Apr 05, 2015
A staffer in Dr. Margaret Naeser’s lab demonstrates the equipment built especially for the research: an LED helmet (Photomedex), intranasal diodes (Vielight), and LED cluster heads placed on the ears (MedX Health). The real and sham devices look identical. Goggles are worn to block out the red light to avoid experimental artifacts. The near-infrared light is beyond the visible spectrum and cannot be seen. (credit: Naeser lab)
Researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System are testing the effects of light therapy on brain function in the Veterans with Gulf War Illness study.
Veterans in the study wear a helmet lined with light-emitting diodes that apply red and near-infrared light to the scalp. They also have diodes placed in their nostrils, to deliver photons to the deeper parts of the brain.
The light is painless and generates no heat. A treatment takes about 30 minutes.
The therapy, though still considered “investigational” and not covered by most health insurance plans, is already used by some alternative medicine practitioners to treat wounds and pain.
The light from the diodes has been shown to boost the output of nitric oxide near where the LEDs are placed, which improves blood flow in that location.
“We are applying a technology that’s been around for a while,” says lead investigator Dr. Margaret Naeser, “but it’s always been used on the body, for wound healing and to treat muscle aches and pains, and joint problems. We’re starting to use it on the brain.”
Naeser is a research linguist and speech pathologist for the Boston VA, and a research professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).
How LED therapy works
The LED therapy increases blood flow in the brain, as shown on MRI scans. It also appears to have an effect on damaged brain cells, specifically on their mitochondria. These are bean-shaped subunits within the cell that put out energy in the form of a chemical known as ATP. The red (600 nm) and NIR (800–900nm) wavelengths penetrate through the scalp and skull by about 1 cm to reach brain cells and spur the mitochondria to produce more ATP. That can mean clearer, sharper thinking, says Naeser.
Nitric oxide is also released and diffused outside the cell wall, promoting local vasodilation and increased blood flow.
Naeser says brain damage caused by explosions, or exposure to pesticides or other neurotoxins — such as in the Gulf War — could impair the mitochondria in cells. She believes light therapy can be a valuable adjunct to standard cognitive rehabilitation, which typically involves “exercising” the brain in various ways to take advantage of brain plasticity and forge new neural networks.
“The light-emitting diodes add something beyond what’s currently available with cognitive rehabilitation therapy,” says Naeser. “That’s a very important therapy, but patients can go only so far with it. And in fact, most of the traumatic brain injury and PTSD cases that we’ve helped so far with LEDs on the head have been through cognitive rehabilitation therapy. These people still showed additional progress after the LED treatments. It’s likely a combination of both methods would produce the best results.”
Results published from 11 TBI patients
The LED approach has its skeptics, but Naeser’s group has already published some encouraging results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Last June in the Journal of Neurotrauma, they reported in an open-access paper, the outcomes of LED therapy in 11 patients with chronic TBI, ranging in age from 26 to 62. Most of the injuries occurred in car accidents or on the athletic field. One was a battlefield injury, from an improvised explosive device (IED).
Neuropsychological testing before the therapy and at several points thereafter showed gains in areas such as executive function, verbal learning, and memory. The study volunteers also reported better sleep and fewer PTSD symptoms.
The study authors concluded that the pilot results warranted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial — the gold standard in medical research.
That’s happening now, thanks to VA support. One trial, already underway, aims to enroll 160 Gulf War veterans. Half the veterans will get the real LED therapy for 15 sessions, while the others will get a mock version, using sham lights.
Then the groups will switch, so all the volunteers will end up getting the real therapy, although they won’t know at which point they received it. After each Veteran’s last real or sham treatment, he or she will undergo tests of brain function.
Naeser points out that “because this is a blinded, controlled study, neither the participant nor the assistant applying the LED helmet and the intranasal diodes is aware whether the LEDs are real or sham — they both wear goggles that block out the red LED light.” The near-infrared light is invisible.
Other trials of the LED therapy are getting underway:
- Later this year, a trial will launch for Veterans age 18 to 55 who have both traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder, a common combination in recent war Veterans. The VA-funded study will be led by Naeser’s colleague Dr. Jeffrey Knight, a psychologist with VA’s National Center for PTSD and an assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM.
- Dr. Yelena Bogdanova, a clinical psychologist with VA and assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM, will lead a VA-funded trial looking at the impact of LED therapy on sleep and cognition in Veterans with blast TBI.
- Naeser is collaborating on an Army study testing LED therapy, delivered via the helmets and the nose diodes, for active-duty soldiers with blast TBI. The study, funded by the Army’s Advanced Medical Technology Initiative, will also test the feasibility and effectiveness of using only the nasal LED devices — and not the helmets — as an at-home, self-administered treatment. The study leader is Dr. Carole Palumbo, an investigator with VA and the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, and an associate professor of neurology at BUSM.
Naeser hopes the work will validate LED therapy as a viable treatment for veterans and others with brain difficulties. She also foresees potential for conditions such as depression, stroke, dementia, and even autism.
According to sources cited by the authors, i is estimated that there are 5,300,000 Americans living with TBI-related disabilities. The annual economic cost is estimated to be between $60 and $76.5 billion. It is estimated that 15–40% of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) report at least one TBI. And within the past 10 years, the diagnosis of concussion in high school sports has increased annually by 16.5%.
The research was supported by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. National Institutes of Health, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and American College of Sports Medicine-American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Foundation.
Jan 25, 2015
Kathy Beitz, 29, is legally blind - she lost her vision as a child and, for a long time, adapted to living in a world she couldn't see (Kathy has Stargardt disease, a condition that causes macular degeneration). Technology called eSight glasses allowed Kathy to see her son on the day he was born. The glasses cost $15,000 and work by capturing real-time video and enhancing it.
Aug 31, 2014
A new Northwestern Medicine study reports stimulating a particular region in the brain via non-invasive delivery of electrical current using magnetic pulses, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, improves memory.
Dec 21, 2013
Re-blogged from New Scientist
WITH a click of a mouse, I set a path through the mountains for drone #4. It's one of five fliers under my control, all now heading to different destinations. Routes set, their automation takes over and my mind eases, bringing a moment of calm. But the machine watching my brain notices the lull, decides I can handle more, and drops a new drone in the south-east corner of the map.
The software is keeping my brain in a state of full focus known as flow, or being "in the zone". Too little work, and the program notices my attention start to flag and gives me more drones to handle. If I start to become a frazzled air traffic controller, the computer takes one of the drones off my plate, usually without me even noticing.
The system monitors the workload by pulsing light into my prefrontal cortex 12 times a second. The amount of light that oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin in the blood there absorbs and reflects gives an indication of how mentally engaged I am. Harder brain work calls for more oxygenated blood, and changes how the light is absorbed. Software interprets the signal from this functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and uses it to assign me the right level of work.
Dan Afergan, who is running the study at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, points to an on-screen readout as I play. "It's predicting high workload with very high certainty, and, yup, number three just dropped off," he says over my shoulder. Sure enough, I'm now controlling just five drones again.
To achieve this mind-monitoring, I'm hooked up to a bulky rig of fibre-optic cables and have an array of LEDs stuck to my forehead. The cables stream off my head into a box that converts light signals to electrical ones. These fNIRS systems don't have to be this big, though. A team led by Sophie Piper at Charité University of Medicine in Berlin, Germany, tested a portable device on cyclists in Berlin earlier this year – the first time fNIRS has been done during an outdoor activity.
Afergan doesn't plan to be confined to the lab for long either. He's studying ways to integrate brain-activity measuring into the Google Glass wearable computer. A lab down the hall already has a prototype fNIRS system on a chip that could, with a few improvements, be built into a Glass headset. "Glass is already on your forehead. It's really not much of a stretch to imagine building fNIRS into the headband," he says.
Afergan is working on a Glass navigation system for use in cars that responds to a driver's level of focus. When they are concentrating hard, Glass will show only basic instructions, or perhaps just give audio directions. When the driver is focusing less, on a straight stretch of road perhaps, Glass will provide more details of the route. The team also plans to adapt Google Now – the company's digital assistant software – for Glass so that it only gives you notifications when your mind has room for them.
Peering into drivers' minds will become increasingly important, says Erin Solovey, a computer scientist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many cars have automatic systems for adaptive cruise control, keeping in the right lane and parking. These can help, but they also bring the risk that drivers may not stay focused on the task at hand, because they are relying on the automation.
Systems using fNIRS could monitor a driver's focus and adjust the level of automation to keep drivers safely engaged with what the car is doing, she says.
This article appeared in print under the headline "Stay in the zone"
Nov 16, 2013
Stanford Center on Longevity competition challenges students to design products to help older adults
The design contest solicits entries from student teams worldwide and is aimed at finding solutions that help keep people with cognitive impairments independent as long as possible.
The competition is currently accepting submissions in what is called Phase I of the challenge. Submitted concepts will be judged in January and finalists will be given financial help to flesh out their design and travel to Stanford to present it.
From January until April, called Phase II, finalists will also have access to mentors in different schools and centers at Stanford
The final presentations, in April, will be before a panel of academics, industry professionals, nonprofit groups and investors.
The top prize is $10,000, while the second place team will take home $5,000 and third place will get $3,000.
Jul 18, 2013
A participant wearing camera glasses and listening to the soundscape (credit: Alastair Haigh/Frontiers in Psychology)
A device that trains the brain to turn sounds into images could be used as an alternative to invasive treatment for blind and partially-sighted people, researchers at the University of Bath have found.
“The vOICe” is a visual-to-auditory sensory substitution device that encodes images taken by a camera worn by the user into “soundscapes” from which experienced users can extract information about their surroundings.
It helps blind people use sounds to build an image in their minds of the things around them.
A research team, led by Dr Michael Proulx, from the University’s Department of Psychology, looked at how blindfolded sighted participants would do on an eye test using the device.
Read full story
Aug 04, 2012
Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jul 21;
Authors: Dresler M, Sandberg A, Ohla K, Bublitz C, Trenado C, Mroczko-Wasowicz A, Kühn S, Repantis D
Abstract. The term "cognitive enhancement" usually characterizes interventions in humans that aim to improve mental functioning beyond what is necessary to sustain or restore good health. While the current bioethical debate mainly concentrates on pharmaceuticals, according to the given characterization, cognitive enhancement also by non-pharmacological means has to be regarded as enhancement proper. Here we summarize empirical data on approaches using nutrition, physical exercise, sleep, meditation, mnemonic strategies, computer training, and brain stimulation for enhancing cognitive capabilities. Several of these non-pharmacological enhancement strategies seem to be more efficacious compared to currently available pharmaceuticals usually coined as cognitive enhancers. While many ethical arguments of the cognitive enhancement debate apply to both pharmacological and non-pharmacological enhancers, some of them appear in new light when considered on the background of non-pharmacological enhancement.
Jul 30, 2012
Sports athletes in recent years have concentrated on making themselves stronger and faster (sometimes to their own detriment and sanctity of the sport — see Baseball, Steroids Era), but building muscle mass is only part of the equation. Nike, one of the biggest sponsors of sport, sees potential (and profit) in specialized eye gear designed to allow athletes to fine tune their sensory skills and “see their sport better” through the use of modern technology.
To prove its point and draw attention to its Sparq Vapor Strobe sports glasses, Nike commissioned a study at Duke’s Institute for Brain Sciences that focuses on “stroboscopic training” using Nike’s eyewear. In essence, Nike went in search of scientific data to prove that simulating a strobe-like experience can increase visual short-term memory retention, and purportedly found it.
Read the full story
May 07, 2012
Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being.
Nat Neurosci. 2012;15(5):689-95
Authors: Davidson RJ, McEwen BS
Experiential factors shape the neural circuits underlying social and emotional behavior from the prenatal period to the end of life. These factors include both incidental influences, such as early adversity, and intentional influences that can be produced in humans through specific interventions designed to promote prosocial behavior and well-being. Here we review important extant evidence in animal models and humans. Although the precise mechanisms of plasticity are still not fully understood, moderate to severe stress appears to increase the growth of several sectors of the amygdala, whereas the effects in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex tend to be opposite. Structural and functional changes in the brain have been observed with cognitive therapy and certain forms of meditation and lead to the suggestion that well-being and other prosocial characteristics might be enhanced through training.
Mar 11, 2012
The increasing miniaturization and computing power of information technology devices allow new ways of interaction between human brains and computers, progressively blurring the boundaries between man and machine. An example is provided by brain-computer interface systems, which allow users to use their brain to control the behavior of a computer or of an external device such as a robotic arm (in this latter case, we speak of “neuroprostetics”).
The idea of using information technologies to augment cognition, however, is not new, dating back in 1950’s and 1960’s. One of the first to write about this concept was british psychiatrist William Ross Ashby.
In his Introduction to Cybernetics (1956), he described intelligence as the “power of appropriate selection,” which could be amplified by means of technologies in the same way that physical power is amplified. A second major conceptual contribution towards the development of cognitive augmentation was provided few years later by computer scientist and Internet pioneer Joseph Licklider, in a paper entitled Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960).
In this article, Licklider envisions the development of computer technologies that will enable users “to think in interaction with a computer in the same way that you think with a colleague whose competence supplements your own.” According to his vision, the raise of computer networks would allow to connect together millions of human minds, within a “'thinking center' that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval.” This view represent a departure from the prevailing Artificial Intelligence approach of that time: instead of creating an artificial brain, Licklider focused on the possibility of developing new forms of interaction between human and information technologies, with the aim of extending human intelligence.
A similar view was proposed in the same years by another computer visionnaire, Douglas Engelbart, in its famous 1962 article entitled Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.
In this report, Engelbart defines the goal of intelligence augmentation as “increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble (…) We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations.We refer to away of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human ‘feel for a situation’ usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.”
These “electronic aids” nowdays include any kind of harware and software computing devices used i.e. to store information in external memories, to process complex data, to perform routine tasks and to support decision making. However, today the concept of cognitive augmentation is not limited to the amplification of human intellectual abilities through external hardware. As recently noted by Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg (Sci Eng Ethics 15:311–341, 2009), “What is new is the growing interest in creating intimate links between the external systems and the human user through better interaction. The software becomes less an external tool and more of a mediating ‘‘exoself’’. This can be achieved through mediation, embedding the human within an augmenting ‘‘shell’’ such as wearable computers (…) or virtual reality, or through smart environments in which objects are given extended capabilities” (p. 320).
At the forefront of this trend is neurotechnology, an emerging research and development field which includes technologies that are specifically designed with the aim of improving brain function. Examples of neurotechnologies include brain training games such as BrainAge and programs like Fast ForWord, but also neurodevices used to monitor or regulate brain activity, such as deep brain stimulators (DBS), and smart prosthetics for the replacement of impaired sensory systems (i.e. cochlear or retinal implants).
Clearly, the vision of neurotechnology is not free of issues. The more they become powerful and sophisticated, the more attention should be dedicated to understand the socio-economic, legal and ethical implications of their applications in various field, from medicine to neuromarketing.
Oct 12, 2010
The new issue of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation magazine (3/2) is now online and available for full-text download. Topics covered by this issue include brain-computer interface, cognitive enhancement and trainers and the use of massive multiplayer online games in rehabilitation and therapy.
Sep 20, 2010
The XWave is a new technology that uses a single electrode placed on the wearer’s forehead to measure electroencephalography (EEG) data, and converts these analog signals into digital so they can be used to control an external device. The XWave comes bundled with a software that includes a number of brain-training exercises. These include levitating a ball on the iDevice’s screen, changing a color based on the relaxation level of your brain and training your brain to maximize its attention span.
In the company’s own words:
XWave, powered by NeuroSky eSense patented technologies, senses the faintest electrical impulses transmitted through your skull to the surface of your forehead and converts these analogue signals into digital. With XWave, you will be able to detect attention and meditation levels, as well as train your mind to control things. Objects in a game can be controlled, lights in your living room can change colour depending on your mood; the possibilities are limited to only the power of your imagination.
Mar 01, 2010
Dec 13, 2009
This short movie, entitled The Future of Augmented Cognition, depicts DARPA’s vision of how augmented cognition will in the future be used to integrate multiple sources of information. The film is set in the year 2030, and takes place in a command centre which monitors cyberspace activity for threats to the global economy. The movie was commissioned by DARPA and directed by Alexander Singer.
Dec 08, 2009
Now that neuroscientists have identified the brain's synchronizing mechanism, they've started work on therapies to strengthen attention. Ultimately, it may be possible to improve your attention by using pulses of light to directly synchronize your neurons, a form of direct therapy that could help people with schizophrenia and attention-deficit problems, said Dr. Desimone, the director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. In the nearer future, neuroscientists might also help you focus by observing your brain activity and providing biofeedback as you practice strengthening your concentration. Researchers have already observed higher levels of synchrony in the brains of people who regularly meditate.
Sep 21, 2009
The sensitivity of a virtual reality task to planning and prospective memory impairments: Group differences and the efficacy of periodic alerts on performance.
Neuropsychol Rehabil. 2009 Aug 26;:1-25
Authors: Sweeney S, Kersel D, Morris RG, Manly T, Evans JJ
Executive functions have been argued to be the most vulnerable to brain injury. In providing an analogue of everyday situations amenable to control and management virtual reality (VR) may offer better insights into planning deficits consequent upon brain injury. Here 17 participants with a non-progressive brain injury and reported executive difficulties in everyday life were asked to perform a VR task (working in a furniture storage unit) that emphasised planning, rule following and prospective memory tasks. When compared with an age and IQ-matched control group, the patients were significantly poorer in terms of their strategy, their time-based prospective memory, the overall time required and their propensity to break rules. An examination of sensitivity and specificity of the VR task to group membership (brain-injured or control) showed that, with specificity set at maximum, sensitivity was only modest (at just over 50%). A second component to the study investigated whether the patients' performance could be improved by periodic auditory alerts. Previous studies have demonstrated that such cues can improve performance on laboratory tests, executive tests and everyday prospective memory tasks. Here, no significant changes in performance were detected. Potential reasons for this finding are discussed, including symptom severity and differences in the tasks employed in previous studies.
Jul 29, 2008
Auditory and Spatial Navigation Imagery in Brain-Computer Interface using Optimized Wavelets.
J Neurosci Methods. 2008 Jul 6;
Authors: Cabrera AF, Dremstrup K
Features extracted with optimized wavelets were compared with standard methods for a Brain-Computer Interface driven by non-motor imagery tasks. Two non-motor imagery tasks were used, Auditory Imagery of a familiar tune and Spatial Navigation Imagery through a familiar environment. The aims of this study were to evaluate which method extracts features that could be best differentiated and determine which channels are best suited for classification. EEG activity from 18 electrodes over the temporal and parietal lobes of nineteen healthy subjects was recorded. The features used were autoregressive and reflection coefficients extracted using autoregressive modeling with several model orders and marginals of the wavelet spaces generated by the Discrete Wavelet Transform (DWT). An optimization algorithm with 4 and 6 taps filters and mother wavelets from the Daubechies family were used. The classification was performed for each single channel and for all possible combination of two channels using a Bayesian Classifier. The best classification results were found using the marginals of the Optimized DWT spaces for filters with 6 taps in a 2 channels classification basis. Classification using 2 channels was found to be significantly better than using 1 channel (p<<0.01). The marginals of the optimized DWT using 6 taps filters showed to be significantly better than the marginals of the Daubechies family and autoregressive coefficients. The influence of the combination of number of channels and feature extraction method over the classification results was not significant (p=0.97).
Jul 16, 2008
The Walt Disney Internet Group has released the "Einstein's Brain Game".
The game proposes 20 brain training exercises covering Einstein’s theories of relativity and ideas about the solar system. It features 4 categories - maths, memory, logic and visual coordination, as well as a bonus Sudoku puzzle game, to give the brain a thorough work-out.
Nov 25, 2007
Sep 09, 2007
MindFit is a software-based assessment and training program for 14 cognitive skills important for healthy aging. The software is recommended for people over 50 who want a novel and varied mental workout. The program has 21 exercises that train 14 cognitive skills.
MindFit was recently launched by Susan Greenfield, one of Britain's best-known neuroscientists
Link to BBC report