People who went blind as a result of certain diseases or injuries may have renewed hope of seeing again thanks to a retinal implant developed with the help of Florida International University’s W. Kinzy Jones, a professor and researcher in the College of Engineering and Computing.
A tiny video camera mounted on special glasses captures the scene in the patient’s environment, and a pocket controller relays the captured video signal to the implant. Inspired by cochlear implants that can restore hearing to some deaf people, the retinal implant works by electrically stimulating nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain, and bypassing the lost retinal cells.
The Boston Retinal Implant Project, a highly-specialized, academically-based team of 30 researchers including Jones, was responsible for bringing the implant to light. The group is comprised of biologists and engineers from Harvard, Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and others who are developing new technologies for the blind.
“Jones’ work was one the most important technological developments needed to make the device possible,” said Douglas Shire, engineering manager for the Boston Retinal Implant Project. “As a result, users of the retinal implant will be able to adjust the implant according to their needs.”
Jones has been working for years to advance the airtight sealed titanium housing and feed-through component that transfers the signals from the implanted microchip to the electrodes. His improvements in the density of that feed-through will greatly improve the quality of the image the person wearing the device will see.
The retinal implant was designed for people who lost vision due to injury to the eyes; progressive vision loss caused by eye disorders (also known as retinitis pigmentosa); or age-related macular degeneration, when the center of the retina that is responsible for central vision deteriorates. According to the National Institutes of Health, age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years old and older.
“The impact of this technology, which increases the available pixels that can be stimulated, will bring enhanced visual acuity to people with debilitating eye loss,” Jones said. “My mother had macular degeneration and I saw the quality of her life degrade as the disease progressed. Hopefully, when these devices are available for FDA approved use, total loss of eye sight from macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa will be a thing of the past within 10 to 15 years.”
Recently, a similar device that features 60 electrodes was approved for use in patients and has proven successful in allowing people who were blind to read words on a screen.
Shire explained that the device that the Boston Group is building with Jones’ help has more than 256 electrodes and therefore allows for images with a larger number of pixels, which is expected to give patients a meaningful visual experience.
UT Dallas researchers have demonstrated that treating tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, using vagus nerve stimulation-tone therapy is safe and brought significant improvement to some of the participants in a small clinical trial.
Drs. Sven Vanneste and Michael Kilgard of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences used a new method pairing vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) with auditory tones to alleviate the symptoms of chronic tinnitus. Their results were published on Nov. 20 in the journal Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface.
VNS is an FDA-approved method for treating various illnesses, including depression and epilepsy. It involves sending a mild electric pulse through the vagus nerve, which relays information about the state of the body to the brain.
“The primary goal of the study was to evaluate safety of VNS-tone therapy in tinnitus patients,” Vanneste said. “VNS-tone therapy was expected to be safe because it requires less than 1 percent of the VNS approved by the FDA for the treatment of intractable epilepsy and depression. There were no significant adverse events in our study.”
According to Vanneste, more than 12 million Americans have tinnitus severe enough to seek medical attention, of which 2 million are so disabled that they cannot function normally. He said there has been no consistently effective treatment.
The study, which took place in Antwerp, Belgium, involved implanting 10 tinnitus sufferers with a stimulation electrode directly on the vagus nerve. They received 2 ½ hours of daily treatment for 20 days. The participants had lived with tinnitus for at least a year prior to participating in the study, and showed no benefit from previous audiological, drug or neuromodulation treatments. Electrical pulses were generated from an external device for this study, but future work could involve using internal generators, eliminating the need for clinical visits.
Half of the participants demonstrated large decreases in their tinnitus symptoms, with three of them showing a 44-percent reduction in the impact of tinnitus on their daily lives. Four people demonstrated clinically meaningful reductions in the perceived loudness of their tinnitus by 26 decibels.
Five participants, all of whom were on medications for other problems, did not show significant changes. However, the four participants who benefited from the therapy were not using any medications. The report attributes drug interactions as blocking the effects of the VNS-tone therapy.
“In all, four of the 10 patients showed relevant decreases on tinnitus questionnaires and audiological measures,” Vanneste said. “The observation that these improvements were stable for more than two months after the end of the one month therapy is encouraging.”
More than two decades ago, Ryan Vincent had open brain surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor, resulting in a lengthy hospital stay and weeks of recovery at home. Recently, neurosurgeons at Houston Methodist Hospital removed a different lesion from Vincent’s brain through a tube inserted into a hole smaller than a dime and he went home the next day.
Gavin Britz, MBBCh, MPH, FAANS, chairman of neurosurgery at Houston Methodist Neurological Institute, used a minimally-invasive technique to remove a vascular lesion from deep within the 44-year-old patient’s brain, the first to use this technique in the region. Traditionally, vascular lesions or brain tumors that are located deep within the brain can cause damage just by surgical removal.
“With this new approach, we can navigate through millions of important brain fibers and tracts to access deep areas of the brain where these benign tumors or hemorrhages are located with minimal injury to normal brain,” said Britz. “Ryan’s surgery took less than an hour.”
Houston Methodist neurosurgeons Britz and David Baskin, M.D., director of the Kenneth R. Peak Brain & Pituitary Tumor Center, are using this “six-pillar approach” that encompasses the latest technology in minimally-invasive surgeries — mapping of the brain; navigating the brain like a GPS system; safely accessing the brain and tumor/lesion; using high-end optics for visualization; successfully removing the tumor without disrupting tissues around it; and directed therapy using tissue collected for evaluation that can then be used for personalized treatments.
The new surgical technique is used to remove cancerous and non-cancerous tumors, lesions and cysts deep inside the brain. This approach reduces risks of damage to speech, memory, muscle strength, balance, vision, coordination and other function areas of the brain.
Doctors now have convincing evidence that they put HIV into remission, hopefully for good, in a Mississippi baby born with the AIDS virus — a medical first that is prompting a new look at how hard and fast such cases should be treated.
The case was reported earlier this year but some doctors were skeptical that the baby was really infected rather than testing positive because of exposure to virus in the mom’s blood.
The new report, published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, makes clear that the girl, now 3, was infected in the womb. She was treated unusually aggressively and shows no active infection despite stopping AIDS medicines 18 months ago.
“At minimum, the baby is in a clear remission. It is possible that the baby has actually been cured. We don’t have a definition for cure as we do for certain cancers, where after five years or so you can be relatively certain the person is not going to go and relapse,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.
(Photo: AP Photo/Johns Hopkins Medicine)
Up to 2.5 million patients with high blood pressure could in the future have a simple operation on an artery in the throat to treat the condition.
Approval sought for world’s 1st malaria vaccine
BBC News: GlaxoSmithKline is seeking regulatory approval for the world’s first vaccine against malaria, after promising trial data showed that it cut cases of the often-fatal disease in African children.
The company has been developing the vaccine for 3 decades and plans to submit a regulatory application to the European Medicines Agency.
Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people every year.
Photo: Malaria infected mosquitoes (AFP)
(GIF: NBC News)
An affordable version of the futuristic motorized prosthesis could be available to more than 1 million amputees within three to five years.
New universal flu vaccine would use the body’s naturally occurring immune cells to fight the virus; it could even work for future deadly strains.
Australian scientists find new way to save pneumonia victims
A research team from Melbourne has developed a low cost, electricity-free oxygen concentrator that has the potential to save thousands of children’s lives each year.
New findings may help neuroscientists pinpoint better targets for antianxiety treatments.
Anxiety disorders, which include posttraumatic stress disorder, social phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, affect 40 million American adults in a given year. Currently available treatments, such as antianxiety drugs, are not always effective and have unwanted side effects.
To develop better treatments, a more specific understanding of the brain circuits that produce anxiety is necessary, says Kay Tye, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences and member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
“The targets that current antianxiety drugs are acting on are very nonspecific. We don’t actually know what the targets are for modulating anxiety-related behavior,” Tye says.
In a step toward uncovering better targets, Tye and her colleagues have discovered a communication pathway between two brain structures — the amygdala and the ventral hippocampus — that appears to control anxiety levels. By turning the volume of this communication up and down in mice, the researchers were able to boost and reduce anxiety levels.
Lead authors of the paper, which appears in the Aug. 21 issue of Neuron, are technical assistant Ada Felix-Ortiz and postdoc Anna Beyeler. Other authors are former research assistant Changwoo Seo, summer student Christopher Leppla and research scientist Craig Wildes.
NeuroVision creates eye test that may detect signs of Alzheimer’s
Researchers in Perth, Australia, are doing trials on a eye test developed by Sacramento-based NeuroVision Imaging LLC to screen for Alzheimer’s.
Some day screening for Alzheimer’s disease may become as simple as getting your eyes checked.
Research shows Alzheimer’s disease develops slowly. It’s difficult to detect until brain damage already has occurred. However, PET imaging can show build-up of amyloid-beta protein as plaque in the brain 17 years before symptoms appear.
NeuroVision hopes to pick up these same changes in the retina of the eye through an inexpensive, noninvasive test. The trial is a collaboration with Australia’s national science agency, the McCusker Alzheimer’s Research Foundation and Edith Cowan University.
Founded in 2010, NeuroVision develops digital imaging and diagnostic solutions for Alzheimer’s disease and eye-care markets. To date, more than $3 million has been invested in the company through equity and partnerships with drug companies, according to Joanna Ross, director of finance and administration. NeuroVision has five employees and many consultants.
The trial underway, the company hopes to commercialize the test next year. [x]
Neuroscientists often use electroencephalography (EEG) as an inexpensive way to record electrical signals in the brain. Though it would be useful to run these recordings for long periods of time, that usually isn’t practical: EEG recording traditionally involves attaching many electrodes and cables to a patient’s scalp.
Now engineers at Imperial College in London have developed an EEG device that can be worn inside the ear, like a hearing aid. They say the device will allow scientists to record EEGs for several days at a time; this would allow doctors to monitor patients who have regularly recurring problems like seizures or microsleep.
“The ideal is to have a very stable recording system, and recordings which are repeatable,” explains co-creator Danilo Mandic. “It’s not interfering with your normal life, because there are acoustic vents so people can hear. After a while, they forget they’re having an EEG.”
By nestling the EEG inside the ear, the engineers avoid a lot of signal noise usually introduced by body movement. They can also ensure that the electrodes are always placed in exactly the same spot, which, they say, will make repeated readings more reliable.
Since the device attaches to just one area, it can record only from the temporal region. This limits its potential applications to events that involve local activity. Tzzy-Ping Jung, co-director of the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Advanced Neurological Engineering, says that this does not mean the device will not be valuable.
“Different modalities will have different applications. I would not rule out the usefulness of any modalities,” says Jung. “I think it’s a very good idea with very promising results.”
The new scan can differentiate the degrees of consciousness between sleep, sedation, comas, locked-in syndrome and vegetative states.
A health worker tests a child’s blood for malaria at a free clinic in Mali. A new study has raised cautious optimism that an effective vaccine might finally become available. [Getty Images]
Maverick malaria vaccine achieves 100% protection using parasites from irradiated mosquitoes
A malaria vaccine has become the first to provide 100% protection against the disease, confounding critics and far surpassing any other experimental malaria vaccine tested. It will now be tested further in clinical trials in Africa.
The results are important because they demonstrate for the first time the concept that a malaria vaccine can provide a high level of protection, says Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, adding that the findings are cause for “cautious optimism”.
No effective malaria vaccine is available at present. The World Health Organization has set a target to develop a malaria vaccine with 80% efficacy by 2025, but until now, says Fauci, “we have not even gotten anywhere near that level of efficacy.”
Scientists had previously been sceptical of the vaccine because producing it required overcoming massive logistical hurdles. The vaccine — called PfSPZ because it is made from sporozoites (SPZ), a stage in the life cycle of the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) — uses a weakened form of the whole parasite to invoke an immune response.
More study is needed, but isoflurane might provide alternative to electroconvulsive therapyAlthough electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has long been considered the most effective treatment of medication-resistant depression, millions of people who could benefit don’t take advantage of it because of the treatment’s side effects and public misperception of the procedure.