Computer hardware giant Dell is shipping PCs and laptops with a security hole that could make it easy for online criminals to spy upon your online activity - including intercepting your web email, your purchases and your online banking.
Juliano Pinto, a 29-year-old paraplegic, kicked off the 2014 World Cup in São Paulo with a robotic exoskeleton suit that he wore and controlled with his mind. The event was broadcast internationally and served as a symbol of the exciting possibilities of brain-controlled machines. Over the last few decades research into brain–computer interfaces (BCIs), which allow direct communication between the brain and an external device such a computer or prosthetic, has skyrocketed. Although these new developments are exciting, there are still major hurdles to overcome before people can easily use these devices as a part of daily life.
Until now such devices have largely been proof-of-concept demonstrations of what BCIs are capable of. Currently, almost all of them require technicians to manage and include external wires that tether individuals to large computers. New research, conducted by members of the BrainGate group, a consortium that includes neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians, has made strides toward overcoming some of these obstacles. “Our team is focused on developing what we hope will be an intuitive, always-available brain–computer interface that can be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that works with the same amount of subconscious thought that somebody who is able-bodied might use to pick up a coffee cup or move a mouse,” says Leigh Hochberg, a neuroengineer at Brown University who was involved in the research. Researchers are opting for these devices to also be small, wireless and usable without the help of a caregiver.
Regenerative medicine could one day allow physicians to correct congenital deformities, regrow damaged fingers, or even mend a broken heart. But to do it, they will have to reckon with the body’s own anti-cancer security system. Now UCSF researchers have found a human gene that may be a key mediator of this trade-off, blocking both tumors and healthy regeneration.
As a child, UCSF’s Jason Pomerantz, MD, was amazed by the fact that salamanders can regenerate limbs. Now, as a plastic surgeon and stem cell researcher, he believes that insights from creatures like zebrafish and salamanders, which routinely regrow damaged tails, limbs, jaws and even hearts, may one day endow humans with heightened regenerative abilities.
“In the last 10 to 15 years, as regenerative organisms like zebrafish have become genetically tractable to study in the lab, I became convinced that these animals might be able to teach us what is possible for human regeneration,” Pomerantz said. “Why can these vertebrates regenerate highly complex structures, while we can’t?”
In a study published Nov. 17, 2015, in the journal eLife, Pomerantz and his team showed new evidence suggesting that mammals may have given up the ability to regenerate limbs partly in exchange for advanced cancer-fighting genes.
The question of whether the regenerative powers of zebrafish and salamanders represent ancient abilities that mammals have lost, perhaps in exchange for advanced tumor-suppression systems remains an open question for biologists. Most tumor suppressor genes, being extremely useful for preventing cancer and for forming tissues during development, are broadly distributed and conserved across many different species. Recent studies, however, suggest that one, the Arf gene, arose more recently in the avian and mammalian lineage, and has no equivalent in the genomes of highly regenerative animals.
To explore whether this gene might play a role in preventing tissue regeneration in humans, the researchers added human ARF to the zebrafish genome and assessed how it affected the fishes’ normal ability to regrow damaged fins after injury. They found that human ARF had no effect on the fishes’ normal development or response to superficial injury, but when the researchers trimmed off the tip of a fish’s tail fin, the gene became strongly activated and almost completely prevented fin regrowth by activating a conserved tumor-blocking pathway.
“It’s like the gene is mistaking the regenerating fin cells for aspiring cancer cells,” said Pomerantz, who is an associate professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at UCSF and surgical director of the Craniofacial Center at UCSF’s Medical Center and School of Dentistry. “And so it springs into action to block it.”
It’s remarkable that ARF can so readily integrate itself into the fish’s existing tumor-blocking pathways, Pomerantz said.
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