Feb 08, 2013
At the end of January, the European Commission has officially announced the selection of the Human Brain Project (HBP) as one of its two FET Flagship projects. Federating more than 80 European and international research institutions, the Human Brain Project is planned to last ten years (2013-2023). The cost is estimated at 1.19 billion euros.
The project is the first attempt to “reconstruct the brain piece by piece and building a virtual brain in a supercomputer”. Lead by neuroscientist Henry Markram, the project was launched in 2005 as a joint research initiative between the Brain Mind Institute at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the information technology giant IBM.
Using the impressive processing power of IBM’s Blue Gene/L supercomputer, the project reached its first milestone in December 2006, simulating a rat cortical column. As of July 2012, Henry Markram’s team has achieved the simulation of mesocircuits containing approximately 1 million neurons and 1 billion synapses (which is comparable with the number of nerve cells present in a honey bee brain). The next step, planned in 2014, will be the modelling of a cellular rat brain, with 100 mesocircuits totalling a hundred million cells. Finally, the team plans to simulate a full human brain (86 billion neurons) by the year 2023.
Watch the video overview of the Human Brain Project
Nov 11, 2012
Thanks to the accellerated diffusion of smartphones, the number of mobile healthcare apps has been growing exponentially in the past few years. Applications now exist to help patients managing diabetes, sharing information with peers, and monitoring mood, just to name a few examples.
Such “applification” of health is part of a larger trend called “mobile health” (or mHealth), which broadly refers to the provision of health-related services via wireless communications. Mobile health is a fast-growing market: according to a report by PEW Research as early as in 2011, 17 percent of mobile users were using their phones to look up health and medical information, and Juniper recently estimated that in the same year 44 million health apps were downloaded.
The field of mHealth has received a great deal of attention by the scientific community over the past few years, as evidenced by the number of conferences, workshops and publications dedicated to this subject; international healthcare institutions and organizations are also taking mHealth seriously.
For example, the UK Department of Health recently launched the crowdsourcing project Maps and Apps, to support the use of existing mobile phone apps and health information maps, as well as encourage people to put forward ideas for new ones. The initiative resulted in the collection of 500 health apps voted most popular by the public and health professionals, as well as a list of their ideas for new apps. At the moment of writing this post, the top-rated app is Moodscope, an application that allows users to measure, track and record comments on their mood. Other popular apps include HealthUnlocked, an online support network that connects people, volunteers and professionals to help learn, share and give practical support to one another, and FoodWiz.co, an application created by a mother of children with food allergies that which allows users to scan the bar codes on food to instantly find out which allergens are present. An app to help patients manage diabetes could not be missing from the list: Diabetes UK Tracker allows the patient to enter measurements such as blood glucose, caloric intake and weight, which can be displayed as graphs and shared with doctors; the software also features an area where patients can annotate medical information, personal feelings and thoughts.
The astounding popularity of Maps and Apps initiative suggests the beginning of a new era in medical informatics, yet this emerging vision is not without caveats. As recently emphasized by Niall Boyce on the June issue of The Lancet Technology, the main concern associated with the use of apps as a self-management tool is the limited evidence of their effectivenes in improving health. Differently from other health interventions, mHealth apps have not been subject to rigorous testing. A potential reason for the lack of randomized evaluations is the fact that most of these apps reach consumers/patients directly, without passing through the traditional medical gatekeepers. However, as Boyce suggests, the availability of trial data would not only benefit patients, but also app developers, who could bring to the market more effective and reliable products. A further concern is related to privacy and security of medical data. Although most smartphone-based medical applications apply state-of-the-art secure protocols, the wireless utilization of these devices opens up new vulnerabilities to patients and medical facilities. A recent bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists five of the top mobile medical device security risks:
- Insider: The most common ways employees steal data involves network transfer, be that email, remote access, or file transfer;
- Malware: These include keystroke loggers and Trojans, tailored to harvest easily accessible data once inside the network;
- Spearphishing: This highly-customized technique involves an email-based attack carrying malicious attack disguised as coming from a legitimate source, and seeking specific information;
- Lost equipment: A significant problem because it happens so frequently, even a smartphone in the wrong hands can be a gateway into a health entity’s network and records. And the more that patient information is stored electronically, the greater the number of people potentially affected when equipment is lost or stolen.
In conclusion, the “applification of healthcare” is at the same time a great opportunity for patients and a great responsibility medical professionals and developers. In order to exploit this opportunity while mitigating risks, it is essential to put in place quality evaluation procedures, which allow to monitor and optimize the effectiveness of these applications according to evidence-based standards. For example, iMedicalApps, provides independent reviews of mobile medical technology and applications by a team of physicians and medical students. Founded by founded by Dr. Iltifat Husain, an emergency medical resident at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, iMedicalApps has been referred by Cochrane Collaboration as an evidence-based trusted Web 2.0 website.
More to explore:
Read the PVC report: Current and future state of mhealth (PDF FULL TEXT)
Watch the MobiHealthNews video report: What is mHealth?
Congenitally blind people have learned to ”see” and describe objects, and even identify letters and words, by using a visual-to-auditory sensory-substitution algorithm and sensory substitution devices (SSDs), scientists at Hebrew University and in France have found.
SSDs are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, using a visual-to-auditory SSD in a clinical or everyday setting, users wear a miniature camera connected to a small computer (or smart phone) and stereo headphones.
The images are converted into “soundscapes,” using an algorithm, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera. The blind participants using this device reach a level of visual acuity technically surpassing the criterion of the World Health Organization (WHO) for blindness.
Read the full story
Nov 02, 2012
Gaggioli A., Riva G., Milani L., Mazzoni E.
Oct 27, 2012
Giakoumis D, Drosou A, Cipresso P, Tzovaras D, Hassapis G, Gaggioli A, Riva G.
PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e43571. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043571. Epub 2012 Sep 19
This paper introduces activity-related behavioural features that can be automatically extracted from a computer system, with the aim to increase the effectiveness of automatic stress detection. The proposed features are based on processing of appropriate video and accelerometer recordings taken from the monitored subjects. For the purposes of the present study, an experiment was conducted that utilized a stress-induction protocol based on the stroop colour word test. Video, accelerometer and biosignal (Electrocardiogram and Galvanic Skin Response) recordings were collected from nineteen participants. Then, an explorative study was conducted by following a methodology mainly based on spatiotemporal descriptors (Motion History Images) that are extracted from video sequences. A large set of activity-related behavioural features, potentially useful for automatic stress detection, were proposed and examined. Experimental evaluation showed that several of these behavioural features significantly correlate to self-reported stress. Moreover, it was found that the use of the proposed features can significantly enhance the performance of typical automatic stress detection systems, commonly based on biosignal processing.
Full paper available here
DARPA has announced the start of the next DARPA Robotics Challenge. This time, the goal is to develop ground robots that perform complex tasks in "dangerous, degraded human-engineered environments". That means robots that perform humanitarian, disaster relief operations. The robots must use standard human hand tools and vehicles to navigate a debris field, open doors, climb ladders, and break through a concrete wall. Most but not all of the robots will be humanoid in design.
The challenge is divided into two parts with a Virtual Robotics Challenge scheduled for 10 - 24 June, 2013 to test simulated robots and the actual DARPA Robotics Challenge scheduled for 21 December, 2013. DARPA has adopted the free software Gazebo simulator, which supports ROS. There are two competition "tracks" - competitors in Track A will develop their own humanoid robot and control software, while competitors in Track B will develop control software that runs on a DARPA-supplied Atlas robot built by Boston Dynamics. Already University teams are making announcements of participation. Read on for more info about some of the teams, as well as some awesome photos and videos of the robots in action.
Sep 03, 2012
Telemed J E Health. 2012 Jul 23;
Authors: Yellowlees PM, Holloway KM, Parish MB
Abstract. Background: As virtual reality and computer-assisted therapy strategies are increasingly implemented for the treatment of psychological disorders, ethical standards and guidelines must be considered. This study determined a set of ethical and legal guidelines for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a virtual environment incorporating the rights of an individual who is represented by an avatar. Materials and Methods: A comprehensive literature review was undertaken. An example of a case study of therapy in Second Life (a popular online virtual world developed by Linden Labs) was described. Results: Ethical and legal considerations regarding psychiatric treatment of PTSD/TBI in a virtual environment were examined. The following issues were described and discussed: authentication of providers and patients, informed consent, patient confidentiality, patient well-being, clinician competence (licensing and credentialing), training of providers, insurance for providers, the therapeutic environment, and emergencies. Ethical and legal guidelines relevant to these issues in a virtual environment were proposed. Conclusions: Ethical and legal issues in virtual environments are similar to those that occur in the in-person world. Individuals represented by an avatar have the rights equivalent to the individual and should be treated as such.
Aug 04, 2012
PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e40867
Authors: Kilteni K, Normand JM, Sanchez-Vives MV, Slater M
Abstract. Recent studies have shown that a fake body part can be incorporated into human body representation through synchronous multisensory stimulation on the fake and corresponding real body part - the most famous example being the Rubber Hand Illusion. However, the extent to which gross asymmetries in the fake body can be assimilated remains unknown. Participants experienced, through a head-tracked stereo head-mounted display a virtual body coincident with their real body. There were 5 conditions in a between-groups experiment, with 10 participants per condition. In all conditions there was visuo-motor congruence between the real and virtual dominant arm. In an Incongruent condition (I), where the virtual arm length was equal to the real length, there was visuo-tactile incongruence. In four Congruent conditions there was visuo-tactile congruence, but the virtual arm lengths were either equal to (C1), double (C2), triple (C3) or quadruple (C4) the real ones. Questionnaire scores and defensive withdrawal movements in response to a threat showed that the overall level of ownership was high in both C1 and I, and there was no significant difference between these conditions. Additionally, participants experienced ownership over the virtual arm up to three times the length of the real one, and less strongly at four times the length. The illusion did decline, however, with the length of the virtual arm. In the C2-C4 conditions although a measure of proprioceptive drift positively correlated with virtual arm length, there was no correlation between the drift and ownership of the virtual arm, suggesting different underlying mechanisms between ownership and drift. Overall, these findings extend and enrich previous results that multisensory and sensorimotor information can reconstruct our perception of the body shape, size and symmetry even when this is not consistent with normal body proportions.
J Med Internet Res. 2012;14(4):e110
Authors: Sucala M, Schnur JB, Constantino MJ, Miller SJ, Brackman EH, Montgomery GH
Abstract BACKGROUND: E-therapy is defined as a licensed mental health care professional providing mental health services via e-mail, video conferencing, virtual reality technology, chat technology, or any combination of these. The use of e-therapy has been rapidly expanding in the last two decades, with growing evidence suggesting that the provision of mental health services over the Internet is both clinically efficacious and cost effective. Yet there are still unanswered concerns about e-therapy, including whether it is possible to develop a successful therapeutic relationship over the Internet in the absence of nonverbal cues. OBJECTIVE: Our objective in this study was to systematically review the therapeutic relationship in e-therapy. METHODS: We searched PubMed, PsycINFO, and CINAHL through August 2011. Information on study methods and results was abstracted independently by the authors using a standardized form.
RESULTS: From the 840 reviewed studies, only 11 (1.3%) investigated the therapeutic relationship. The majority of the reviewed studies were focused on the therapeutic alliance-a central element of the therapeutic relationship. Although the results do not allow firm conclusions, they indicate that e-therapy seems to be at least equivalent to face-to-face therapy in terms of therapeutic alliance, and that there is a relationship between the therapeutic alliance and e-therapy outcome. CONCLUSIONS: Overall, the current literature on the role of therapeutic relationship in e-therapy is scant, and much more research is needed to understand the therapeutic relationship in online environments.
Reblogged from InfoAesthetics
The Emoto visualization by the illustrious Moritz Stefaner, FutureEverything, and Studio NAND tracks twitter for themes related to the Games, analyzes the messages for content and emotional expressions, and visualizes topics and tone of the conversation. You can find out which topics are most discussed, or see all current messages related to the Games.
Emoto uses an origami looking glyph to represent the emotive summarization for each topic. The glyphs reshape and rearrange themselves based on realtime status. You can also view an overview of each day.
After the games, a set of data sculptures will be made to capture the collective emotion of the 2012 Olympics.
Medgadget has an interesting article on the raise of ‘Wearatronics’, a new trend in which new materials and interconnects have made circuit assemblies flexible and, as a result, embeddable. Such flexible electronic arrays may be embedded into textiles in order to, for example, measure the wearer’s vital signs or even generate and store power.
According to GigaOm's research report The wearable-computing market: a global analysis the wearatronics market for just health and fitness products is estimated to reach 170 million devices within the next five years.
In this video, Bloomberg's Sheila Dharmarajan reports on the outlook for wearable electronics on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg West." (Source: Bloomberg)
Also interesting is this TED speech from David Icke, who creates breathable, implantable microcomputers that conform to the human body, which can be used for a variety of medical applications.
Curr Biol. 2012 Jun 27;
Authors: Sorger B, Reithler J, Dahmen B, Goebel R
Abstract. Human communication entirely depends on the functional integrity of the neuromuscular system. This is devastatingly illustrated in clinical conditions such as the so-called locked-in syndrome (LIS) , in which severely motor-disabled patients become incapable to communicate naturally-while being fully conscious and awake. For the last 20 years, research on motor-independent communication has focused on developing brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) implementing neuroelectric signals for communication (e.g., [2-7]), and BCIs based on electroencephalography (EEG) have already been applied successfully to concerned patients [8-11]. However, not all patients achieve proficiency in EEG-based BCI control . Thus, more recently, hemodynamic brain signals have also been explored for BCI purposes [13-16]. Here, we introduce the first spelling device based on fMRI. By exploiting spatiotemporal characteristics of hemodynamic responses, evoked by performing differently timed mental imagery tasks, our novel letter encoding technique allows translating any freely chosen answer (letter-by-letter) into reliable and differentiable single-trial fMRI signals. Most importantly, automated letter decoding in real time enables back-and-forth communication within a single scanning session. Because the suggested spelling device requires only little effort and pretraining, it is immediately operational and possesses high potential for clinical applications, both in terms of diagnostics and establishing short-term communication with nonresponsive and severely motor-impaired patients.
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.
The Virtual Brain project promises "to deliver the first open simulation of the human brain based on individual large-scale connectivity", by "employing novel concepts from neuroscience, effectively reducing the complexity of the brain simulation while still keeping it sufficiently realistic".
The Virtual Brain team includes well-recognized neuroscientists from all over the world. In the video below, Dr. Randy McIntosh explains what the project is about.
First teaser release of The Virtual Brain software suite is available for download – for Windows, Mac and Linux: http://thevirtualbrain.org/
The Oculus Rift, a new HMD which promises to take 3D gaming to the next level, was launched on Kickstarter last week. The funding goal is $250,000.
“With an incredibly wide field of view, high resolution display, and ultra-low latency head tracking, the Rift provides a truly immersive experience that allows you to step inside your favorite game and explore new worlds like never before."
Technical specs of the Dev Kit (subject to change)
Head tracking: 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) ultra low latency
Field of view: 110 degrees diagonal / 90 degrees horizontal
Resolution: 1280×800 (640×800 per eye)
Inputs: DVI/HDMI and USB
Platforms: PC and mobile
Weight: ~0.22 kilograms
The developer kits acquired through Kickstarter will include access to the Oculus Developer Center, a community for Oculus developers. The Oculus Rift SDK will include code, samples, and documentation to facilitate integration with any new or existing games, initially on PCs and mobiles, with consoles to follow.
Oculus says it will be showcasing the Rift at a number of upcoming tradeshows, including Quakecon, Siggraph, GDC Europe, gamescom and Unite.
Aug 03, 2012
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
Jul 14, 2012
Via: New Scientist
For the first time, a person lying in an fMRI machine has controlled a robot hundreds of kilometers away using thought alone.
"The ultimate goal is to create a surrogate, like in Avatar, although that’s a long way off yet,” says Abderrahmane Kheddar, director of the joint robotics laboratory at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan.
Teleoperated robots, those that can be remotely controlled by a human, have been around for decades. Kheddar and his colleagues are going a step further. “True embodiment goes far beyond classical telepresence, by making you feel that the thing you are embodying is part of you,” says Kheddar. “This is the feeling we want to reach.”
To attempt this feat, researchers with the international Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment project used fMRI to scan the brain of university student Tirosh Shapira as he imagined moving different parts of his body. He attempted to direct a virtual avatar by thinking of moving his left or right hand or his legs.
The scanner works by measuring changes in blood flow to the brain’s primary motor cortex, and using this the team was able to create an algorithm that could distinguish between each thought of movement (see diagram). The commands were then sent via an internet connection to a small robot at the Béziers Technology Institute in France.
The set-up allowed Shapira to control the robot in near real time with his thoughts, while a camera on the robot’s head allowed him to see from the robot’s perspective. When he thought of moving his left or right hand, the robot moved 30 degrees to the left or right. Imagining moving his legs made the robot walk forward.
Read further at: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528725.900-robot-avatar-body-controlled-by-thought-alone.html