Elon Musk said what?

❝ In many ways, Tesla — Elon Musk’s lightning rod of a car company — is the perfect allegory for modern Silicon Valley. The ongoing psychodrama of personalities drowns out the amazing technical achievements that are happening all around us…

As usual, this has been a real “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” kind of week for Tesla. It had a disastrous earnings report card, and Elon keeps creating all the wrong sorts of headlines. But in the middle of this maelstrom, the company announced a new chip that is going to eventually become the brain for their electric car. This chip is not just any chip — it will be able to make sense of a growing number of sensors that allow the car to become better and better at assisted (if not fully automated) driving…

❝ Tesla’s module is based on two AI chips — each one made of a CPU, a GPU, and deep learning accelerators. The module can deliver 144-trillion operations per second, making it capable of processing data from numerous sensors and other sources and running deep neural network algorithms. Ian Riches, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, told EE Times that this is “effectively the most powerful computer yet fitted to a production vehicle.” And Tesla is going to make a next-generation module that will be more powerful and will consume a lot less power.

As usual, Om Malik provides more depth, analysis and understanding than most of his peers. Please, RTFA, gather in another chunk of insight into Elon Musk’s apparently endless journey to reinvent the automobile along with any other software and hardware he bumps into in his young life.

Women’s brains scan as younger than calendar age – men scan as older

❝ Women tend to outlive men and stay mentally sharp longer, and a new study out Monday could explain why: female brains appear on average about three years younger.

❝ A machine-learned algorithm showed that women’s brains were on average about 3.8 years younger than their chronological ages.

And when compared to men, male brains were about 2.4 years older than their true ages…

❝ Scientists hope to find out if metabolic differences in the brain may play a protective role for women, who tend to score better than men on cognitive tests of reason, memory and problem solving in old age.

Evolution is a trip, eh?

Doper sprayed used brain preserving-formaldehyde on weed to stoke his smoke

A central Pennsylvania man was charged…after police say he sprayed fluid used to embalm a human brain on marijuana that he then smoked.

State police in Carlisle charged 26-year-old Joshua Lee Long with abuse of a corpse and conspiracy.

Court records indicate Long’s aunt contacted detectives on June 21 after finding a human brain in a department store bag under a porch while cleaning out a trailer.

Long allegedly told her during a phone conversation from the Cumberland County jail that he used the formaldehyde-soaked pot to get high…

Court records indicate a coroner concluded the brain was real and that Long supposedly named it Freddy.

The coroners who examined the brain believe it was most likely a stolen teaching specimen, according to the arrest affidavit.

Eeoough!

Stem cell treatment for Parkinson’s moves closer to reality

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In a major breakthrough for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, researchers working with laboratory rats show it is possible to make dopamine cells from embryonic stem cells and transplant them into the brain, replacing the cells lost to the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the gradual loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical that, among other things, helps regulate movement and emotional responses.

There are no cures for Parkinson’s disease; there are drugs that ease symptoms, but none that slow it down. Deep brain stimulation can alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s in certain patients.

Human embryonic stem cells – precursor cells that have the potential to become any cell of the body – are a promising source of new dopamine cells, but they have proved difficult to harness for this purpose.

Now, a breakthrough study from Lund University in Sweden shows it is possible to get human embryonic stem cells to produce a new generation of dopamine cells that behave like native dopamine cells when transplanted into the brains of rats…

The team says the new cells show all the properties and functions of the dopamine neurons that are lost in Parkinson’s disease, and the potentially unlimited supply sourced from stem cell lines opens the door to clinical application…

Study leader Malin Parmar says – “These cells have the same ability as the brain’s normal dopamine cells to not only reach, but also to connect to their target area over longer distances. This has been our goal for some time, and the next step is to produce the same cells under the necessary regulations for human use.”

The team hopes the new cells will be ready for testing in human trials in about 3 years.

Fortunately these researchers don’t have to worry about the direction of their research being interrupted by elections. Scandinavia has their share of idjit parties; but, so far none of those espousing government by Christian Sharia has shown any sign of coming close to legislative dominance.

Anyone who has provided care for someone close, a family member, knows what a debilitating disease Parkinson’s becomes. We can only hope this will be one of those breakthroughs that provides a solid medical answer to despair.

Thanks, Mike

“We need sleep. It cleans up the brain”

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A good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. Using mice, researchers showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. These results suggest a new role for sleep in health and disease…

“Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,” said Maiken Nedergaard…a leader of the study.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have wondered why people sleep and how it affects the brain. Only recently have scientists shown that sleep is important for storing memories. In this study, Dr. Nedergaard and her colleagues unexpectedly found that sleep may be also be the period when the brain cleanses itself of toxic molecules.

Their results, published in Science, show that during sleep a “plumbing” system, called the glymphatic system, may open, letting fluid flow rapidly through brain. Dr. Nedergaard’s lab recently discovered the glymphatic system helps control whether cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, flows through the brain.

“It’s as if Dr. Nedergaard and her colleagues have uncovered a network of hidden caves and these exciting results highlight the potential importance of the network in normal brain function,” said Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D….

The results may also highlight the importance of sleep…“We need sleep. It cleans up the brain,” said Dr. Nedergaard.

RTFA for details of testing and discovery. Sleep studies, the rate of expansion of specialized testing and treatment of ailments like sleep apnea surprise and please me. When I did the testing – nine years ago – that resulted in my CPAP sleeping gear I had to drive fifty miles for the overnight hookup. Now, I can send folks who ask me about treatment to a few local choices.

As treatment and experience accumulate a body of data, more and better treatment continues to develop. Science and healthcare have another avenue opened to improve life.

Human head transplants will soon be feasible


Politicians are already pretty good at this

Human head transplants could now be possible using currently available medical techniques, according to an Italian neurosurgeon who thinks he has worked out how it could be done.

In a project proposal published by the medical journal Surgical Neurology International, Dr Sergio Canavero outlines his method for the “Head Anastomosis Venture” – or HEAVEN.

The procedure would involve severing the heads of two human patients simultaneously using an “ultra-sharp blade”, cooling and flushing out the “recipient” head before attaching its new body with an advanced polymer “glue”.

Dr Canavero suggests that the realigning of head and body could also be achieved using “electrofusion”, in an approach not entirely unlike that of Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein.

But the Italian, who works for the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group and has previously published research on whole-eye transplants, says that his project is no fiction, and bases it on a similar experiment on Rhesus monkeys in the 1970s in which the patient survived for eight days…

He says that full and open research on the topic could bear fruit in just two years, and that the first patient should be someone young, with a fully-functioning brain, but suffering from “progressive muscular dystrophies or even several genetic and metabolic disorders”.

Dr Canavero concludes by saying “body image and identity issues will need to be addressed, as the patient gets used to seeing and using the new body”.

Um, OK.

Scientists form new nerve cells — directly in the brain

The field of cell therapy, which aims to form new cells in the body in order to cure disease, has taken another important step in the development towards new treatments. A new report from researchers at Lund University in Sweden shows that it is possible to re-programme other cells to become nerve cells, directly in the brain.

Two years ago, researchers in Lund were the first in the world to re-programme human skin cells, known as fibroblasts, to dopamine-producing nerve cells – without taking a detour via the stem cell stage. The research group has now gone a step further and shown that it is possible to re-programme both skin cells and support cells directly to nerve cells, in place in the brain…

The researchers used genes designed to be activated or de-activated using a drug. The genes were inserted into two types of human cells: fibroblasts and glia cells – support cells that are naturally present in the brain. Once the researchers had transplanted the cells into the brains of rats, the genes were activated using a drug in the animals’ drinking water. The cells then began their transformation into nerve cells.

In a separate experiment on mice, where similar genes were injected into the mice’s brains, the research group also succeeded in re-programming the mice’s own glia cells to become nerve cells…

All in all, the new technique of direct re-programming in the brain could open up new possibilities to more effectively replace dying brain cells in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

Bravo! Some of us could use a few new little gray cells even without any apparent disease. 🙂

Yale study ties fructose to obesity

Fructose, a sweetener found on many food labels, may contribute to weight gain and obesity because it has minimal effect on brain regions that control appetite, a study by Yale University researchers found.

The research, published…in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to compare the human brain’s response to both fructose and glucose, two types of simple sugars used separately and together to sweeten food.

Researchers have long suspected that increased consumption of food flavored with fructose, a substance sweeter to the taste than glucose, may contribute to the U.S. obesity epidemic. The latest study used brain imaging to measure activity after the sweeteners were consumed. It found that only glucose had the ability to reduce blood flow in areas of the brain that regulate appetite, stopping people from wanting to eat more…

The brain requires glucose as a fuel, Robert Sherwin said. When there isn’t enough in the body, it turns on cells to try to get a person to eat more. Once glucose levels rise, the brain turns those cells off. The study found that fructose doesn’t have the ability to operate that off switch, he said.

Jonathan Purnell, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal with colleague Damien Fair, said based on these results people should avoid processed and refined foods and drinks that contain fructose as well as glucose and eat more natural foods to reverse the trend in weight gain.

“It’s not that we are what we eat but what we eat influences what we become,” Purnell said…

Lots of folks talking about the study. It confirms common knowledge among folks who do at least minimal study of nutrition. Still – it’s appropriate to have a legit peer-reviewed source.

A common parasite may be increasing suicide risk among women

Women infected with the Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) parasite, which is spread through contact with cat feces or eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables, are at increased risk of attempting suicide, according to a new study of more than 45,000 women in Denmark…

“We can’t say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies. We plan to continue our research into this possible connection,” says Teodor T. Postolache, M.D., the senior author…a senior consultant on suicide prevention…

About one-third of the world’s population is infected with the parasite, which hides in cells in the brain and muscles, often without producing symptoms. The infection, which is called toxoplasmosis, has been linked to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and changes in behavior…

The T. gondii parasite thrives in the intestines of cats, and it is spread through oocysts passed in their feces. All warm-blooded animals can become infected through ingestion of these oocysts. The organism spreads to their brain and muscles, hiding from the immune system within “cysts” inside cells. Humans can become infected by changing their infected cats’ litter boxes, eating unwashed vegetables, drinking water from a contaminated source, or more commonly, by eating undercooked or raw meat that is infested with cysts. Not washing kitchen knives after preparing raw meat before handling another food item also can lead to infection. Pregnant women can pass the parasite directly to their fetuses and are therefore advised not to change cat litter boxes to avoid possible infection.

The study found that women infected with T. gondii were one and a half times more likely to attempt suicide compared to those who were not infected, and the risk seemed to rise with increasing levels of the T. gondii antibodies. Previous mental illness did not appear to significantly alter these findings…

Dr. Postolache stresses that further research is needed to learn more about the connection between T.gondii and suicide…He notes that one of the strengths of this study was that researchers were able to adjust for various factors, such as prior history of mental illness…not only in the subjects, but also in their parents. They also had access to a tremendous amount of information as a result of Denmark’s multiple registries and health care system, which provides free medical care for residents.

“Is the suicide attempt a direct effect of the parasite on the function of the brain or an exaggerated immune response induced by the parasite affecting the brain? We do not know. In fact, we have not excluded reverse causality as there might be risk factors for suicidal behavior that also make people more susceptible to infection with T. gondii,” Dr. Postolache says. “If we can identify a causal relationship, we may be able to predict those at increased risk for attempting suicide and find ways to intervene and offer treatment.”

Part of the problem posting on blogs about scientific research is that scientists are way too reasonable, too conservative, too cautious to lurch off into sensational conclusions. That this study – and those to follow – has such scary potential is reason enough for my post. And it’s also my responsibility to keep my eyes open for what the good doctor concludes – next.