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Vol. LXII, No. 23
November 12, 2010

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New research funded in part by NIH shows that it is possible to manipulate visual images on a computer screen using only the mind.
New research funded in part by NIH shows that it is possible to manipulate visual images on a computer screen using only the mind.

NIH-Funded Research Shows that Digital Images Manipulable by Mind

Move over, touchpad screens: New research funded in part by NIH shows that it is possible to manipulate complex visual images on a computer screen using only the mind.

The study, published in Nature on Oct. 28, found that when research subjects had their brains connected to a computer displaying two merged images, they could force the computer to display one of the images and discard the other. The signals transmitted from each subject’s brain to the computer were derived from just a handful of brain cells.

“The subjects were able to use their thoughts to override the images they saw on the computer screen,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was funded in part by NINDS and NIMH.

The study reflects progress in the development of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), devices that allow people to control computers or other devices with their thoughts. BCIs hold promise for helping paralyzed individuals to communicate or control prosthetic limbs. But in this study, BCI technology was used mostly as a tool to understand how the brain processes information and especially to understand how thoughts and decisions are shaped by the collective activity of single brain cells.

1000 Genomes Project Publishes Analysis of Completed Pilot Phase

Small genetic differences between individuals help explain why some people have a higher risk than others for developing illnesses such as diabetes or cancer. In the Oct. 28 issue of Nature, the 1000 Genomes Project, an international public-private consortium, published the most comprehensive map of these genetic differences, called variations, estimated to contain approximately 95 percent of the genetic variation of any person on Earth.

Researchers produced the map using next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to systematically characterize human genetic variation in 180 people in 3 pilot studies. Moreover, the full scale-up from the pilots is already under way, with data collected from more than 1,000 people.

“The pilot studies of the 1000 Genomes Project laid a critical foundation for studying human genetic variation,” said Dr. Richard Durbin of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and co-chair of the consortium. “These proof-of-principle studies are enabling consortium scientists to create a comprehensive, publicly available map of genetic variation that will ultimately collect sequence from 2,500 people from multiple populations worldwide and underpin future genetics research.”

Severe Sepsis Associated with Later Cognitive, Physical Decline

Older adults who survive hospitalization involving severe sepsis, a serious medical condition caused by an overwhelming immune response to severe infection, are at higher risk for cognitive impairment and physical limitations than older adults hospitalized for other reasons, researchers have found.

The research, conducted by the University of Michigan and supported primarily by the National Institute on Aging, appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The average age of study participants was 77 at the time of hospitalization for sepsis.

Dr. Theodore Iwashyna and colleagues found that an older person’s risk of cognitive decline increased almost threefold following hospitalization for severe sepsis. They also found that severe sepsis was associated with greater risk for the development of at least one new limitation in performing daily activities following hospitalization.

Improving Moms’ Literacy Skills May Be Best Way to Boost Children’s Achievement

Researchers funded by NIH concluded that programs to boost the academic achievement of children from low-income neighborhoods might be more successful if they also provided adult literacy education to parents.

The researchers based this conclusion on their finding that a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors such as neighborhood and family income.

The analysis, performed by Dr. Narayan Sastry of the University of Michigan and Dr. Anne R. Pebley of the University of California, Los Angeles, examined data on more than 3,000 families. The study, which appeared in Demography, was supported by NICHD.

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