Another calendar year has come and gone. COVID-19 remains a reality, but we continue to adapt to the ongoing pandemic and find new ways to overcome the challenges it poses at work, at school, at home, and in the lab. And speaking of research, 2022 proved to be a banner year for innovation and breakthroughs in the sciences, particularly in the physiological and neurological fields. Here is a quick round-up of some of the research stories that caught our attention.
Brain Implant Allows Locked-in Patient to Communicate
A man in his late 30s has been given the ability to communicate for the first time since being left in a completely locked-in state by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The patient, who was unable to move or even open his eyes, can communicate again thanks to a brain-computer interface (BCI) comprising two microelectrode arrays implanted in his motor cortex. The procedure was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany. “This study answers a long-standing question about whether people with complete locked-in syndrome (CLIS) – who have lost all voluntary muscle control, including movement of the eyes or mouth – also lose the ability of their brain to generate commands for communication,” wrote Dr. Jonas Zimmermann, one of the co-authors of the study resulting from the procedure.
First Scan of Dying Human Brain Provides Insight into Near-death Experience
An EEG recording from a dying 87-year-old patient has provided researchers with the first glimpse of the neurophysiological phenomena that occur shortly after cardiac arrest. While survivors of so-called near-death experiences have anecdotally reported intense and surreal experiences that include panoramic memory review, out-of-body experiences, and other hallucinatory phenomena, little is understood about what causes such occurrences. While experiments have been carried out on animal subjects showing a hypoactive state of brain activity under such conditions, this new data provided researchers with the first evidence “that the human brain may possess the capability to generate coordinated activity during the near-death period.”
Biomembrane Research May Advance Understanding of Memory in Computers and Humans
Drawing inspiration from the living realm, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Lab are applying biological concepts to next-generation computers with implications for both human health and cutting-edge computing. Researchers were able to demonstrate that an artificial cell membrane could imitate one of the hallmarks of biological memory and learning—long-term potentiation (LTP). The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows for the first time that a cell membrane by itself, without the benefit of proteins or other embedded biomolecules, can carry out LPT over several hours. The pure lipid membrane, which was formed using lipid-covered water droplets, represents the first nanoscale structure in which memory can be encoded. The discovery opens the door to neuromorphic computing, which imitates the way the human brain stores and processes information and is more efficient than traditional computing.
This is just a sampling of the exciting developments catching our attention in the sciences this year. For more explorations of the intersection of cutting-edge technology, physiology, and neuroscience, join BIOPAC at the T4 Human Physiology Conference in summer 2023. And have a happy New Year!
To learn more about BIOPAC’s role in exciting breakthroughs in neuroscience and physiology, and how we can assist you in achieving your research and teaching goals, contact your local sales representative today.