Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bipolar Disorder Phenome Database

From Science Daily:

A novel, free, public online database opening this week should greatly speed efforts to find genes linked to increase risk of bipolar disorder. The Bipolar Disorder Phenome Database--a joint project of Johns Hopkins Psychiatry and the National Institute of Mental Health--is the first of its kind, offering detailed descriptions of symptoms and course of disease on more than 5,000 people with bipolar illness, a mood disorder commonly marked by alternating bouts of depression and manic or overexcited behavior.

It's wonderful to see more researchers sharing information in this way. Having access to information is a vital part of research.

They have named their particular branch of research BioinforMOODics.

Drugs in the News

A short summary of interesting articles about drugs and medications in the last few days.

Lithium may promote bone healing: Researchers have described a novel molecular pathway that may have a critical role in bone healing and have suggested that lithium, which affects this pathway, has the potential to improve fracture healing.

Pigeon population control with birth control pills: Happening in Hollywood = Over the next few months a birth control product called OvoControl P, which interferes with egg development, will be placed in bird food in new rooftop feeders.

Marijuana's lung damage: Smoking a single joint of cannabis has the same impact on breathing capacity as up to five cigarettes, according to a New Zealand study published on Monday in a specialist British journal, Thorax.

Maternal smoking bad for baby's blood pressure: Smoking during pregnancy may raise newborn babies' blood pressure, a new Dutch study shows...Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy had an average systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) that was 5.4 points higher than that of babies whose mothers hadn't smoked or been exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fire Eating Class TV segment

Here's the TV segment from our fire eating class with firepixie.

From Louisa's Outdoor Adventures:

Marijuana increases risk of psychosis

Sounds like the data finds a correlation between marijuana and psychosis, but no provable explanations for why this is the case, or whether the marijuana use actually causes the psychosis.

From physorg:
Zammit and colleagues from the University of Bristol, Imperial College and Cambridge University examined 35 studies that tracked tens of thousands of people for periods ranging from one year to 27 years to examine the effect of marijuana on mental health.
They looked for psychotic illnesses as well as cognitive disorders including delusions and hallucinations, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, neuroses and suicidal tendencies. They found that people who used marijuana had roughly a 40 percent higher chance of developing a psychotic disorder later in life. The overall risk remains very low.
"The strongest case is that there are consistencies across all of the studies," and that the link was seen only with psychoses - not anxiety, depression or other mental health problems, he said.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Predicting risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) with hearing tests?

Sounds like a very strange connection, but the preliminary data is intriguing.

The current study is by Dr. Daniel D. Rubens of Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle. His new theory:
It is known that the inner ear contains tiny hairs that are involved in both hearing and vestibular function. Rubens proposes that vestibular hair cells are important in transmitting information to the brain regarding carbon dioxide levels in the blood. He postulates that injury to these cells will disrupt respiratory control, playing a critical role in predisposing infants to SIDS.
From Science Daily:
This is the first time doctors might be able to identify newborns at risk for SIDS by a simple, affordable and routine hearing test administered shortly after birth. In the study, medical records and hearing tests of 31 babies who died from SIDS in Rhode Island were examined and compared to healthy babies. Rhode Island has a particularly robust database of newborn hearing test data.
The SIDS infants in Rubens' study showed a consistent four point lower score in their standard newborn hearing tests, across three different sound frequencies in the right ear, when compared to babies that didn't die from SIDS. Additionally, healthy infants typically test stronger in the right ear than the left. However, in each of the SIDS cases studied, the right ear tested lower than the left, reversing the test results of healthy babies.
If he's right, this will hopefully bring us many steps closer to preventing such a devastating, deadly disease.

Predict and prevent seizures with a brain implant?

A wonderful technology that could significantly improve the quality of life for some of the 2 million people with seizures in the United States. Apparently, 30-40% of those with seizure disorders don't have any control or benefit from medications.

From Science Daily:
Researchers at the Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Center are enrolling patients in a study of the Responsive Neurostimulator System (RNS) made by Neuropace to determine if it is effective in stemming seizures. The system contains a computer chip that detects seizures and then delivers electric current to the brain to stop them.
This part is fascinating:
Patients will also receive a device that is able to scan the chip for information about seizures just by holding a wand over the scalp, he said. The information can then be downloaded by the patient onto a computer and sent via telephone to epilepsy researchers to review.
They are even looking for more participants:

Participants in the RNS study must be from 18 to 70 years of age and meet the following requirements:
have disabling (significant enough to impair functional abilities or day-to-day life activities) motor simple partial seizures, complex partial seizures and/or secondarily generalized seizures; failed treatment with a minimum of two antiepileptic medications; and experienced an average of three or more disabling seizures every 28 days for three consecutive periods prior to enrollment and have no more than two regions that induce seizures in the brain.

For more information or to participate in the study, please call 1-800-Jeff-now, 215-955-4672 or 1-866-904-6630.

People powered 'Crowd Farm'

Pic: The students' test of the Crowd Farm in a train station and public space in Torino, Italy. Graphic / MIT School of Architecture and Planning

A very cool idea. Probably a much bigger initial investment than harvesting solar or wind power, but this is great for reminding us about the cause and effect of our actions.

From physorg:

The so-called "Crowd Farm," as envisioned by James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk, both M.Arch candidates, would turn the mechanical energy of people walking or jumping into a source of electricity. Their proposal took first place in the Japan-based Holcim Foundation's Sustainable Construction competition this year.
A Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby. The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, a device that converts the energy of motion into that of an electric current.
I especially like this idea: And while the farm is an urban vision, the dynamo-floor principle can also be applied to capturing energy at places like rock concerts, too. "Greater movement of people could make the music louder," suggests Jurcyzk.

Brain anatomy correlated to ease of learning a second language

In particular, the size of the left Heschl's Gyrus (HG), a finger-shaped structure in both the right and left side of the brain which contains the auditory cortex, was highly accurate in predicting ease of second language learning.

More details of the studies as explained from Science Daily:
The three studies have identified behavioral, neurophysiologic and, with the current study, neuroanatomic factors which, when combined, can better predict second language learning success than can each single factor alone.
In a behavioral study, Wong's group found that musical training started at an early age contributed to more successful spoken foreign language learning. The study participants with musical experience also were found to be better at identifying
pitch patterns before training.
In a neurophysiologic study -- again with the same participants -- Wong's team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe what parts of brain were activated when participants listened to different pitch tones. They found that the more successful second language learners were those who showed activation in the auditory cortex (where HG resides).
The participants all were native American English speakers with no knowledge of tone languages. In tone languages (spoken by half the world's population), the meaning of a word can change when delivered in a different pitch tone. In Mandarin, for example, the word "mi" in a level tone means "to squint," in a rising tone means "to bewilder" and in a falling and then rising tone means "rice."
As a group - and sometimes in fewer than two or three sessions -- the nine participants predicted on the basis of left HG size to be "more successful learners" achieved an average of 97 percent accuracy in identifying the pseudo words. The "less successful" participants averaged 63 percent accuracy and sometimes required as many as 18 training sessions to correctly identify the words.
I wonder when the HG stops growing, and/or how predictive this is in children or infants?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gesticulating helps learning

From physorg:

Kids asked to physically gesture at math problems are nearly three times more likely than non-gesturers to remember what they’ve learned. In today’s issue of the journal Cognition, a University of Rochester scientist suggests it’s possible to help children learn difficult concepts by providing gestures as an additional and potent avenue for taking in information...
It turned out to have a more dramatic effect than Cook expected. In her study, 90 percent of students who had learned algebraic concepts using gestures remembered them three weeks later. Only 33 percent of speech-only students who had learned the concept during instruction later retained the lesson. And perhaps most astonishing of all, 90 percent of students who had learned by gesture alone—no speech at all—recalled what they’d been taught.
I wonder what percent of that class were kinesthetic learners? Regardless, this seems like an easy enough learning strategy to employ into daily use. However, what would this classroom would look like during an exam, with hands flailing around among perplexed faces? :0

$150 new laptop available now

Move over OPLC, there's an $150 laptop with all the bells and whistles available for purchase now!

Made by Medison, the Celebrity laptop is usable out of the box, with Linux pre-installed.

Key features from their website:
- Intel® Celeron 1.5 GHz CPU
- 14" Widescreen X-bright LCD
- 256 MB Ram memory
- 40 GB Hard Drive
- 802.11g Wireless LAN
- Optimized Linux operating system
- Pre-installed office and multimedia applications

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ketamine may be the key to faster acting antidepressants?

Current antidepressants take an average of 4 to 8 weeks to relieve symptoms of depression.

Researchers have been experimenting with ketamine with interesting results.

Ketamine [from wikipedia] is a dissociative anesthetic for use in human and veterinary medicine. Ketamine has a wide range of effects in humans, including analgesia, anesthesia, hallucinations, arterial hypertension, and bronchodilation.[3] It is primarily used for the induction and maintenance of general anesthesia, usually in combination with some sedative drug. Other uses include sedation in intensive care, analgesia (particularly in emergency medicine), and treatment of bronchospasm. It is also a popular anesthetic in veterinary medicine.

Because of these side effects, it has also become a somewhat popular recreational drug.

Here's the latest from physorg:
A new study has revealed more about how the medication ketamine, when used experimentally for depression, relieves symptoms of the disorder in hours instead of the weeks or months it takes for current antidepressants to work...
Ketamine blocks a receptor called NMDA on brain cells, an earlier NIMH study in humans had shown, but the new study in mice shows that this is an intermediate step. It turns out that blocking NMDA increases the activity of another receptor, AMPA, and that this boost in AMPA is crucial for ketamine’s rapid antidepressant actions. The study was reported online in Biological Psychiatry on July 23, by NIMH researchers Husseini K. Manji, MD, Guang Chen, MD, PhD, Carlos Zarate, MD, and colleagues.
Sounds like it may still be several years down the line, but being able to have antidepressants that take hours instead of months to work would make my job much easier. Seems that we may also have a new mechanism of antidepressant action that focuses on AMPA and the glutamate system(an inhibitory neurotransmitter) instead of serotonin.

Greenbox: Converting car emissions to biofuel

From Reuters:

Dubbed "Greenbox", the technology developed by organic chemist Derek Palmer and engineers Ian Houston and John Jones... [is]a box which they say can be fixed underneath a car in place of the exhaust to trap the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming -- including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide -- and emit mostly water vapor.

The captured gases can be processed to create a biofuel using genetically modified algae.

Through a chemical reaction, the captured gases from the box would be fed to algae, which would then be crushed to produce a bio-oil. This extract can be converted to produce a biodiesel almost identical to normal diesel. This biodiesel can be fed back into a diesel engine, the emptied Greenbox can be affixed to the car and the cycle can begin again.

The process also yields methane gas and fertilizer, both of which can be captured separately. The algae required to capture all of Britain's auto emissions would take up around 1,000 acres.

If this is as advertised, it could be a great tool in slowing global warming.

Writer cramp due to brain abnormalities?

What exactly is writer's cramp? From wikipedia:
Writer's cramp is a form of cramp or spasm that affects certain muscles of the hand and fingers as a result of excessive fine motor activity like writing or playing the piano. It is referred to medically as task-specific focal dystonia of the hand.
From physorg:

People with serious cases of writer’s cramp have brain abnormalities, according to a study published in the July 24, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. People with writer’s cramp had less brain tissue than healthy people in three areas of the brain that connect the senses and movement with their affected hand...

The researchers found that those with writer’s cramp had less grey matter in three areas of the brain: the cerebellum, the thalamus, and the sensorimotor cortex.

At least there are computers, so those with writer's cramp can see if they are any more or less susceptible to carpal tunnel.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Gesture Watch

From Discovery News:

One group of researchers wants to do away with the keyboard altogether. They’ve designed a wristwatch that recognizes hand gestures and uses them for touch-free control of electronic devices such as MP3 players, cell phones, and home appliances. The technology could also be used by a doctor to control a medical device during an operation...
The Gesture Watch has five infrared sensors, four of which sense any hand motion that occurs above the watch. For example, if the user is wearing the watch on his left hand, he can move his right hand over the watch in an up or down, left or right, or circular motion. Different combinations of these movements communicate an action to the watch.

Could be very convenient, but I wonder how often it will be accidentally controlled when in close proximity, say on a crowded subway? Regardless, this is much cooler than rifling thru layers of clothing to find your ipod. I wonder how well it would work through ski gloves? :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Robotic 'Fly on the Wall'

Pic: This tiny robot weighs just 60 milligrams and has a wingspan of three centimeters. It’s the first robot to achieve liftoff that’s modeled on a fly and built on such a small scale. Credit: Robert Wood

Researchers at Harvard have created a robotic fly that could one day be used for covert surveillance and detecting toxic chemicals.
Many have created robotic insects, but Robert Wood's team has created the first one that actually flies. To do this, the team had to develop their own fabrication process to build all the pieces.
Using laser micromachining, researchers cut thin sheets of carbon fiber into two-dimensional patterns that are accurate to a couple of micrometers. Sheets of polymer are cut using the same process. By carefully arranging the sheets of carbon fiber and polymer, the researchers are able to create functional parts.
The entire fabrication process will be outlined in a paper appearing in an upcoming edition of the
Journal of Mechanical Design.
A wonderful project with limitless uses and a brilliant design. DARPA thinks so too, and is one of their sponsors.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How to: Build your own bicycle powered generator

Pic: Lar Hovsepian, 24, of Los Angeles charges her cell phone on a human powered bicycle generator with the help of Brad Whaley at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Friday, April 27, 2007 in Indio, California.

Apparently, several of these were used at the Coachella Music & arts Festival for charging cell phones.

Parts list and instructions are available here. They even have a link to buy from amazon.com .

If you're not up for building it yourself, they also sell already assembled bicycle generators which range from $980 to $1,499.

Buy customized songs, recorded just for you!

Better than a singing telegram, http://www.tailoredmusic.com/ lets you 'give a gift of custom tailored music'.

You can choose from a variety of songs, then customize as much of the lyrics as you would like. Lastly, you can have the artist that sings the sample re-record your personalized version of the song.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Telemedicine: Bluetooth Heart Monitor SMSs your heart attack to the ER

From physorg:

A Bluetooth heart monitor could text your local hospital if you are about to have a heart attack, according to research published today in Inderscience's International Journal of Electronic Healthcare. The device measures electrical signals from the heart, analyses them to produce an electrocardiogram (ECG) and sends an alert together with the ECG by cell phone text message.
They are also exploring the addition of a GPS into this system to be able to locate the patient even faster.

Very cool. Hopefully someday they will have similar devices for sending a diabetic's blood glucose data to their care providers, notify family members when a woman is going into labor, or even find missing children.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Color changeable liquid optoelectronics

Optoelectronics: the study and application of electronic devices that interact with light (wikipedia).

From physorg:

A research team headed by Yadong Yin at the University of California, Riverside(USA) has now shared the secret of their wonderful liquid with the journal Angewandte Chemie: Nanoscopic particles made of tiny magnetic crystals coated with a plastic shell self-assemble in solution to form photonic crystals—semiconductors for light. When a magnetic field is applied, the optical properties of the crystals change, allowing their color to be very precisely adjusted through variation of the strength of the field.

...This response is rapid and fully reversible because the nanocrystals in clusters are so small that they lose their magnetism when the magnetic field is shut off (superparamagnetism). Potential applications for these switchable “optical semiconductors” include novel optoelectronic components for telecommunications, displays, and sensors.

In other words, they made a liquid than can change to any color desired, and with a huge amount of control and precision. The article has an excellent description of how this is done.

I wonder if they'll ever put this into clothing, or jewelry...

Citation: Yadong Yin, Highly Tunable Superparamagnetic Colloidal Photonic Crystals, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, doi: 10.1002/anie.200701992

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fire Eating class with FirePixie

It was awesome! FirePixie is an excellent instructor. She breaks things down into contemplatable tasks, and is an amazing performer, too.

Scary, but a lot of fun. Fire is hot. :-)

We actually ended up taking a 'condensed for TV' class, which will air in a few weeks (more details to follow).

Details on the full fire eating class available here.

Thanks again to Erin and Darrell for hosting a wonderful evening.
Thanks to Josh for the pics!
Here's a few of my favorite shots.
More shots available here.

Yes, that's really me eating fire.

Brad with fire shooting out of his mouth.

Josh, the guy with the cool camera taking a turn.

Transferring fire from one torch to another, via tongue.

An alarming ring: buzzes on your finger to wake you up

From engadget:

"The simply-titled "Ring" sports an alarm clock dock with two times and a pair of wearable hoops, which enables you to wake up at a different time than your third-shift-workin' SO. Moreover, the elastic vibrating rings are donned at night, and simply provide a constant buzz to get your attention rather than wrecking your rest with a piercing array of beeps."
Simple, elegant, and even practical!
Here's another pic illustrating uses for this alarm.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

RFIDs on your mobile phone to pay for stuff on campus

From TUV News:
Pennsylvania's Slippery Rock University is to unveil a 13.56-MHz RFID tag which can be attached to pupils' mobile phones and allow them to pay for services and goods at the institution, reports RFID Journal.
No need to carry money on campus, just your cell phone. And, you'll have to memorize another PIN number to complete any transactions.

More details from engadget:
"...which will "allow them to pay for everything from laundry and copier services to movies and groceries in the surrounding town of Slippery Rock...Of course, high rollers should be aware that their guardians can log in at any time and view their purchasing habits, so we'd be careful before pulling out the long face and car trouble story. The cards will reportedly cost around $1 apiece, but will be "available for free" to all of the SU students."
As long as they don't start using this to track high school students' attendance, it seems like a useful convenience.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Washable, flexible, someday implantable electronics

From physorg:

Researchers from Belgium have devised a plan for making headway into the area of flexible, washable electronics. These integrated electronics, which could be incorporated into clothing and biomedical applications, require all connections between components to stretch like rubber bands while maintaining their conductivity.

These are being designed at the TFCG Microsystems Lab at Ghent University.

Here's a bunch of cool pics from their website.

Stretchable LED-circuit embedded in PDMS

Same stretchable LED-circuit demonstrating the possibility of water resistance.

Led powered by inductive coil embedded in PDMS

Stretchable thermometer

Antidepressants: most prescribed drug in the United States

Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

According to CNN, , the CDC "looked at 2.4 billion drugs prescribed in visits to doctors and hospitals in 2005. Of those, 118 million were for antidepressants. High blood pressure drugs were the next most-common with 113 million prescriptions. "

Critics worry: "Doctors are now medicating unhappiness," said Dworkin. "Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives."

This unfortunately is very true. In our 'quick fix' society, people often would rather take a pill to lose weight rather than exercise and diet. People would often rather take a pill to manage their anxiety, OCD, and sadness rather than take classes, go to therapy, or work on themselves and improve their life situations.

People with major depression will greatly benefit from antidepressants, and according to CNN, "...She added that 25 percent of adults will have a major depressive episode sometime in their life, as will 8 percent of adolescents. "Those are remarkably high numbers," Posner said. "

The trick is figuring out who is suffering from a chemical imbalance that will improve from psychotropic medication, and who is simply in a bad situation and needs to make changes to their lives. The gray area is that often people who have been under stress from tough situations will often develop brain changes and end up with major depression as well, and though antidepressants will not fix their life stressors, it may help them to get a good night's sleep, help them concentrate long think through their problems, and help them stay calm long enough to initiate positive change.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Psychiatric Genomics Center

From ScienceDaily:
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has received one of the largest gifts in its history from Theodore and Vada Stanley to establish the Stanley Center for psychiatric Genomics on its Long Island campus. The goal of the Center is to unambiguously diagnose patients with psychiatric disorders based on their DNA sequence in 10 years time.
With a $25 million gift from the Stanley Medical Research Institute, I hope they are successful. Unfortunately, since current beliefs about psychiatric disorders includes both genetic as well as environmental/situational components, I don't know how unambiguous a diagnosis can be, unless they find some way to determine which DNA sequences become activated by stress or other factors.