link to see a video of him controlling the hand.

Also: Crave | Man controls cybernetic hand with thoughts

Edit: Finally found an embeddable link to the video.
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Amino Acid Recipe Could Be Right For Long Life - Science News

A new study into the effects of calorie restriction on the lifespan of fruit flies hints that the key may be the properly balancing nutritional requirements. Lo-cal diets have been shown to reduce fertility because the body response to a shortage of food by directing energy away from reproduction. The study found that increasing the consumption of methionine restored reproductive function. Other scientists are quick to counter that, while interesting, it is not clear how much of this can be carried over into mammalian models, and that maintaining such an amino acid balance may be effectively impossible in mammals.
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Autism and schizophrenia could be genetic opposites - health - 02 December 2009 - New Scientist

Research at Simon Fraser University suggests that autism and schizophrenia may be at opposite ends of the same biological spectrum. The investigated four regions associated with increased risk of either condition and found that autism was associated with the presence of a particular copy-number variant while schizophrenia was associated with the absence of a copy-number variant. They suggest that these results support other studies "...that autism may be caused by overdevelopment of specific brain regions and schizophrenia by underdevelopment...".

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Embryonic development—lost in space? - Research Highlights - RIKEN RESEARCH

Experiments in simulated zero gravity seem to indicate that reproduction in space may be problematic. Fertilization (at least in vitro fertilization) appears to work just as well as at 1G, but after that the rate of successfully reaching viability is significantly reduced. They plan to perform further experiments at other gravitational levels to establish the minimal gravitational limit required for normal reproduction.

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BBC News - Dirt can be good for children, say scientists

San Diego researchers have discovered that Staphylococci, commonly found on the skin, cause the body not overreact with an inflammatory response. The bacteria creates lipoteichoic which keeps keratinocytes, that compose part of the outer layer of skin, from generating an inflammatory response, such as would be experienced if you were exposed to an allergen. According to the researchers, this lends support to the idea that children should be exposed to plenty of dirt so that the staph bacteria to lessen the chance of their developing allergies.

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HowToReadANewsStory_vers03_26Nov08 (PDF document)

Dr. Alice White offers some advice about how to read health-related news articles with an open (but skeptical) mind. Her number one rule: "Don't automatically believe the headline." She lists a few key questions: Are the claims supported, is the story based on a conference paper, was the research performed on humans and, if so, how many, was there a control group, who paid for the study, and does the headline jive with the actual focus of the research.
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Zombie attack would be the death of us: study

University of Ottawa mathematicians used mathematical models of how pandemics spread to determine how well we would handle a zombie outbreak. The conclusion? Not well unless a strategic eradication of zombies in enacted early in the epidemic or, as they put it "Hit hard and hit often". In that case, the epidemic could be broken in as little as 10 days. The scenario assumed that both the living and the "newly dead" could be infected. They also discovered that neither quarantines nor curing the disease would be enough to save humankind.
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IEEE Spectrum: Exoskeletons Are on the March

The Japanese company Cyberdyne (yes, the name is the same as the company that developed the AI chip in the Terminator movies) has demonstrated that their HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb, but another nod to a science fiction movie) was able to use the faint bioelectric signals being sent to the withered leg of a 46 year-old polio victim to drive a robotic limb strapped to the leg. In fact, with repeated use the bioelectric signal strengthened as the patient continued to use the leg, demonstrating that the brain could adapt to make is progressively easier to signal the device. They are currently collecting data on signal strength over time to examine how the brain adapts to regular use of the device.

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Doctors see more cases of 'cellphone elbow'

The newest repetitive strain injury? Cell-phone elbow, caused by spending prolonged periods of time with your elbow flexed.

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Can airport technology halt a pandemic? - tech - 25 May 2009 - New Scientist

At a recent ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) meeting in Montreal, a spin-off company from Belgium presented an acoustic cough detector to detect people with persistent coughs, one of the symptoms of a flu. Once located, the people can be quietly escorted aside to be checked for the virus.  The system can distinguish between a person clearing their throat and an actual cough. In pigs it was able to detect infected swine "82 percent of the time within3 hours of infection."

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Warren Ellis » Your Moment Of Swine Flu Zen

The BBC reports that Jakarta International Airport is using thermal imaging scanners to identify passengers that might have swine flu.

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Pluripotency: Adult Mouse Cells Turned Back To Their Embryonic State

UCSF researchers have used microRNA to convert adult stem cells to pluripotent embryonic-like stem cells. The researchers home that this method will replace using retrovirus and gene-based methods as a safer alternative to generating pluripotent cells from adult stem cells that should minimize the risk of rejection. The method used combination of microRNA and retro-virus-induced genes.
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Girl with Y chromosome sheds light on maleness - life - 09 April 2009 - New Scientist

A 7-year-old girl has Y-chromosome but none of the defects normally associated with it. Instead, doctors believe that she has a mutation in the CBX2 gene of chromosome 17. The gene's function is poorly understood, but they believe CBX2 shuts down SRY which is critical to male sexual development. Mice without CBX2 are normally sterile so time will tell if she will have the same problem.
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Technology Review: Implantable Telescope for the Eye

An implantable telescopic system developed by a US startup has been approved by the US FDA as a treatment for end-stage macular degeneration. The device is implanted into the eye and magnifies the incoming image so that it covers an area of the cornea outside the damaged region.

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Science News Examiner: New discovery may end transplant rejection

Australian researchers have demonstrated, at least on mice, a method for reducing organ rejection rates by increasing the level of regulatory T-cells (Tregs), which has the effect of reducing the immune system response to the new organs. The researchers tested the procedure by implanting "donor" pancreas islet cells into mice, and observed an 80% acceptance rate after more than 100 days. They now hope to extend the research to other organ transplants an, eventually, to humans.
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globeandmail.com: Researcher who received Canadian vaccine healthy after accident

Last month, a German researcher was accidentally exposed to the Ebola virus when a needle she was using to inject mice pierced three layers of protective gloves. Within 48 hours she was treated with a Canadian-made experimental vaccine for the Ebola virus, and 21 days later she was found to be symptom-free. It is not clear, nor may it ever be clear, whether the vaccine worked or whether she was simply not infected in the first place.
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Cultivated ear cells may lead to cure for deafness - health - 02 April 2009 - New Scientist

British scientists were able to create human auditory hair cells and neurons, two components that would be required to treat deafness. The scientists used fetal stems cells, then experimented until they discovered a cocktail that generated auditory hair cells that bend in response to sound waves. They then discovered another cocktail that allowed them to grow the auditory neurons that transmit the signals detected by the auditory hairs to the brain. This discovery means that they can test various methods for regenerating or repairing these celss, and hopefully develop new methods for treating deafness without resorting to cochlear implants. They are now looking for adult stem cells that can be coaxed into creating auditory hairs and neurons so that they can avoid using fetal stem cells.

January 2010

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