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A flexible, transparent gesture sensor for touch-free, transparent user interfaces

A flexible, transparent gesture sensor for touch-free, transparent user interfaces | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new method of capturing images based on a flat, flexible, transparent, and potentially disposable polymer sheet has been developed by a team of researchers at Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria.

 

The new imager, which resembles a flexible plastic film, uses fluorescent particles to capture incoming light and channel a portion of it to an array of sensors framing the sheet. With no electronics or internal components, the imager’s simple design makes it ideal for a new breed of imaging technologies, including user interface devices that can respond to gestures (touch not required).


“To our knowledge, we are the first to present an image sensor that is fully transparent – no integrated microstructures, such as circuits – and is flexible and scalable at the same time,” says team leader Oliver Bimber.

 

The sensor is based on a polymer film known as a luminescent concentrator (LC). It is suffused with tiny fluorescent particles that absorb a very specific wavelength (blue light for example) and then reemit it at a longer wavelength (green light for example). Some of the reemitted fluorescent light is scattered out of the imager, but a portion of it travels throughout the interior of the film to the outer edges, where arrays of optical sensors (similar to 1-D pinhole cameras) capture the light.

 

A computer then combines the signals to create a gray-scale image. “With fluorescence, a portion of the light that is reemitted actually stays inside the film,” says Bimber. “This is the basic principle of our sensor.”

 

For the luminescent concentrator to work as an imager, Bimber and his colleagues had to determine precisely where light was falling across the entire surface of the film. This was the major technical challenge because the polymer sheet cannot be divided into individual pixels like the CCD camera inside a smartphone. Instead, fluorescent light from all points across its surface travels to all the edge sensors.

 

The solution came from the phenomenon of light attenuation, or dimming, as it travels through the polymer. The longer it travels, the dimmer it becomes. So by measuring the relative brightness of light reaching the sensor array, it was possible to calculate where the light entered the film.

 

The main application the researchers envision for this new technology is in touch-free, transparent user interfaces that could seamlessly overlay a television or other display technology. This would give computer operators or video-game players full gesture control without the need for cameras or other external motion-tracking devices.

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MIT: How human language could have evolved from birdsongs

MIT: How human language could have evolved from birdsongs | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Linguistics and biology researchers propose a new theory on the deep roots of human speech. “The sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language,” Charles Darwin wrote in “The Descent of Man” (1871), while contemplating how humans learned to speak. Language, he speculated, might have had its origins in singing, which “might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions.” 

Now researchers from MIT, along with a scholar from the University of Tokyo, say that Darwin was on the right path. The balance of evidence, they believe, suggests that human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: first, the elaborate songs of birds, and second, the more utilitarian, information-bearing types of expression seen in a diversity of other animals.

 

The idea builds upon Miyagawa’s conclusion, detailed in his previous work, that there are two “layers” in all human languages: an “expression” layer, which involves the changeable organization of sentences, and a “lexical” layer, which relates to the core content of a sentence. His conclusion is based on earlier work by linguists including Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser.

Based on an analysis of animal communication, and using Miyagawa’s framework, the authors say that birdsong closely resembles the expression layer of human sentences — whereas the communicative waggles of bees, or the short, audible messages of primates, are more like the lexical layer. At some point, between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, humans may have merged these two types of expression into a uniquely sophisticated form of language.

To consider the difference between the expression layer and the lexical layer, take a simple sentence: “Todd saw a condor.” We can easily create variations of this, such as, “When did Todd see a condor?” This rearranging of elements takes place in the expression layer and allows us to add complexity and ask questions. But the lexical layer remains the same, since it involves the same core elements: the subject, “Todd,” the verb, “to see,” and the object, “condor.” 

Birdsong lacks a lexical structure. Instead, birds sing learned melodies with what Berwick calls a “holistic” structure; the entire song has one meaning, whether about mating, territory or other things. The Bengalese finch, as the authors note, can loop back to parts of previous melodies, allowing for greater variation and communication of more things; a nightingale may be able to recite from 100 to 200 different melodies. 

By contrast, other types of animals have bare-bones modes of expression without the same melodic capacity. Bees communicate visually, using precise waggles to indicate sources of foods to their peers; other primates can make a range of sounds, comprising warnings about predators and other messages.

Humans, according to Miyagawa, Berwick and Okanoya, fruitfully combined these systems. We can communicate essential information, like bees or primates — but like birds, we also have a melodic capacity and an ability to recombine parts of our uttered language. For this reason, our finite vocabularies can generate a seemingly infinite string of words. Indeed, the researchers suggest that humans first had the ability to sing, as Darwin conjectured, and then managed to integrate specific lexical elements into those songs.

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Flu vaccine barely worked in people 65 and older

Flu vaccine barely worked in people 65 and older | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

This season's flu hospitalization rates in those 65-plus is the highest since CDC began its current surveillance system in 2007, said Michael Jhung, a CDC epidemiologist. In the last week of January, the rate of people in that age group who were hospitalized with a laboratory-confirmed case of influenza was 116 per 100,000. Previously, the highest rate was 73.7 per 100,000, he said.

 

The CDC findings are consistent with studies of how well this season's flu virus worked in Europe. The CDC researchers cautioned that the findings were interim and looked only at people who had gone to the doctor with flu symptoms. More research is needed to see if chronic medical conditions and other problems associated with aging might have affected the outcome, they said. The CDC plans to do further research.

 

Overall, the vaccine's effectiveness for everyone older than 6 months was 56%, just slightly lower than the 62% that had been estimated earlier in the season. This season's vaccine contains protection against three flu strains: H3N2, influenza B and H1N1. The vaccine was 67% effective against influenza B in adults over 65 but only 9% effective against H3N2, the most prevalent strain this season, the CDC found. There were not enough H1N1 to tell its effectiveness.

 

When broken into age groups, the vaccine's overall effectiveness against H3N2 flu was:

 

• 6 months to 17 years: 58%

• 18 to 49 years: 46%

• 50 to 64 years: 50%

• 65 and older, 9%.

 

As people age, the immune system becomes less able to battle sickness. Some studies in past flu seasons have found the vaccine to be a strong benefit for older adults, some less. A study that looked at several years worth of data found the vaccine reduced the risk of influenza-associated hospitalizations among older adults by 61%.

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Caves point to thawing of Siberia: Rise of 1.5˚C would suggest that large-scale melting is just around the corner

Caves point to thawing of Siberia: Rise of 1.5˚C would suggest that large-scale melting is just around the corner | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Evidence from Siberian caves suggests that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius could see permanently frozen ground thaw over a large area of Siberia, threatening release of carbon from soils, and damage to natural and human environments.


A thaw in Siberia's permafrost (ground frozen throughout the year) could eventually release over 1,000 giga-tonnes of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, potentially enhancing global warming.

 

The data comes from an international team led by Oxford University scientists studying stalactites and stalagmites from caves located along the 'permafrost frontier', where ground begins to be permanently frozen in a layer tens to hundreds of metres thick. Because stalactites and stalagmites only grow when liquid rainwater and snow melt drips into the caves, these formations record 500,000 years of changing permafrost conditions, including warmer periods similar to the climate of today.

 

Records from a particularly warm period (Marine Isotopic Stage 11) that occurred around 400,000 years ago suggest that global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the modern (pre-industrial) climate is enough to cause substantial thawing of permafrost far north from its present-day southern limit. 

 

'The stalactites and stalagmites from these caves are a way of looking back in time to see how warm periods similar to our modern climate affect how far permafrost extends across Siberia,' said Dr Anton Vaks of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences, who led the work. 'As permafrost covers 24% of the land surface of the Northern hemisphere significant thawing could affect vast areas and release giga-tonnes of carbon.

 

'This has huge implications for ecosystems in the region, and for aspects of the human environment.  For instance, natural gas facilities in the region, as well as power lines, roads, railways and buildings are all built on permafrost and are vulnerable to thawing. Such a thaw could damage this infrastructure with obvious economic implications.'

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Chloe Miranda Allen's comment, February 12, 2014 9:32 AM
Summary: In this article, the author informs his readers of a cave in Siberia showing signs of, for loss of a better word, thawing or melting. If this scientific evaluation holds true, then this cave's permafrost thawing could be potentially harmful to the environment. Allegedly, this cave could release over 1,000 giga-tonnes of greenhouse gases into the air, increasing global warming.
Chloe Miranda Allen's comment, February 12, 2014 9:33 AM
Reaction: The title caused my initial reaction to be "this sounds really weird and dangerous."
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Most abundant ocean viruses attack bacteria that are important for the carbon cycle

Most abundant ocean viruses attack bacteria that are important for the carbon cycle | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In one corner is the Earth’s most abundant organism: SAR11, an ocean-living bacterium that survives where most other cells would die and plays a major role in the planet’s carbon cycle. It had been theorized that SAR11 was so small and widespread that it must be invulnerable to attack.

 

In the other corner, and so strange looking that scientists previously didn’t even recognize what they were, are “Pelagiphages,” viruses now known to infect SAR11 and routinely kill millions of these cells every second.

 

How this fight turns out is of more than casual interest, because SAR11 has a huge effect on the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere, and the overall biology of the oceans.

 

“There’s a war going on in our oceans, a huge war, and we never even saw it,” says Stephen Giovannoni, a professor of microbiology at Oregon State University. “This is an important piece of the puzzle in how carbon is stored or released in the sea.” The analysis shows that the new viruses—like their hosts—are the most abundant on record.

 

The paper in Nature describes four previously unknown viruses that infect SAR11. To prove the viruses were as abundant as their hosts, Giovannoni and colleagues teamed up with researchers at the University of Arizona’s Tucson Marine Phage Research Lab, led by Matthew Sullivan, who had developed accurate methods for measuring viral diversity in nature.

 

The analysis shows that the new viruses—like their hosts—are the most abundant on record. Giovannoni’s group discovered the Pelagiphage viral families by using “old-fashioned” research methods, growing the cells and viruses in a laboratory, instead of the tools of modern genomics, and found the new type of virus.

 

“Because they are so new, these viruses were virtually unrecognizable to us based on their DNA,” Giovannoni says. “The viruses themselves, of course, appear to be just as abundant as SAR11.”

 

Sullivan explains the method for discovering viruses in the oceans based on their genomes his group developed over four years is at least 1,000 times more accurate than previous methods.

 

Their work resulted in the Pacific Ocean Virus dataset. This dataset, Sullivan explains, is the viral equivalent of the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition by former human genome researcher J. Craig Venter, who sailed across the world’s oceans sampling, sequencing, and analyzing the DNA of the microorganisms living in these waters. The new findings on SAR11 disprove the theory that the bacteria are immune to viral predation, Giovannoni and his co-authors say.

 

“In general, every living cell is vulnerable to viral infection,” says Giovannoni, who first discovered SAR11 in 1990. “What has been so puzzling about SAR11 was its sheer abundance, there was simply so much of it that some scientists believed it must not get attacked by viruses.” What the new research shows, Giovannoni says, is that SAR11 is competitive, good at scavenging organic carbon, and effective at changing quickly to avoid infection. Because of this, it thrives and persists in abundance even though the new viruses are constantly killing it.

 

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2013 Genomics: The Era Beyond the Sequencing of the Human Genome: Francis Collins, Craig Venter, Eric Lander, et al.

2013 Genomics: The Era Beyond the Sequencing of the Human Genome: Francis Collins, Craig Venter, Eric Lander, et al. | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Curator: Dr. Aviva Lev-Ari


One decade following the completion of the  Sequencing of the Human Genome – the field of Genomics, the discipline that has emerged as a result of project completion has FOUR sections: Comparative Genomics, Genome Sequencing and Annotation, Functional Genomics, and Translational Genomics.

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Noise is not necessarily detrimental to quantum devices and elementary operations of future quantum computers

Noise is not necessarily detrimental to quantum devices and elementary operations of future quantum computers | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The researches of the Aalto University and the University of Oulu have succeeded to simulate a phenomenon called motional averaging, which demonstrates that in certain conditions externally-induced fast fluctuations in energy can help stabilize the state of the system. The study shows that noise is not necessarily detrimental to the functioning of quantum devices such as superconducting quantum bits, but under certain circumstances noise can even improve their characteristics.

The researchers also demonstrated that quantum coherence is maintained in certain hybrid states that are combinations of the states of the atom and those of the modulating field. This could lead to novel ways of realizing so-called quantum gates, that is, the elementary operations of future quantum computers. 

"In natural set-ups, like in liquids or gases, the energy fluctuations of atoms can be modified only indirectly, for instance, by changing the temperature. We have recreated this phenomenon in an electrical circuit that artificially mimics an atom," says doctoral researcher Matti Silveri from Oulu University. "On a fundamental level, one can see this phenomenon as a way to go around the restrictions imposed by the energy-time uncertainty relation," adds docent Sorin Paraoanu from Aalto University.


The measurements were conducted by applying a combination of microwave electronics and cryogenic techniques to a superconducting quantum circuit, where the energy fluctuations of the artificial atom were induced and controlled externally by a random signal generator. The research is a first step in the direction of emergent quantum technologies, based on the principles of quantum mechanics. Circuits such as those studied by the team are expected to perform simulations of quantum many-body phenomena enabling, for example, predictions of the properties of materials to an accuracy which is currently not available.

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Lobster Nebula Shell Removed By 'Infrared Cracker', Reveals Hot New Stars

Known to astronomers as NGC 6357, the nebula is located more than 8,000 light-years from Earth. NGC 6357 is homed to the Pismis-24 star cluster, once thought to the single most massive star. It was later discovered that three massive stars were responsible for the illusion.

 

“One of the bright young stars in NGC 6357, known as Pismis 24-1, was thought to be the most massive star known — until it was found to actually be made up of at least three huge bright stars, each with a mass of under 100 times that of our sun,” the international space agency said in a statement released Wednesday. “Even so, these stars are still heavyweights — some of the most massive in our Milky Way. Pismis 24-1 is the brightest object in the Pismis 24 star cluster, a bunch of stars that are all thought to have formed at the same time within NGC 6357.”

 

The image could provide astronomers with a large amount of data on how young stars grow and evolve in the universe. The image is the first to view the nebula through the prism of infrared, which penetrates much of the dust that cloaks the nebula. Infrared can capture a number of features often invisible to optical telescopes. The image itself is a stunning example of coordination among the world’s leading space agencies. The pair of telescops reportedly produced visible-light images of various parts of this region. The images captured were then compared to new infrared image, providing astronomers with an unprecedented view of the nebula.

 

The latest image is part of a much large project dubbed VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV), an attempt to survey large portions of the Milky Way galaxy. The telescope, the largest ever built, is allowing astronomers to view the universe as never before. Earlier this year, the telescope produced one of the most detailed images of the Milky Way. The staggering 9-gigapixel picture contained data on nearly 80 million stars and 173 million different objects in the galaxy, ESO officials said at the time.

 
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Human heart development slower than other mammals

Human heart development slower than other mammals | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The walls of the human heart are a disorganized jumble of tissue until relatively late in pregnancy, despite having the shape of a fully functioning heart, according to a pioneering study.


Although scientists saw four clearly defined chambers in the fetal heart from the eighth week of pregnancy, they did not find organized muscle tissue until the 20th week -much later than expected.

 

Developing an accurate, computerized simulation of the fetal heart is critical to understanding normal heart development in the womb and, eventually, to opening new ways of detecting and dealing with some functional abnormalities early in pregnancy.

 

Studies of early heart development have previously been largely based on other mammals such as mice or pigs, adult hearts and dead human samples.

 

The research team, led by scientists at the University of Leeds is using scans of healthy fetuses in the womb, including one mother who volunteered to have detailed weekly ECG (electrocardiography) scans from 18 weeks until just before deliver. These functional data are incorporated into a 3D computerised model using information about the structure, shape and size of the different components of the heart from two types of MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans of fetuses’ hearts.


Early results are already suggesting that the human heart may develop on a different timeline from other mammals. While the tissue in the walls of a pig heart develops a highly organized structure at a relatively early stage of a fetus’ development, a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface Focus reports that the there is little organisation of the human heart’s cells until 20 weeks into pregnancy.

 

A pig’s pregnancy lasts about three months and the organized structure of the walls of the heart emerge in the first month of pregnancy. The new study only detected similar organized structures well into the second trimester of the human pregnancy. Human fetuses have a regular heartbeat from about 22 days.


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Kaylee Lakes's curator insight, October 24, 2013 9:11 PM

This article says that pigs hearts are developed much fasted in pregnancy than humans, and that humans hearts are compared to pig hearts when they do test! 

 

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CAVE2 - Using 3-D Worlds To Visualize Big Data On Room-Sized Screen

CAVE2 - Using 3-D Worlds To Visualize Big Data On Room-Sized Screen | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Take a walk through a human brain? Fly over the surface of Mars? Computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago are pushing science fiction closer to reality with a wraparound virtual world where a researcher wearing 3-D glasses can do all that and more.

 

In the system, known as CAVE2, an 8-foot-high screen encircles the viewer 320 degrees. A panorama of images springs from 72 stereoscopic liquid crystal display panels, conveying a dizzying sense of being able to touch what's not really there.

 

As far back as 1950, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury imagined a children's nursery that could make bedtime stories disturbingly real. "Star Trek" fans might remember the holodeck as the virtual playground where the fictional Enterprise crew relaxed in fantasy worlds.

 

The Illinois computer scientists have more serious matters in mind when they hand visitors 3-D glasses and a controller called a "wand." Scientists in many fields today share a common challenge: How to truly understand overwhelming amounts of data. Jason Leigh, co-inventor of the CAVE2 virtual reality system, believes this technology answers that challenge.

 

"In the next five years, we anticipate using the CAVE to look at really large-scale data to help scientists make sense of that information. CAVEs are essentially fantastic lenses for bringing data into focus," Leigh said.

 

The CAVE2 virtual world could change the way doctors are trained and improve patient care, Leigh said. Pharmaceutical researchers could use it to model the way new drugs bind to proteins in the human body. Car designers could virtually "drive" their vehicle designs.

 

Imagine turning massive amounts of data – the forces behind a hurricane, for example – into a simulation that a weather researcher could enlarge and explore from the inside. Architects could walk through their skyscrapers before they are built. Surgeons could rehearse a procedure using data from an individual patient.

 

But the size and expense of room-based virtual reality systems may prove insurmountable barriers to widespread use, said Henry Fuchs, a computer science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is familiar with the CAVE technology but wasn't involved in its development.

While he calls the CAVE2 "a national treasure," Fuchs predicts a smaller technology such as Google's Internet-connected eyeglasses will do more to revolutionize medicine than the CAVE. Still, he says large displays are the best way today for people to interact and collaborate.

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WIRED: Tiny microscope in mouse's head lets you read its mind

WIRED: Tiny microscope in mouse's head lets you read its mind | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

By implanting a tiny microscope in the brain of a mouse Stanford researchers have been able to monitor its brain activity.

 

The study links the observed neuron activity with long-term information storage and could be used to develop treatments and therapies for neurodegenerative conditions in humans.

 

The technique involved genetically engineering the mice to contain a green fluorescent protein. The protein was created to react to the presence of calcium ions so, when the neuron fired and the cell naturally flooded with those ions, the cells fluoresced green.

 

A little microscope positioned just above the hippocampus in the mouse's brain could then capture the activity and send it to a computer screen for near real-time monitoring as the mouse runs around a little arena.

 

"We can literally figure out where the mouse is in the arena by looking at these lights," said biologist Mark Schnitzer, senior author on the paper which has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

 

"The hippocampus is very sensitive to where the animal is in its environment, and different cells respond to different parts of the arena. Imagine walking around your office. Some of the neurons in your hippocampus light up when you're near your desk, and others fire when you're near your chair. This is how your brain makes a representative map of a space."

 

These patterns of firing in the mouse brain were found to stay consistent even after weeks had passed between tests. This consistency is what makes it possible to use the technique as a tool with which to study progressive brain diseases and evaluate the effectiveness of some types of treatment and therapy.

 
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Human cognition depends upon slow-firing neurons, Yale researchers find

Human cognition depends upon slow-firing neurons, Yale researchers find | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

High-order thinking depends upon our ability to generate mental representations in our brains without any sensory stimulation from the environment. These cognitive abilities arise from highly evolved circuits in the prefrontal cortex.

 

Mathematical models by former Yale neurobiologist Xiao-Jing Wang, now of New York University, predicted that in order to maintain these visual representations the prefrontal cortex must rely on a family of receptors that allow for slow, steady firing of neurons. The Yale scientists show that NMDA-NR2B receptors involved in glutamate signaling regulate this neuronal firing.  These receptors, studied at Yale for more than a decade, are responsible for activity of highly evolved brain circuits found especially in primates.

 

Earlier studies have shown these types of NMDA receptors are often altered in patients with schizophrenia. The Neuron study suggests that those suffering from the disease may be unable to hold onto a stable view of the world. Also, these receptors seem to be altered in Alzheimer’s patients, which may contribute to the cognitive deficits of dementia.

 

The lab of Dr. John Krystal, chair of the department of psychiatry at Yale, has found that the anesthetic ketamine, abused as a street drug, blocks NMDA receptors and can mimic some of thesymptoms of schizophrenia. The current study in Neuron shows that ketamine may reduce the firing of the same higher-order neural circuits that are decimated in schizophrenia. 

 

“Identifying the receptor needed for higher cognition may help us to understand why certain genetic insults lead to cognitive impairment and will help us to develop strategies for treating these debilitating disorders,” Arnsten said.

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Visualization of brain connectivity in living fetuses in utero

Visualization of brain connectivity in living fetuses in utero | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
For the first time, Wayne State University researchers have shown brain connectivity in fetuses, a discovery that could lead to new ways to prevent and treat brain disorders.

 

Research has shown that brain disorders such as autism may begin in fetal life but there hasn't been a method for seeing and studying brain development at that stage.

 

But Thomason's study showed that the fetal brain can be studied while in the womb using MRI scans that do not threaten the health of the infant or mother, providing a mechanism for many researchers to study fetal brain connections as they are forming and possibly learn how a lack of connections can result in brain disorders.

 

"By understanding how a lack of (brain) connectivity occurs, the research community can begin to identify what things influence early brain development," Thomason said. "If we know what disrupts or impedes healthy brain development, then we have a better shot at finding a way to treat and possibly prevent it."

 

The research, which began in November, was funded partly by the NIH and WSU. It included 25 fetuses between 24 to 38 weeks of gestation.

 

The findings show that brain connections strengthened between the right and left side as fetuses developed and short-distance connections in the brain network are more strongly connected than long-range connections.

 

It is the first study of a larger project that seeks to define how functional brain networks form in fetuses and examine the environment of the developing child in utero, and factors in the mother's life. The project plans to track the fetuses once they become infants and throughout their life so researchers can compare their neurodevelopment to what was seen in the womb. The hope is to even study the children of these fetuses, if funding allows.

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1500 pixels, no camera: New retinal implant gives sight to nine blind people - patients able to read letters

1500 pixels, no camera: New retinal implant gives sight to nine blind people - patients able to read letters | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

German and Hungarian researchers have brought sight to nine blind patients with hereditary retinal degeneration, using a subretinally implanted microelectronic chip with 1500 pixels.

 

The chip size is approximately 3mm x 3mm and is surgically implanted below the fovea (area of sharpest vision in the retina). It provides a diamond-shaped visual field of 15 degrees diagonally across chip corners. It is powered by a subdermal coil behind the ear that is powered from a battery via transdermal inductive transmission.

 

The core of the implant is a microchip with 1,500 pixels, each 70 x 70 microns. Photocells, an amplifying circuit, and a stimulation electrode are attached to each pixel. The photocells absorb the light entering the eye, transforming it into electrical signals. A tiny power line provides energy from the subdermal coil  Sixteen additional electrodes are placed for testing purposes at the tip of the implant. The incoming light intensity controls the amount of current released by each electrode, stimulating the neighboring intact retinal nerve cells electrically. The nerve impulses generated by the retinal cells are processed in the remaining neuronal network of the retina and transmitted via the optic nerve to the visual cortex, creating visual sensations. An unimpaired, regularly functioning optic nerve is required.


“So far, our approach using subretinal electronic implants is the only one that has successfully mediated images in a trial with freely moving blind persons by means of a light sensor array that moves with the eye,” the scientists said. “All the other current approaches require an extraocular camera that does not link image capture to eye movements, which, therefore, does not allow the utilization of microsaccades for refreshing the perceived images.” In most hereditary retinal diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa, the photoreceptors progressively degenerate, often causing blindness in adult life, and there is no therapy available to treat this disease.


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New way to probe Earth's deep interior using particle physics proposed

New way to probe Earth's deep interior using particle physics proposed | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers from Amherst College and The University of Texas at Austin have described a new technique that might one day reveal in higher detail than ever before the composition and characteristics of the deep Earth.

There's just one catch: The technique relies on a fifth force of nature (in addition to gravity, the weak and strong nuclear forces and electromagnetism) that has not yet been detected, but which some particle physicists think might exist. Physicists call this type of force a long-range spin-spin interaction. If it does exist, this exotic new force would connect matter at Earth's surface with matter hundreds or even thousands of kilometers below, deep in Earth's mantle. In other words, the building blocks of atoms—electrons, protons, and neutrons—separated over vast distances would "feel" each other's presence. The way these particles interact could provide new information about the composition and characteristics of the mantle, which is poorly understood because of its inaccessibility.


"The most rewarding and surprising thing about this project was realizing that particle physics could actually be used to study the deep Earth," says Jung-Fu "Afu" Lin, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences and co-author of the study appearing this week in the journal Science.


This new force could help settle a scientific quandary. When earth scientists have tried to model how factors such as iron concentration and physical and chemical properties of matter vary with depth—for example, using the way earthquake rumbles travel through the Earth or through laboratory experiments designed to mimic the intense temperatures and pressures of the deep Earth—they get different answers. The fifth force, assuming it exists, might help reconcile these conflicting lines of evidence.


Earth's mantle is a thick geological layer sandwiched between the thin outer crust and central core, made up mostly of iron-bearing minerals. The atoms in these minerals and the subatomic particles making up the atoms have a property called spin. Spin can be thought of as an arrow that points in a particular direction. It is thought that Earth's magnetic field causes some of the electrons in these mantle minerals to become slightly spin-polarized, meaning the directions in which they spin are no longer completely random, but have some preferred orientation. These electrons have been dubbed geoelectrons.

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JAG1 (Jagged-1 Ligand) stimulates stem cells to differentiate into bone-producing cells

JAG1 (Jagged-1 Ligand) stimulates stem cells to differentiate into bone-producing cells | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

JAG1, the gene for the Jagged-1 ligand (Jag1) in the Notch signaling pathway, is variably mutated in Alagille Syndrome (ALGS). ALGS patients have skeletal defects, and additionally JAG1 has been shown to be associated with low bone mass through genome wide association studies. Plating human osteoblast precursors (mesenchymal stem cells -- hMSC) on Jag1 is sufficient to induce osteoblast differentiation; however, exposure of mouse MSC (mMSC) to Jag1 actually inhibits osteoblastogenesis. Overexpression of the notch-2 intracellular domain (NICD) is sufficient to mimic the effect of Jag1 on hMSC osteoblastogenesis, while blocking Notch signaling with a gamma-secretase inhibitor or with dominant negative mastermind inhibits Jag1 induced hMSC osteoblastogenesis. In pursuit of interacting signaling pathways, we discovered that treatment with a PKCδ inhibitor abrogates Jag1 induced hMSC osteoblastogenesis. Jag1 results in rapid PKCδ nuclear translocation and kinase activation. Furthermore, Jag1 stimulates the physical interaction of PKCδ with NICD. Collectively, these results suggest that Jag1 induces hMSC osteoblast differentiation through canonical Notch signaling and requires concomitant PKCδ signaling. This research also demonstrates potential deficiencies in using mouse models to study ALGS bone abnormalities.

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Touchy-Feely Bionic Hand Closer to Reality

Touchy-Feely Bionic Hand Closer to Reality | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In recent years, a plethora of bionic hands have emerged for amputees. However, surveys of those using such artificial hands have revealed that up to 50 percent of amputees do not use theprosthesis regularly, due to poor functionality, appearance and controllability.

 

So, to improve the amount of dexterity and sensation of these bionic hands, scientists reasoned they could use interfaces that link the hands with the nervous system, potentially enabling intuitive control and realistic sensory feedback.

 

"Our dream is to have Luke Skywalker getting back his hand with normal function," researcher Silvestro Micera told TechNewsDaily, referencing the hero in "Star Wars" who gets an artificial hand after his real one is cut off.

 

Micera is the head of the translational neural engineering lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is one of the collaborators helping to develop the new bionic hand.


In a four-week clinical trial, Micera and his colleagues found they could improve the sensory feedback an amputee received from bionics by using electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves in the arm near the stump. This helped deliver feelings of touch.

 

In addition, the researchers analyzed motor neural activity from the nerves, signals used to help control muscles. They found they could tease out signals related to grasping to help control a prosthetic hand placed near the amputee but not physically attached to the person's arm. In other words, it may be possible to develop an artificial hand that can transmit signals to and respond to data from the brain. "We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years," Micera said.

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Are doctors necessary? Just how far might the automation of medicine go?

Are doctors necessary? Just how far might the automation of medicine go? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

IBM's Watson—the same machine that beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy—is now churning through case histories at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, learning to make diagnoses and treatment recommendations. This is one in a series of developments suggesting that technology may be about to disrupt health care in the same way it has disrupted so many other industries. “n Brazil and India, machines are already starting to do primary care, because there’s no labor to do it. They may be better than doctors. Mathematically, they will follow evidence—and they’re much more likely to be right.

 

Harley Lukov didn’t need a miracle. He just needed the right diagnosis. Lukov, a 62-year-old from central New Jersey, had stopped smoking 10 years earlier—fulfilling a promise he’d made to his daughter, after she gave birth to his first grandchild. But decades of cigarettes had taken their toll. Lukov had adenocarcinoma, a common cancer of the lung, and it had spread to his liver. The oncologist ordered a biopsy, testing a surgically removed sample of the tumor to search for particular “driver” mutations. A driver mutation is a specific genetic defect that causes cells to reproduce uncontrollably, interfering with bodily functions and devouring organs. Think of an on/off switch stuck in the “on” direction. With lung cancer, doctors typically test for mutations called EGFR and ALK, in part because those two respond well to specially targeted treatments. But the tests are a long shot: although EGFR and ALK are the two driver mutations doctors typically see with lung cancer, even they are relatively uncommon. When Lukov’s cancer tested negative for both, the oncologist prepared to start a standard chemotherapy regimen—even though it meant the side effects would be worse and the prospects of success slimmer than might be expected using a targeted agent.

 

But Lukov’s true medical condition wasn’t quite so grim. The tumor did have a driver—a third mutation few oncologists test for in this type of case. It’s called KRAS. Researchers have known about KRAS for a long time, but only recently have they realized that it can be the driver mutation in metastatic lung cancer—and that, in those cases, it responds to the same drugs that turn it off in other tumors. A doctor familiar with both Lukov’s specific medical history and the very latest research might know to make the connection—to add one more biomarker test, for KRAS, and then to find a clinical trial testing the efficacy of KRAS treatments on lung cancer. But the national treatment guidelines for lung cancer don’t recommend such action, and few physicians, however conscientious, would think to do these things.

 

Did Lukov ultimately get the right treatment? Did his oncologist make the connection between KRAS and his condition, and order the test? He might have, if Lukov were a real patient and the oncologist were a real doctor. They’re not. They are fictional composites developed by researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, in order to help train—and demonstrate the skills of—IBM’s Watson supercomputer. Yes, this is the same Watson that famously went on Jeopardy and beat two previous human champions. But IBM didn’t build Watson to win game shows. The company is developing Watson to help professionals with complex decision making, like the kind that occurs in oncologists’ offices—and to point out clinical nuances that health professionals might miss on their own.

 

Watson has gotten some media hype already, including articles in Wired and Fast Company. Still, you probably shouldn’t expect to see it the next time you visit your doctor’s office. Before the computer can make real-life clinical recommendations, it must learn to understand and analyze medical information, just as it once learned to ask the right questions on Jeopardy. That’s where Memorial Sloan-Kettering comes in. The famed cancer institute has signed up to be Watson’s tutor, feeding it clinical information extracted from real cases and then teaching it how to make sense of the data. “The process of pulling out two key facts from aJeopardy clue is totally different from pulling out all the relevant information, and its relationships, from a medical case,” says Ari Caroline, Sloan-Kettering’s director of quantitative analysis and strategic initiatives. “Sometimes there is conflicting information. People phrase things different ways.” But Caroline, who approached IBM about the research collaboration, nonetheless predicts that Watson will prove “very valuable”—particularly in a field like cancer treatment, in which the explosion of knowledge is already overwhelming. “If you’re looking down the road, there are going to be many more clinical options, many more subtleties around biomarkers … There will be nuances not just in interpreting the case but also in treating the case,” Caroline says. “You’re going to need a tool like Watson because the complexity and scale of information will be such that a typical decision tool couldn’t possibly handle it all.”

 

The Cleveland Clinic is also helping to develop Watson, first as a tool for training young physicians and then, possibly, as a tool at the bedside itself. James Young, the executive dean of the Cleveland Clinic medical school, told The Plain Dealer, “If we can get Watson to give us information in the health-care arena like we’ve seen with more-general sorts of knowledge information, I think it’s going to be an extraordinary tool for clinicians and a huge advancement.” And WellPoint, the insurance company, has already begun testing Watson as a support tool for nurses who make treatment-approval decisions.

 

Whether these experiments show real, quantifiable improvements in the quality or efficiency of care remains to be seen. If Watson tells physicians only what they already know, or if they end up ordering many more tests for no good reason, Watson could turn out to be more hindrance than help. But plenty of serious people in the fields of medicine, engineering, and business think Watson will work (IBM says that it could be widely available within a few years). And many of these same people believe that this is only the beginning—that whether or not Watson itself succeeds, it is emblematic of a quantum shift in health care that’s just now getting under way.

 
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Video collection of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that crashed into Lake Chebarkul, Russia

Video collection of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that crashed into Lake Chebarkul, Russia | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The meteorite  on February 14th weighed about 10,000 tons. According to NASA, the power released during the explosion was equivalent to 500 kiloton, which is 30 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

NASA experts describe the Chebarkul meteorite as the second largest since 1908, when a meteor hit Tunguska in Siberia. Such a meteor strike can be expected every 100 years, a NASA expert said.

 

Chelyabinsk meteorite fragments are already on sale on one of the most popular online auctions, Ebay. Not only the citizens of Russia are among the vendors but also Americans are involved.

 

Astronomers could not trace the Chelyabinsk meteor because this celestial body was approaching from the Sun, and telescopes did not see it in the sunshine, Deputy Director of the Sternberg Astronomical Institute at the Moscow State University Sergei Lamzin said. "It was impossible to detect it, because it was flying fromthe Sun. But if it was flying at night, our MASTER telescopes’network could have traced it", Lamzin said to journalists. MASTER telescopes can observe bursts in the Universe, watch comets, meteors and space debris. The system includes telescopes, located in the Tunka valley, Moscow region, Kislovodsk, in the Urals and in Blagoveschensk.

 

In the period of time around the fall of the Chelyabinsk meteor, the Russian Meteor weather satellite registered an increase in the concentration of water molecules in the orbit that possibly indicates that the space "guest" was a comet.

 

Researchers say the meteorite exploded into at least seven large pieces and hundreds of small ones. One of the bigger fragments plunged into the local Chebarkul Lake, forming an 8-meter ice hole.

 

REPORT is here: http://tinyurl.com/b8tbrkh

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Gene Therapy's Next Frontier: Zinc-Finger Nucleases for Somatic Gene Therapy

Gene Therapy's Next Frontier: Zinc-Finger Nucleases for Somatic Gene Therapy | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) are a powerful tool that can be used to edit the human genome ad libitum. The technology has experienced remarkable development in the last few years with regard to both the target site specificity and the engineering platforms used to generate zinc-finger proteins. As a result, two phase I clinical trials aimed at knocking out the CCR5 receptor in T cells isolated from HIV patients to protect these lymphocytes from infection with the virus have been initiated. Moreover, ZFNs have been successfully employed to knockout or correct disease-related genes in human stem cells, including hematopoietic precursor cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. Targeted genome engineering approaches in multipotent and pluripotent stem cells hold great promise for future strategies geared toward correcting inborn mutations for personalized cell replacement therapies.

 

Short-lived ZFN expression from episomal DNA-based expression vectors—such as plasmid DNA, integrase-deficient lentiviral vectors, adenoviral vectors, and vectors based on adeno-associated virus—can only be achieved in mitotic cells, which ensures rapid dilution of the vectors during cell divisions. Because DNA-based vector systems have a tendency to integrate into the host genome, it will be important to closely follow the fate of the ZFN expression vectors in the target cells. An alternative way of delivering ZFNs is the transfer of ZFN-encoding mRNA, which ensures rapid but transient ZFN expression and avoids the issue of illegitimate integration.

 

Microinjection of ZFN-encoding mRNA has been performed in zebrafish and rat single-cell embryos, and the ZFN-mediated gene disruption frequency was comparable to plasmid DNA delivery. Moreover, delivery of ZFNs by mRNA transfection has been used to target the integration of a transgene into the AAVS1 locus in human iPSCs.

 

If direct in situ correction of a disease locus is not an option, an important consideration will be to determine where to integrate a therapeutic transgene cassette into the human genome. The AAVS1 site on chromosome 19 is thus far the most promising candidate for such a safe harbor, as a native insulator region appears to both protect transgene expression from position-effect variegation and silencing and prevent the transgene promoter from affecting the host transcriptome.

 

The fact that ZFNs can be used to create knockout animals is especially encouraging and emphasizes the high specificity the technology has reached in the last 3 years. Moreover, the development of alternative designer nucleases, such as TALENs and meganucleases, has further spurred interest in targeted genome engineering approaches. Conversely, studies reporting ZFN off-target activities in zebrafish and human cells must not be overlooked and should serve as the basis for further improvement of the technology. The employment of highly specific designer nucleases is especially important when DSB-based genome engineering is applied to multipotent or pluripotent stem cells, such as HSCs or iPSCs, with their high proliferative potential. Even so, the remarkable progress achieved in the last few years demonstrates that ZFNs represent a tool that allows researchers and clinicians for the first time to rationally edit the genome of human cells and to take this technology from the bench to the bedside for therapeutic applications.

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Time reversal findings may open doors to the future

Time reversal findings may open doors to the future | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Imagine a cell phone charger that recharges your phone remotely without even knowing where it is; a device that targets and destroys tumors, wherever they are in the body; or a security field that can disable electronics, even a listening device hiding in a prosthetic toe, without knowing where it is.


The figure shown demonstrates secure communication with nonlinear time-reversal of two different UMD images using electromagnetic waves (signals) each sent through a complicated wave scattering environment (brown box in the middle). The black boxes represent time-reversed signals that are not reconstructed after being scattered.

While these applications remain only dreams, researchers at the University of Maryland have come up with a sci-fi seeming technology that one day could make them real. Using a time-reversal technique, the team has discovered how to transmit power, sound or images to a nonlinear object without knowing the object's exact location and without affecting objects around it. 

"That's the magic of time reversal," says Steven Anlage, a university physics professor involved in the project. "When you reverse the waveform's direction in space and time, it follows the same path it took coming out and finds its way exactly back to the source."

The time-reversal process is less like living the last five minutes over and more like playing a record backwards, explains Matthew Frazier, a postdoctoral research fellow in the university's physics department. When a signal travels through the air, its waveforms scatter before an antenna picks it up. Recording the received signal and transmitting it backwards reverses the scatter and sends it back as a focused beam in space and time.


"If you go toward a secure building, they won't let you take cell phones," Frazier says, "So instead of checking everyone, they could detect the cell phone and send a lot of energy to to jam it." What differentiates this research from other time-reversal projects, such as underwater communication, is that it focuses on nonlinear objects such as a cellphone, diode or even a rusty piece of metal. When the altered, nonlinear frequency of nonlinear objects is recorded, time-reversed and retransmitted, it creates a private communication channel, because other objects cannot understand the signal.

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Predictable Evolution? --Identical Mutations in Separate Populations Over 1,000 Generations

Predictable Evolution? --Identical Mutations in Separate Populations Over 1,000 Generations | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Understanding how and why diversification occurs is important for understanding why there are so many species on Earth. In a new study, researchers show that similar—or even identical—mutations can occur during diversification in completely separate populations of E. coli evolving in different environments over more than 1000 generations. Evolution, therefore, can be surprisingly predictable.

 

The experiment, conducted by Matthew Herron, research assistant professor at the University of Montana, and Professor Michael Doebeli of the University of British Columbia, involved 3 different populations of bacteria. At the start of the experiment, each population consisted of generalists competing for two different sources of dietary carbon (glucose and acetate), but after 1200 generations they had evolved into two coexisting types each with a specialized physiology adapted to one of the carbon sources. Herron and Doebeli were able to sequence the genomes of populations of bacteria frozen at 16 different points during their evolution, and discovered a surprising amount of similarity in their evolution. 

"In all three populations it seems to be more or less the same core set of genes that are causing the two phenotypes that we see," Herron said. "In a few cases, it's even the exact same genetic change." Recent advances in sequencing technology allowed Herron and Doebeli to sequence large numbers of whole bacterial genomes and provide evidence that there is predictability in evolutionary diversity. Any evolutionary process is some combination of predictable and unpredictable processes with random mutations, but seeing the same genetic changes in different populations showed that selection can be deterministic.

 

"There are about 4.5 million nucleotides in the E. coli genome," he said. "Finding in four cases that the exact same change had happened independently in different populations was intriguing." Herron and Doebeli argue that a particular form of selection—negative frequency dependence—plays an important role in driving diversification. When bacteria are either glucose specialists or acetate specialists, a higher density of one type will mean fewer resources for that type, so bacteria specializing on the alternative resource will be at an advantage.

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Stanford scientists fit a light-emitting bioprobe in a single living cell without damage to the cell

Stanford scientists fit a light-emitting bioprobe in a single living cell without damage to the cell | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

If engineers at Stanford have their way, biological research may soon be transformed by a new class of light-emitting probes small enough to be injected into individual cells without harm to the host.

 

Welcome to biophotonics, a discipline at the confluence of engineering, biology and medicine in which light-based devices – lasers and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) – are opening up new avenues in the study and influence of living cells.

 

The team described their probe in a paper published online Feb. 13, 2013 by the journal Nano Letters. It is the first study to demonstrate that tiny, sophisticated devices known as light resonators can be inserted inside cells without damaging the cell. Even with a resonator embedded inside, a cell is able to function, migrate and reproduce as normal.

 

The researchers call their device a "nanobeam," because it resembles a steel I-beam with a series of round holes etched through the center. This beam, however, is not massive, but measure only a few microns in length and just a few hundred nanometers in width and thickness. It looks a bit like a piece from an erector set of old. The holes through the beam act like a nanoscale hall of mirrors, focusing and amplifying light at the center of the beam in what are known as photonic cavities.


Structurally, the new device is a sandwich of extremely thin layers of the semiconductor gallium arsenide alternated with similarly thin layers of light-emitting crystal, a sort of photonic fuel known as quantum dots. The structure is carved out of chips or wafers, much like sculptures are chiseled out of rock. Once sculpted, the devices remain tethered to the thick substrate.

 

For biological applications, the thick, heavy substrate presents a serious hurdle for interfacing with single cells. The underlying and all-important nanocavities are locked in position on the rigid material and unable to penetrate cell walls.

 

Shambat's breakthrough came when he was able to peel away the photonic nanobeams. He then glued the ultrathin photonic device to a fiberoptic cable with which he steers the needle-like probe toward and into the cell.


Once inserted in the cell, the probe emits light, which can be observed from outside. For engineers, it means that almost any application of these powerful photonic devices can be translated into the previously off-limits environment of the cell interior. In one finding that the authors describe as stunning, they loaded their nanobeams into cells and watched as the cells grew, migrated around the research environment and reproduced. Each time a cell divided, one of the daughter cells inherited the nanobeam from the parent and the beam continued to function as expected.

 

This inheritability frees researchers to study living cells over long periods of time, a research advantage not possible with existing detection techniques, which require cells be either dead or fixed in place.

 

"Our nanoscale probes can reside in cells for long periods of time, potentially providing sensor feedback or giving control signals to the cells down the road," said Shambat. "We tracked one cell for eight days. That's a long time for a single-cell study."


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Study: New SARS-like virus is extremely effective when attacking humans

Study: New SARS-like virus is extremely effective when attacking humans | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new virus is raising concerns. According to a newly published study, the novel coronavirus virus (NCoV), a potentially deadly virus that has captured the attention of international health officials, could be more adept at infecting humans.

 

According to one of the first published studies of NCoV, the virus may have evolved to better attack humans and evade immune system responses. Researchers at the Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in St. Gallen, who announced the findings Tuesday, say HCoV, along with the common cold virus, are similar in terms of host responses. The immune system fails to identify the virus, leading it continue to adapt to its host.

 

The virus, part of the same family as the common cold and SARS, has reportedly struck upwards of twelve individuals over the course of the past month, according to health officials. The individuals reside in various areas around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. Health officials say five patients have died from the virus.

 

The virus has captured the attention of World Health Organization (WHO) officials; it was listed as a new virus by the WHO last year. It remains unclear how the virus came to be, but some health expert suspect it was carried by animals transported from country to country. The virus was largely unknown to exist in humans until it emerged in the Middle East late last year. Following confirmation of the first infection by the novel coronavirus, WHO – working under the International Health Regulations – immediately alerted various governments and health authorities in order to halt the spread of the virus.

 

The virus, which holds the ability to penetrate the lining of the passageway in the lungs, could evade the immune system, similar to common cold. Doctors say the virus’s ability to evade the immune system means it is extremely effective for infecting humans, raising concerns of a global pandemic.  Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that includes those that cause the common cold as well as the one that caused SARS. That disease emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a 10th of the 8,000 people it had infected worldwide.

 

Speaking Tuesday, health officials said the latest case is concerning. Officials noted that it remains unclear if this the latest case of NCoV is an aonomally, or the beginning of an epidemic.

 

“We don’t know whether the cases are the tip of the iceberg, or whether many more people are infected without showing severe symptoms,” said Volker Thiel of the Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in Switzerland, who led the study examining the effects of the virus. “We don’t have enough cases to have a full picture of the variety of symptoms.”

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Cornell Bioengineers 3-D print artificial ear that looks and acts like the real thing

Cornell Bioengineers 3-D print artificial ear that looks and acts like the real thing | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cornell bioengineers and physicians have created an artificial ear - using 3-D printing and injectable molds - that looks and acts like a natural ear, giving new hope to thousands of children born with a congenital deformity called microtia.

 

Over a three-month period, these flexible ears grew cartilage to replace the collagen that was used to mold them. "This is such a win-win for both medicine and basic science, demonstrating what we can achieve when we work together," said co-lead author Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

 

The novel ear may be the solution reconstructive surgeons have long wished for to help children born with ear deformity, said co-lead author Dr. Jason Spector, director of the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery and associate professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell.

 

"A bioengineered ear replacement like this would also help individuals who have lost part or all of their external ear in an accident or from cancer," Spector said. Replacement ears are usually constructed with materials that have a Styrofoam-like consistency, or sometimes, surgeons build ears from a patient's harvested rib. This option is challenging and painful for children, and the ears rarely look completely natural or perform well, Spector said.

 

To make the ears, Bonassar and colleagues started with a digitized 3-D image of a human subject's ear and converted the image into a digitized "solid" ear using a 3-D printer to assemble a mold. They injected the mold with collagen derived from rat tails, and then added 250 million cartilage cells from the ears of cows. This Cornell-developed, high-density gel is similar to the consistency of Jell-O when the mold is removed. The collagen served as a scaffold upon which cartilage could grow.

 

The process is also fast, Bonassar added: "It takes half a day to design the mold, a day or so to print it, 30 minutes to inject the gel, and we can remove the ear 15 minutes later. We trim the ear and then let it culture for several days in nourishing cell culture media before it is implanted." The incidence of microtia, which is when the external ear is not fully developed, varies from almost 1 to more than 4 per 10,000 births each year. Many children born with microtia have an intact inner ear, but experience hearing loss due to the missing external structure.

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