29 August 2017

Manipulating Mind with VR

Researchers from the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, have been studying a fundamental scientific problem: the question of how consciousness happens. The standard experimental setup of cognitive experiments used to involve seating someone in a dark room, at a desk, and administering a computer-based test. These experiments, although valid, are not what scientists call ecologically valid.


Now, researchers use various different experimental tools, ranging from strobe lights to psychedelic drugs. In recent years, researchers have been experimenting with virtual reality. They are using VR to manipulate the way we experience being ourselves, the experience of embodiment and body ownership. The potential for VR in neuroscience is enormous and is just getting going. In five years, it’s going to be game changing.

More information:

26 August 2017

Scientists Reveal the Mechanism for Memory Retrieval

New research suggests that the subiculum, a part of the hippocampus that is rarely studied, is central to the memory retrieval process. This work also indicates that memory formation and memory recall follow different neural circuits. This work represents the first identification of this recall circuit in vertebrates, although scientists did identify a similar mechanism in Caenorhabditis elegans, a roundworm. Scientists used laboratory mice that they had genetically engineered and conditioned to react to changes in light so that a reaction to green light would be tied to the subiculum neurons, which could then be inhibited. They then manipulated memory formation and recall using fear-conditioning events so the mice would make associations that were more or less pleasant in specific situations. Existing research shows that this kind of memory-encoding process stimulates CA1, a region of the hippocampus. CA1 interacts with the communication center common to the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex.

Although scientists previously believed that the same circuits which formed engrams recalled them, this team found that this isn’t the case. Instead, recall uses a pathway that deviates away from CA1, cutting through the subiculum to reach the entorhinal cortex instead. The team also found that the fear conditioning process which affected the subiculum inhibited only the ability to recall, but not the ability to form memories in the first place. The scientists hypothesize that it might be important to have these pathways distinct in order to enable us to update memories with fresher information and revise what we remember. They also believe that the presence of stress hormones, which are released during the recall of upsetting memories, might make two different pathways advantageous. Either way, the researchers point out the importance of the work in the understanding of the mechanisms of memory and speculate that, in the future, these results might be relevant to the study of Alzheimer’s disease.

More information:

25 August 2017

Future of AR is the Car

In the next seven years, true AR will likely not become mainstream anywhere, except the automotive industry. By true AR we mean AR that shows virtual objects to be actually integrated with the real environment and visible on various depths, not only on a screen’s surface. Despite explosive growth, AR software and content is now mostly created for small-screen devices like smartphones and tablets. True AR remains out of reach, but cars will reach it first. The industry needs a rich app and content ecosystem and hero device(s) capable of handling it. That hardware is nowhere near ready. Developers rely on the smartphone screen as the main means to deliver AR. Wearables are not really an option either, as it’s almost impossible to shove the high rendering performance, convenience, and good quality wide-angled picture into a small form factor. Platforms like Apple’s iOS-centered ARKit only demonstrate the lack of advanced hardware for the true AR.

Cars already have enough transparent surface to become a hardware platform for the true AR in the windshield, and the rise of driverless cars will create the demand. Sooner or later, the global automotive industry will be dominated by MaaS (mobility-as-a-service) companies. Uber, Lyft, Didi, and others are already making money on transportation rather than car sales. With driverless solutions on the way, we predict car manufacturers will continue to lose ground as they are able to offer nothing more than commodity. Thousands of developers are already committed to deliver rich and immersive AR experiences through the Apple App Store and Google Play. However, many of those applications aren’t applicable in real-life situations, serving as entertainment for its own sake. In the automotive industry, AR can open unlimited opportunities for location-based content serving specific business purposes.

More information:

16 August 2017

3D Printed Brain-Like Tissue

Scientists in Australia have created brain-like tissue in the lab using a 3D printer and special bio-ink made from stem cells. The research takes us a step closer to making replacement brain tissue derived from a patient's own skin or blood cells to help treat conditions such as brain injury, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and schizophrenia. The bio-ink is made of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), which have the same power as embryonic stem cells to turn into any cell in the body, and possibly form replacement body tissues and even whole organs. The team used 3D printing to make neurones involved in producing GABA and serotonin, as well as support cells called neuroglia, they reported in the journal Advanced Healthcare Material. In the future, they plan to print neurones that produce dopamine.

To make the neurones, researchers used their bio-ink to print layers of a hatched pattern to create a 5 millimetre-sized cube. They then crosslinked the cube into a firm jelly-like substance. Growth factors and nutrients were then fed into the holes of this spongey "scaffold", encouraging the stem cells to grow and turn into neurons and support cells, linking up to form tissue. Waste was also removed via the holes in the scaffold. One of the challenges of using iPSCs is that, like embryonic stem cells, they have the potential to develop into teratomas — disturbing looking tumours that contain more than one type of tissue type (think toenails growing in brain tissue, or teeth growing in ovary tissue). While this is a first step towards 3D printing of whole organs, a whole functioning brain would be a much more complex task.

More information:

13 August 2017

Brain Can Form New Memories While You Are Asleep

A sleeping brain can form fresh memories, according to a team of neuroscientists. The researchers played complex sounds to people while they were sleeping, and afterward the sleepers could recognize those sounds when they were awake. The idea that humans can learn while asleep, a concept sometimes called hypnopedia, has a long and odd history. Researchers accomplished pattern learning. While a group of 20 subjects was sleeping, the neuroscientists played clips of white noise. Most of the audio was purely random but there were patterns occasionally embedded within the complex noise: sequences of a single clip of white noise, 200 milliseconds long, repeated five times. The subjects remembered the patterns. The lack of meaning worked in their favor; sleepers can neither focus on what they're hearing nor make explicit connections, the scientist said. This is why nocturnal language tapes don't quite work — the brain needs to register sound and semantics.

But memorizing acoustic patterns like white noise happens automatically. Once the sleepers awoke, the scientists played back the white-noise recordings. The researchers asked the test subjects to identify patterns within the noise. Unless you happened to remember the repetitions from a previous night's sleep. The test subjects successfully detected the patterns far better than random chance would predict. What's more, the scientists discovered that memories of white-noise pattern formed only during certain sleep stages. When the authors played the sounds during REM and light sleep, the test subjects could remember the pattern the next morning. During the deeper non-REM sleep, playing the recording hampered recall. Patterns presented during non-REM sleep led to worse performance, as if there were a negative form of learning. This marked the first time that researchers had evidence for the sleep stages involved in the formation of completely new memories.

More information: