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  • richardmitnick 1:46 pm on January 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Developing New Technologies to Extend Care to All Families Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, Medicine, THE BIG IDEA,   

    From UC Davis: “Developing New Technologies to Extend Care to All Families Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder” 

    UC Davis bloc

    From UC Davis

    January 14, 2019
    Katherine Lee

    UC Davis Has the Big Idea to Make It Happen

    The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has almost tripled since 2000, affecting one in 59 children identified in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


    “Everyone knows someone affected by autism. It’s time for us to take responsibility for the growing number of families in need of quality care,” said Leonard Abbeduto, director of the UC Davis Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute.

    The MIND Institute, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, was founded by families for families to advance scientific discovery and improve access to interdisciplinary, cutting-edge care. The Institute’s mission is “to use the best science we can to help as many families as we can.”

    Although ASD is a lifelong condition, effective treatments can reduce the disabilities associated with ASD and lead to happier, more fulfilling lives for families and individuals, but these treatments must be made more widely available. Currently, gaps in access to providers and affordable care make it especially hard for families who come from under-resourced populations or rural areas. Moreover, gaps in care delay early identification and intervention, affecting developmental outcomes.

    “Families in rural areas and other underserved communities may not be able to see experts without traveling long distances, which creates a financial burden and can delay treatment,” explained Abbeduto, who is also the champion of the Autism, Community and Technology Big Idea. “Technology can be used to overcome such barriers and get help to families in need everywhere.”

    This Big Idea will harness the university’s unique strengths in health, neuroscience, engineering, education, community engagement, and social sciences, involving a variety of disciplines and perspectives to find innovative solutions for ASD.

    UC Davis’ Big Ideas are forward-thinking, interdisciplinary programs and projects that will build upon the strengths of the university to positively impact the world for generations to come. Researchers, scientists, clinicians and others are working on innovative and ambitious initiatives in the field of health, sustainability and more to solve both California’s and the world’s most pressing problems.

    The Autism, Community and Technology Big Idea will pioneer a first-of-its-kind lifespan approach for everyone living with autism. By building partnerships with communities, driving innovation in affordable and accessible technologies, and training doctors, nurses, teachers, employers, and family members, UC Davis will create new ways of advancing science and helping people with autism.

    “Every field of study will be relevant to adding its expertise and creativity to the solutions being proposed by this idea,” added Abbeduto. “However, without donor support, we won’t be able to help families in the way they deserve.”

    UC Davis poised to address urgent needs

    Home to more than 50 faculty and staff across five UC Davis schools and colleges, the MIND Institute will be a hub for the Big Idea, bringing together experts from various disciplines, as well as community groups, businesses, and families, to address autism on a grand scale. This expert knowledge will then be used to train doctors, nurses, teachers, employers and community leaders throughout the country. Such partnerships will address the needs of underserved populations and the unique challenges they face, using innovative technologies and solutions to help individuals living with autism and their families across communities.

    One such partner is Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities. For more than 10 years, he has worked on projects with the MIND Institute to improve access to and utilization of services for families affected by autism, fragile X syndrome and other developmental disabilities.

    “When there is an urgent need such as this, we need big ideas to make real progress in advancing solutions,” Aguilar-Gaxiola said.

    Aguilar-Gaxiola and his team serve Solano County and other areas in California and focus on Latino, Filipino, LGBTQ and other diverse families as well as those who are low income or for whom English is not their first language. Children in these populations tend to be diagnosed with autism later than urban or white families – leading to delayed treatment and worse outcomes over time.

    “Some families live two to three hours away from providers, with more than one child with autism at home, so it is critically important for UC Davis to reach them where they are,” Aguilar-Gaxiola said.

    Telemedicine expands access to care

    Telehealth, which is remote access to health services and provider care, makes it possible for UC Davis to care for families affected by autism and other ASD conditions no matter where they live. The face-to-face interaction in their own home through video conferencing, and the use of other technology, allow parents to affordably receive direct feedback and input on how to improve interactions and build important skills in their child.

    The use of telemedicine more broadly and effectively can improve ASD screening and offer treatments in a variety of spoken languages and to families in all areas across California and the country.

    Many children with ASD have challenging behaviors or problems with the change of routine associated with travel. Technology allows these families to overcome this access barrier, bringing care into their own home.

    Abbeduto recalls several patient families who were empowered through telemedicine. During a three- to four-month video conference training series with team members at the MIND Institute, these families learned how to become their child’s language therapist and were empowered to contribute to their child’s care. They were given strategies to support their child’s language development and to reduce the kinds of behaviors that impede social interaction.

    “Originally, family members were skeptical that they would be able to engage their child in play for longer periods of time by themselves,” Abbeduto said. “But at their exit interviews, without exception they each talked about how close they felt to their child and the unexpected positive changes in their life.”

    He concluded, “This kind of knowledge helps parents and caregivers overcome the need to depend on someone else to help their family. It allows them to feel more connected and competent and have more impact on their children.”

    Fostering independence and opportunity

    As part of the Big Idea, the MIND Institute is also developing interventions for adolescents and adults, a subgroup of individuals living with ASD who often experience a sudden lack of services after high school.

    Technology will allow interventions from the MIND Institute to better address the needs of these individuals. Virtual reality, apps, artificial intelligence and facial recognition software will be further developed and tested to support positive behaviors in communication and social skills needed for daily life.

    “We can use advances in technology to continue to monitor and support individuals living with autism so they can have fulfilling jobs and take part in a wider range of social activities throughout their lifespan,” explains Abbeduto.

    Furthermore, virtual support groups could connect individuals with autism or their families to additional social skills workshops, helping them move to independence and easing some of the burden on caregivers. Smart homes, for example, could be used to provide prompts for when it’s time to take medication or a bath, and give cues for getting ready for work or making a meal. Autism experts partnering with engineers could also utilize robotics to realize new ways of providing therapies and medications.

    The vision of this Big Idea will extend the reach of this technology, employing it in communities where experts in autism or specialized services are limited or non-existent. Through virtual conferences or workshops, UC Davis will be able to train the next generation of providers, teachers and administrators. This will empower and promote positive change at the individual level and create opportunities at a systems level.

    “Through this Big Idea, and with the help of donors, we will be able to create technologies that will take the expertise of the MIND Institute and extend its reach all over the world,” said Abbeduto. “It has the ability to make a positive impact on families everywhere.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    UC Davis Campus

    The University of California, Davis, is a major public research university located in Davis, California, just west of Sacramento. It encompasses 5,300 acres of land, making it the second largest UC campus in terms of land ownership, after UC Merced.

  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on January 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Medicine,   

    From Science Alert: “One of The Most Common Assumptions About Autism May Be a Complete Misunderstanding” 


    From Science Alert

    8 JAN 2019


    Putting yourself in another person’s shoes is never easy, and for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the practice is thought to be especially challenging.

    But even though this neurological condition is often considered a barrier to understanding complex emotions,recent research suggests this may be nothing more than a simple misunderstanding.

    For the first time, researchers have shown in a small study that adults with ASD can recognise regret and relief in others just as easily as those without the condition, and in some cases, they are even better at it.

    “We have shown that, contrary to previous research that has highlighted the difficulties adults with autism experience with empathy and perspective-taking, people with autism possess previously overlooked strengths in processing emotions,” says senior author Heather Ferguson, an expert in neurolinguistics, semantics and syntax at the University of Kent.

    Using state-of-the-art eye-tracking methods, the researchers analysed 48 adult participants – half with ASD and half without – as they read a story about a character who experiences either regret or relief.

    In the narrative, the protagonist makes a decision that results in either a good outcome or a bad outcome, and the final sentence sums up the character’s mood explicitly, saying whether their choice left them feeling regret or relief (for instance, “… she feels happy/annoyed about her decision… “).

    As predicted, when the final emotion did not match up with the rest of the story (for instance, “she bought new shoes that she loved, and she felt annoyed about her decision”), the majority of participants spent longer reading through the text. They also looked back at previous sentences more often.

    There was only one plausible explanation: the readers were trying to make sense of a story that didn’t make sense.

    Because they understood the protagonist’s desires and actions, most of the readers were able to predict whether the character would feel regret or relief – a psychological concept called counterfactual thinking.

    Previous studies have shown that this sort of thinking can be disrupted in people with ASD, but the new findings suggest something completely different.

    Instead, the results were surprisingly similar for both adults with ASD and adults without ASD. Not only were participants with ASD equally adept at recognising regret, they were actually faster at computing relief.

    Together, this suggests that adults with ASD are remarkably savvy when it comes to feeling empathy and processing emotions.

    “Thus, our findings reveal that adults with ASD can employ sophisticated processes to adopt someone else’s perspective, and use this in real-time as the reference for future processing,” the authors conclude.

    At first, the results appear to fly in the face of previous research – and it’s a small study, so we can’t get too carried away just yet. But when taking a closer look, there is another explanation.

    The authors think that the differing results may simply stem from the method.

    By removing the need for participants to describe their own emotions or the emotions of others, the new research takes a more direct route to the truth.

    Using eye-tracking, the authors were able to tap into a participant’s immediate, neurological response to emotional content. This is a useful technique because it completely cancels out the bias that a participant might exhibit when describing their understanding of another person’s emotional state.

    The authors are therefore suggesting that adults with ASD can implicitly and correctly read another person’s emotions, they just aren’t able to accurately describe those emotions to researchers.

    In other words, the past studies on counterfactual thinking may have simply been conflating expression with understanding.

    “These findings suggest that the previously observed difficulty with complex counterfactual emotions may be tied specifically to difficulties with the explicit expression of emotions rather than any difficulty experiencing them implicitly at a neurocognitive level,” the authors conclude.

    This study has been published in Autism Research.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 12:03 pm on December 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Fruit bats in Sierra Leone, Marburg virus in Sierra Leone, Medicine,   

    From UC Davis: “Deadly Marburg Virus Found in Sierra Leone Bats” 

    UC Davis bloc

    From UC Davis

    December 20, 2018
    Kat Kerlin

    Scientists detected Marburg virus in five Egyptian fruit bats, like this one, in Sierra Leone. (Getty)

    Scientists have discovered Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone. This is the first time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. Five Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Scientists caught the bats separately in three health districts: Moyamba, Koinadugu and Kono.

    The virus was found in advance of any reported cases of illness in people in Sierra Leone, and there remain no reported cases of Marburg in humans there. However, the virus’s presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected with Marburg virus, a cousin to Ebola virus that causes similar disease in people.

    The Marburg virus co-discovery occurred through two projects — one by the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by University of California, Davis, and the University of Makeni; and another by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Njala University.

    “That the discovery was made in bats before the recognition of any known human illnesses or deaths is exactly what PREDICT’s One Health approach to disease surveillance and capacity building are designed to do,” said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID.

    Natural reservoir

    Scientists had previously shown that the Egyptian rousette bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) is the natural reservoir for Marburg virus, which means the bats can carry the virus long-term and pass it on to animals or humans without getting sick themselves. Sequencing of virus genetic material from the five Marburg-positive bats found multiple genetically diverse strains, suggesting Marburg virus has been present in these bat colonies in Sierra Leone for many years.

    “We have known for a long time that the bats that carry Marburg virus live in West Africa, so it makes sense that we’d find the virus in bats there,” said CDC ecologist Jonathan Towner, who led the CDC team. “This discovery is an excellent example of how this type of ecology work can help us identify a threat and warn people before they get sick.”

    Thousands of Egyptian fruit bats roost in a cave in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. (Getty)

    Egyptian fruit bats live in caves or underground mines throughout much of Africa. Marburg virus has been detected in Egyptian rousette bats caught in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also Gabon, Kenya and South Africa. In eastern and central Africa, these bats can roost in colonies of more than 100,000 animals.

    However, the colonies of Egyptian fruit bats identified in Sierra Leone so far have been much smaller, which may explain why there haven’t been any known Marburg virus disease outbreaks in people in Sierra Leone like those found in eastern and central Africa.

    Angolan strains detected in bats for first time

    To date, there have been 12 known Marburg virus outbreaks with direct links to Africa, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest Marburg virus outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005. It killed 227 of 252 cases, or about 90 percent of those infected. Two of the four strains identified among the five Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone are genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. It is the first time scientists have detected these Angolan strains in bats.

    Egyptian rousette bats primarily feed on fruit. When infected, the bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine and feces. These Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals like monkeys or people, particularly children. Due to their significant size, these types of bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations, as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

    Community engagement

    In Sierra Leone, researchers and government officials are in the process of meeting with local communities to present their findings, answer questions about Marburg virus, and address how to reduce people’s risk of exposure and live safely with bats.

    Bats play important ecological and agricultural roles. Fruit bats pollinate important crops, and insect-eating bats eat thousands of insects each night, including mosquitoes, which helps control pests that transmit disease and damage crops.

    Scientists emphasize that people should not attempt to kill or eradicate bats in response to the discovery. Killing and coming into direct contact with bats can actually increase the risk of virus transmission, not halt it.

    Finding viruses before they find us

    The PREDICT team at UC Davis/University of Makeni and the team led by CDC/Njala both began work in Sierra Leone in 2016 following the massive Ebola outbreak in West Africa. They each sought to discover the Ebola reservoir, the animal that helps maintain the virus in nature by spreading it without getting sick.

    The Marburg discovery and the PREDICT-team’s report earlier this year of the discovery of a new ebolavirus species, Bombali virus, illustrate the strengths and mission of USAID’s PREDICT project, which is to find viruses before they spill over into humans and become epidemics.

    Media contact(s)

    Brian Bird, UC Davis PREDICT and One Health Institute, 530-752-7544, bhbird@ucdavis.edu

    Tracey Goldstein, UC Davis PREDICT and One Health Institute, 415-902-1486, tgoldstein@ucdavis.edu

    Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-7704, kekerlin@ucdavis.edu

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    UC Davis Campus

    The University of California, Davis, is a major public research university located in Davis, California, just west of Sacramento. It encompasses 5,300 acres of land, making it the second largest UC campus in terms of land ownership, after UC Merced.

  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on December 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Medicine, , Two Compounds in Coffee May Team Up to Fight Parkinson's   

    From Rutgers University: “Two Compounds in Coffee May Team Up to Fight Parkinson’s” 

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    Our Great Seal.

    From Rutgers University

    December 12, 2018
    Rutgers Today
    Media Contact
    Neal Buccino

    December 10, 2018
    Caitlin Coyle

    M. Maral Mouradian of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has found a compound in coffee that when paired with caffeine may help to fight Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. Photo by Steve Hockstein/Harvard Studio

    Caffeine plus another compound in coffee beans’ waxy coating may protect against brain degeneration, Rutgers study finds.


    Rutgers scientists have found a compound in coffee that may team up with caffeine to fight Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia – two progressive and currently incurable diseases associated with brain degeneration.

    The discovery, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests these two compounds combined may become a therapeutic option to slow brain degeneration.

    Lead author M. Maral Mouradian, director of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Institute for Neurological Therapeutics and William Dow Lovett Professor of Neurology, said prior research has shown that drinking coffee may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. While caffeine has traditionally been credited as coffee’s special protective agent, coffee beans contain more than a thousand other compounds that are less well known.

    The Rutgers study focused on a fatty acid derivative of the neurotransmitter serotonin, called EHT (Eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide), found in the bean’s waxy coating. The researchers found that EHT protects the brains of mice against abnormal protein accumulation associated with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

    In the current research, Mouradian’s team asked whether EHT and caffeine could work together for even greater brain protection. They gave mice small doses of caffeine or EHT separately as well as together. Each compound alone was not effective, but when given together they boosted the activity of a catalyst that helps prevent the accumulation of harmful proteins in the brain. This suggests the combination of EHT and caffeine may be able to slow or stop the progression of these diseases. Current treatments address only the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease but do not protect against brain degeneration.

    Mouradian said further research is needed to determine the proper amounts and ratio of EHT and caffeine required for the protective effect in people.

    “EHT is a compound found in various types of coffee but the amount varies. It is important that the appropriate amount and ratio be determined so people don’t over-caffeinate themselves, as that can have negative health consequences,” she said.

    According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that can lead to shaking, stiffness and difficulty with walking, balance and coordination. Nearly one million people in the United States are living with Parkinson’s disease. Lewy body dementia, one of the most common forms of dementia, affects more than one million people in the United States. It causes problems with thinking, behavior, mood and movement.

    See the full article here .


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    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Rutgers is dedicated to teaching that meets the highest standards of excellence; to conducting research that breaks new ground; and to providing services, solutions, and clinical care that help individuals and the local, national, and global communities where they live.

    Founded in 1766, Rutgers teaches across the full educational spectrum: preschool to precollege; undergraduate to graduate; postdoctoral fellowships to residencies; and continuing education for professional and personal advancement.

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  • richardmitnick 11:40 am on November 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Behavioral therapies for autism work best when started before age 5, Current diagnostics are time-intensive requiring one-on-one assessment with an autism specialist, Home videos of children can be scored to diagnose autism, In the new study the researchers devised and tested eight machine-learning models for diagnosing autism from short videos, Medicine,   

    From Stanford University – Medicine: “Home videos of children can be scored to diagnose autism” 

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    From Stanford University – Medicine

    Nov 27 2018

    Media Contacts

    Erin Digitale Tel

    Margarita Gallardo
    Tel 650-723-7897

    Short home videos can be used to diagnose autism in children, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

    The research, which was published online Nov. 27 in PLOS Medicine, expands on a 2014 feasibility study on the topic by the same researchers. In the new study, the scientists employed machine learning to determine which features of children’s behavior should be rated to evaluate autism, using computers to whittle down a long list of behavioral features to those most relevant to the diagnosis. They also devised an algorithm that weights each feature to provide an overall diagnostic score for each child.

    “Across the United States, the average waiting list to get access to standard-of-care can last up to a year,” said the study’s senior author, Dennis Wall, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and of biomedical data science at Stanford. “Using home videos for diagnosis has the potential to streamline the process and make it far more efficient.”

    Home videos offer another potential advantage for diagnosing behavioral and developmental disorders such as autism. “Home video catches the child in his or her natural environment,” Wall said. “The clinical environment can be stark and artificial, and can elicit atypical behaviors from kids.”

    Value of early diagnosis

    Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by restricted interests, repetitive behaviors and difficulty forming social connections. Previous research [PLOS One] showed that behavioral therapies for autism work best when started before age 5, but long waitlists for testing make it difficult for families to access timely treatment. Current diagnostics are time-intensive, requiring one-on-one assessment with an autism specialist. Clinicians spend a few hours per patient assessing dozens of aspects of the child’s behavior.

    In the new study, the researchers devised and tested eight machine-learning models for diagnosing autism from short videos. Each model consisted of a set of algorithms that included five to 12 features of children’s behavior and produced an overall numerical score indicating whether the child had autism.

    To test the models, the researchers asked families recruited through social media and autism listservs to submit brief home videos, and received 116 videos of children with autism (average age 4 years, 10 months) and 46 videos of typically developing children (average age 2 years, 11 months) that met their criteria: The videos were 1 to 5 minutes long, showed the child’s face and hands, showed direct social engagement or opportunities for engagement, and showed opportunities for use of objects such as toys, crayons or utensils.

    Nine video raters received brief instruction on how to evaluate each video, answering 30 yes/no questions about whether children in the videos exhibited certain behaviors such as using expressive language, making eye contact, expressing emotion and calling attention to objects. All of the yes/no questions were based on behavioral characteristics used in standard autism screening tools.

    All nine raters scored 50 of the videos, and the researchers used these results to determine that three raters were the minimum number needed to generate a reliable score. The remaining videos were randomly assigned to the raters, with three raters scoring each video.

    On average, watching and scoring the videos took the raters 4 minutes each. The data for each video, consisting of the 30 yes/no answers to questions about the child’s behavior, was fed into the eight mathematical models.

    One model, a logistic regression model that used five behavioral characteristics, performed best, identifying autism with 88.9 percent accuracy overall, including correctly labeling 94.5 percent of children with autism and 77.4 percent of children without autism.

    To validate their findings, the researchers repeated the experiment with an additional 66 videos — 33 featuring children with autism and 33 with children who did not have autism. The same model again performed best, with correct identification of 87.8 percent of children with autism and 72.7 percent of children without autism.

    “We showed that we can identify a small set of behavioral features that have high alignment with the clinical outcome, that nonexperts can rapidly and independently score these features in a virtual environment online in minutes, and that the model we used to combine those features is effective in producing a score that matches the clinical outcome,” Wall said. The final scores are not just a “yes or no” autism diagnosis, he added; instead, the numerical scores may hold information about the severity of the disorder and be of value for tracking progress over time.

    Providing tool for pediatricians

    Wall hopes simple scoring systems for home videos will help streamline the process of autism diagnosis. “This could be used in general pediatric settings such as well-baby checkups,” he said, adding that video scores could be plotted over time and compared with the general population, similar to how a child’s height and weight are plotted on a growth chart.

    “Our long-term dream is that a tool like this will give general pediatricians more confidence in making diagnostic decisions about autism and other developmental disorders,” he said. For a very young child — at an age when autism can be difficult to distinguish from normal development — the doctor’s decision might be to engage in watchful waiting, but with the advantage of having a video score as a baseline for later evaluations. In other cases, it might be clear that a child needs to immediately begin autism treatment, or needs to be referred to a specialist for a more detailed diagnostic evaluation.

    The researchers are now repeating their investigation with home videos of young children in Bangladesh to see how well their mathematical models translate across cultures.

    The study’s lead author is Qandeel Tariq, a data analyst in Wall’s lab. Other Stanford authors are Jena Daniels, a former clinical operations manager; clinical research coordinator Jessey Nicole Schwartz; bioengineering graduate student Peter Washington; and postdoctoral scholar Haik Kalantarian, PhD. Wall is a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Stanford Child Health Research Institute and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute.

    The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (grants 1R01EB025025 and 1R21HD091500), the Hartwell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Coulter Foundation, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, and program grants from Stanford’s Precision Health and Integrated Diagnostics Center, Beckman Center, Bio-X, the Predictives and Diagnostics Accelerator Program and the Child Health Research Institute. The research also received support from David Orr, Imma Calvo, Bobby Dekesyer and Peter Sullivan.

    Stanford’s departments of Pediatrics and of Biomedical Data Science also supported the work.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions – Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

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  • richardmitnick 11:14 am on October 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Medicine, VR   

    From Science Magazine: “Virtual reality could show others what autism feels like—and lead to potential treatments” 

    From Science Magazine

    Oct. 26, 2018
    George Musser


    As part of a virtual reality simulation, this everyday scene has been distorted with some of the various effects—overexposure, blur, enhanced edges, heightened contrast, color desaturation, and visual snow—that people with autism often report experiencing. Yukie Nagai

    The forest is still—until, out of the corner of my eye, I notice a butterfly flutter into view. At first it is barely perceptible, but as I watch the butterfly more intently, the trees around it darken and the insect grows brighter. The more I marvel at it, the more marvelous it becomes, making it impossible for me to look away. Before long the entire forest recedes, and the butterfly explodes into a red starburst, like a fireworks display. Everything goes dark. Then, dozens of white dots swarm around me. On my left, they are just dots. On my right, they leave long trails of spaghetti-like light. The contrast makes me acutely conscious that the present is never experienced as a mathematical instant; it has some duration, and the perception of that can vary with context.

    The sensation evaporates as soon as I take off my headset.

    This immersive virtual-reality (VR) experience was a preliminary look at Beholder, an art installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in September that sought to recreate how autistic people perceive the world. It is now on display at the gallery that commissioned it, Birmingham Open Media. The project’s creator, Matt Clark, has a severely autistic 15-year-old son, Oliver. “He can’t talk; his behaviors are extremely challenging,” says Clark, creative director of United Visual Artists, an art and design group based in London. Clark built Beholder so he and others could see the world through his son’s eyes. He collaborated with artists who either are on the spectrum or have family members who are.

    The project exemplifies a new approach to the use of VR for autism. For more than two decades, scientists have experimented with the technology to set up controlled scenarios to study autistic traits. At the same time, some teams have used VR to create role-playing environments for practicing social skills. Increasingly, however, people with autism are using VR to convey their own experiences, both to raise awareness of the condition and to capture the cognitive and perceptual differences that characterize it. Some experts hope these efforts will lead to new research collaborations and applications.

    These immersive experiences are, in many ways, the digital equivalent of Temple Grandin’s narratives, which were among the earliest first-person descriptions of autism. A dozen or so projects that can be viewed online use loud noises or flashing lights to try to reproduce sensations such as sensory overload at a shopping mall, office meeting or family get-together. Slightly more elaborate efforts, such as the trailer for Carly Fleischmann’s book, Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism, and the animation Listen, layer the effects over a storyline. But a few are especially ambitious in aiming to provide specific sensory impressions. Examples of the latter are Beholder and an augmented-reality system created by researcher Yukie Nagai and her colleagues at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Osaka, Japan.

    Proponents of VR argue that no other medium comes as close to putting you in someone else’s shoes. “Having a perceptual experience—that’s something we haven’t been able to do without VR,” says Albert “Skip” Rizzo, research professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a pioneer of using VR in psychiatry. “You can watch a movie, but it’s different than walking around and having your perceptual experience,” Rizzo says.

    These projects are not uncontroversial, however. So-called ‘disability simulation exercises’—blindfolding people to demonstrate vision impairment or making them use crutches to appreciate mobility challenges—are mainstays of diversity training. But they fail to capture the social isolation that is often part of a disability, and they can evoke pity and condescension, driving people apart rather than together.

    Simulations of autistic experience have been met with a similar ambivalence. They also must confront the basic metaphysical question of whether subjective experience is something that can ever be shared. “I can understand that a neurotypical parent might be desperate to understand their autistic child’s point of view,” says Susan Kruse, gallery supervisor at Birmingham Open Media, who is autistic. “But how can anyone get inside another person’s mind and experience what they experience?”

    Virtual experiments

    Autism therapists and researchers started to use VR in the mid-1990s, not long after headsets became widely available to consumers and other forms of immersion, such as first-person shooter games, became popular. Researchers often deployed the technology to create virtual environments to help autistic people rehearse stressful encounters. For instance, Rizzo’s team built a virtual job-interview training program. In a study published last year, they recruited adults with autism or other conditions for a training regimen involving interviewers who ranged from gentle to aggressive. Rizzo says the participants with autism significantly improved in their interviewing skills, as rated by job counselors.

    A similar application lets autistic children practice public speaking in a virtual classroom with an audience of eight avatars. To encourage them to look around the room rather than stare straight ahead, the avatars start to fade away if the speaker fails to make eye contact with them. “So it became a game of keeping the avatars on the screen by shifting attention,” says Peter Mundy, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, who developed the program. “We found that the kids with autism really responded to that.”

    VR can also make autistic children more comfortable in strange environments. In an unpublished July 2018 case study, a team led by Nigel Newbutt at the University of the West of England in Bristol gave 11 autistic children, aged 10 to 14 years, a VR tour of a local science museum a few days before their actual visit. “Students reported feeling less anxious, less stressed, more prepared for that space,” he says. “In fact, the teachers also found that when the pupils got there, they knew where they wanted to go; they had a greater sense of purpose and direction.”

    Back in the lab, virtual environments have also offered researchers a welcome new experimental technique. Nathan Caruana, a cognitive neuroscientist who uses VR to study social cognition in autism, prefers it to standard screen-based scenarios. “All of those paradigms have largely relied on non-interactive tasks, where people are responding to a face with averted gaze on a screen,” says Caruana, associate investigator at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “But it doesn’t really reflect the dynamics and complexity of a social interaction.”

    VR also facilitates imaging experiments that would otherwise be impossible—such as enabling someone lying in a scanner to banter with virtual humans. “In order to measure this in an imaging platform, you basically have to use virtual reality,” Mundy says.

    For all its apparent advantages, however, VR has yet to be rigorously tested as a therapeutic or research tool for autism. Several meta-analyses this year turned up comparatively few studies, and most had only a handful of participants and no control group. Newbutt and a colleague, for instance, found a total of six studies since 1990 that have tested head-mounted VR displays in students with autism. “There isn’t that much evidence to support the use of this yet,” Newbutt says.

    One reason is cost, not just of the equipment but of the programmers and animators needed to create the content. Mundy laments that he hasn’t been able to implement some of his ideas for lack of people with the relevant expertise. “One of the reasons I couldn’t go further with it was that I couldn’t pay the coder as much as a high-tech company [could],” he says. Consequently, VR scenarios remain highly simplified, and the technology’s much-touted advantage—realism—remains out of reach.

    Newbutt also says that researchers have seldom asked autistic people what they want from the technology. “There’s still a bit of a tendency to research about autism and autistic groups as opposed to research with them,” he says. This is precisely what the new first-person experiences seek to rectify.

    Righting the balance

    Many people with autism are drawn to VR out of a feeling of invisibility.

    “Until a predominantly neurotypical society/culture puts in the equivalent amount of effort and time to understand us and listen to us as we put into understanding and listening to it, we will continue to be disabled,” says Sonja Zelić, an autistic artist based in London who contributed to Beholder. Imperfect though it is, VR can help to right that balance.

    Some people with autism say they prefer VR to a conventional talking-head interview because it doesn’t require them to sit in front of a camera; they can work behind the scenes. “I find it an uncomfortably voyeuristic situation to have to explain my autistic experiences publicly,” Kruse says.

    Even the best-intentioned typical people cannot fully understand what life is like for autistic individuals when it’s described only in words, says Benjamin Lok, a VR researcher at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Lok has not worked on such projects but has a 9-year-old son, Brandon, who is on the spectrum. “Trying to explain that world that Brandon sees, not only to us, but to family members—that is a challenge,” Lok says. “I would think, if I could get my mom and dad to go through [a VR] experience, how would they interact with Brandon differently?”

    London has emerged as a center of autism-related VR projects. In 2016, Don’t Panic, a creative agency there, produced an immersive experience for the nonprofit National Autistic Society. The simulation portrays how isolated and overwhelmed an autistic child might feel at a shopping mall. In another simulation, the BBC’s corporate neurodiversity initiative puts its protagonist in an office meeting with a breathtakingly condescending coworker. Flashing lights and shimmering carpet patterns connote sensory overload, and a soundtrack that incorporates a throbbing heartbeat and rushed breathing signals a rising panic. Sean Gilroy, who ran the BBC project with an autistic colleague, says family members of people with autism or other conditions have reacted favorably. “They’ll spot things in the film that their sons or daughters or sisters or brothers have spoken about,” he says. “It brings it to life; it makes it real. It can get quite emotional for people.”

    The Party, produced by The Guardian newspaper, is notable for its inner dialogue as its teenage protagonist copes with her unsympathetic relatives and family friends. The project was the brainchild of novelist Lucy Hawking, daughter of the late physicist Stephen Hawking; her son, William, is autistic. The script writer, Sumita Majumdar, is also autistic, and the project involved input from autism researchers. “We tried to be true to the science, but it was really important that we built a lot of the visual experience of the film on what people had said,” says Owen Parsons, a graduate student in Simon Baron-Cohen’s lab at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. “Of course, if the science is correct, then those two things should not disagree with each other,” Parsons says.

    Real-time reflections

    The augmented-reality system created by Nagai’s team also draws heavily on input from people with autism. Instead of dropping you into a department store or house party, it takes a video feed of wherever you happen to be and transforms it in real time to what a person with autism might experience. Whatever claim it has for representing autistic perception rests on a simple principle: People with the condition report that their sensory experience changes with context. “Sometimes I’m in a good condition, and sometimes I’m in a very bad condition,” says Satsuki Ayaya, an autistic doctoral student at the University of Tokyo who worked with Nagai on the simulator. Ayaya says these fluctuations make her conscious of what her condition involves and how it might differ from the neurotypical experience. The augmented-reality system seeks to replicate these fluctuations in autistic perception. “There are variations of symptoms in each individual,” says Shin-ichiro Kumagaya, associate professor of medicine at the University of Tokyo and another of Nagai’s collaborators. “It is the foundation to verify the validity of this system.”

    In 2014, Nagai showed 22 autistic people videos of a train station, a supermarket and two dozen other everyday vignettes. In each of these settings, the participants rated which of 12 visual effects they experienced and to what degree. The team edited that list down to six particularly common effects: overexposure, blur, enhanced edges, heightened contrast, color desaturation and visual snow. Nagai correlated the participants’ reports with the features of each scene, such as brightness, movement and sound level. In the end, she settled on the last three of these visual effects as being the most reproducible for her simulation.

    Nagai’s simulator is an unwieldy contraption: a standard gaming headset kitted out with a webcam. Cables run to a laptop that a graduate student carries in a sling like a newborn. When I strap on the simulator on a May day in Osaka, I have a normal, if slightly lagging, view of the room around me. As the student switches on the simulator, though, Nagai’s face blurs, making her expressions hard to read. Turning away, I quickly find myself captivated by what appears to be an abstract Impressionist painting; it turns out to be a gray cubicle partition. I look at my hand; the creases resemble intricate henna art. The system’s heightened contrast brings out even the smallest textures.

    Led by Nagai, I shuffle down the hall and out into the parking lot. Everything is whited out at first, as if I’ve taken off my sunglasses on a glaringly bright day. Whenever I turn my head or a car drives by, color drains from the image, like applying a noir filter on Instagram. As we re-enter the building, the abrupt darkening unleashes a blizzard of random speckles across the scene like so many polka dots. The lobby’s uneven lighting is exaggerated. Shafts of light alternate with darker regions, giving people ghostly outlines.

    The simulation is purely visual, but Nagai says they have been recruiting volunteers for a study of sound perception. The team is experimenting with audio effects such as white noise; drone notes, such as a constant 1000-hertz background sound; and filters that suppress certain ranges of audio frequencies.

    Since 2015, Nagai and her colleagues have held some two dozen workshops in Osaka and Tokyo for teachers, therapists and parents of autistic children, in which they let people try the simulator, see clips from it in several everyday settings, and then discuss it. The researchers also screen conventional video documentaries about autism. Ayaya was initially dubious about the project but has since come around. “It was better than I expected,” she says. The simulation highlights aspects of her perception, such as the visual snow, that she had taken for granted, she says. “I was surprised that neurotypical people were surprised,” she says.

    Being made aware of these perceptual differences could even help people with autism develop strategies to compensate. “One of the participants in our experiments told me that after she joined our experiment she started wearing sunglasses in her daily life,” Nagai says. “Also, she told me she changed the lights in her room to an LED system so that she can control the brightness.”

    Ayaya stresses that even if the simulator succeeds at representing the autistic sensory experience, it cannot capture higher-level aspects of perception. “You may see how we see, but what you feel is not always the same as what we feel,” she says.

    A forthcoming paper on the simulator reinforces this point. Kuriko Kagitani-Shimono, a pediatric neurologist at Osaka University, says she showed video clips from the simulator to 45 autistic people and 46 neurotypical volunteers and used magnetoencephalography to measure their brain responses. The patterns of activity did not match. “The actual sensory responses of autistic people are different from those of typically developed people wearing the simulator in many ways,” she says.

    Nagai has not demonstrated the system outside these workshops, and a YouTube video does not do it justice, so other researchers were unable to comment. They say they like the principle it is based on, however. Parsons says the real-time feed might provide greater immediacy than a scripted film. “You’re getting that experience one step closer,” he says. Newbutt praises Nagai’s partnership with people on the spectrum: “Autistic people themselves can reproduce visual experiences, and this is very novel and something that has not been done before,” he says.

    Intersubjective experiences

    Researchers are looking toward broader applications of VR to help autistic individuals. In September, Nagai held a workshop for architects and interior designers. Open-plan offices and fashionably noisy restaurants seem almost calculated to frustrate people with autism, and VR systems could be used to sensitize designers. “There could also be new directions for research, for example, in relation to how spaces—such as schools, doctors’ surgeries—could be designed to better reflect the needs of a neurodiverse population,” says Sarah Parsons, an autism researcher at the University of Southampton in the U.K. who consulted on “Beholder.”

    Therapists, too, could use a simulator of autistic perception in their training. Lok has helped to develop simulators for doctors and nurses to practice their bedside manner, albeit not for autism. He founded a company, Shadow Health, to sell these virtual patients. “They can look any way; they can sound any way; they can behave any way that the educator wants them to; and you can get immediate feedback on how you did,” he says.

    Clark says the technology could also be adapted to provide a portable meditative space for people with autism. “This could act as a place of sanctuary,” he says. In one unpublished study, Newbutt asked 31 autistic and 13 typical students, aged 6 to 16 years, at four English schools to rank the needs they thought VR could fill. The top choice in both groups of students was for VR as a means to relax when they feel overwhelmed. “Their preference, across all of those questions, is that [VR] makes them feel relaxed and calm,” Newbutt says.

    Mundy also envisions a multiplayer or ‘yoked’ experimental paradigm in which two participants work together. One would be a passenger in the other’s experience, so as to see (and learn from) how the other reacts. “The world is no longer reacting to your gaze and head turns and things of that nature; it’s reacting to somebody else’s,” Mundy says. “You’re seeing the world and interacting with the world in a passive way.” Autistic and typical people alike could benefit from inhabiting someone else’s point of view, he says. “Virtual reality has the potential to establish real-time intersubjective experience.”

    As with other uses of VR in autism research and therapy, however, there has been a lack of systematic evaluation. Participants in Nagai’s workshops fill out exit questionnaires, but Kumagaya says the team has only just begun to follow up to see whether the experience has any lasting effect on attitudes toward people with autism. For now, the only evidence that VR succeeds at eliciting empathy is anecdotal.

    Many worry that by portraying only one narrow dimension of autism, VR applications may actually backfire. Zelić is blunt about its limitations: “I feel that it is almost impossible to convey the depth of autistic intensity and emotion visually because we don’t express this in recognized neurotypical ways, and so these types of reconstructions can fall into a kind of parody.” A cautionary tale comes from schizophrenia research. Over the past two decades, numerous researchers have developed immersive experiences of psychosis that depict visual and auditory hallucinations, including malign voices. These simulations can be disturbing to watch. In 2011, a meta-analysis of nine such projects found that they made the participants more empathic to people with schizophrenia but also less willing to interact with them.

    The Beholder project seeks to present more general impressions that give a fuller sense of the autistic experience. “I didn’t really want to be drawn into another stereotypical ‘how difficult life would be if you had this condition’ [situation],” Clark says. “I think there’s a place for that, for sure, but I meant to do something different.”

    Clark, known for his eclectic multimedia installations and stage sets, says the project started with an awkward pause in conversation with Birmingham Open Media’s founder, Karen Newman. “We were just talking about family life and quickly realized that both Matt’s son and my brother are autistic,” she says.

    The two artists decided to explore VR as a natural way to communicate alternative modes of perception. Clark began observing his son more purposefully, watching for what captivated the boy. “He would open the curtains a little bit and just study the dust motes, as if it was like a universe of stars that were floating around,” Clark recalls. The pair also recruited Zelić and Kruse. Kruse described, among other things, how when something moves through the air, she sees it as though it were drawing out a path through space, giving each moment an extended duration. (Others have also suggested that altered time perception is a distinguishing feature of autism.)

    The team opted to focus on what Clark’s son and Zelić find beautiful and translated these thoughts into a series of nature scenes, including the one with the butterfly. “No one ever thinks to talk about autism from this [positive] perspective,” Kruse says. “The narrative is always focused on difficulties, or the strange, maybe dramatic differences of the autistic mind.” And the vignettes they developed are compelling as art, regardless of what they may or may not say about autism. In one preview scene of Beholder, rain falls onto the floor, sending out languid ripples; in another, leaves fall gently to the ground. In yet another, I was shrunk to mouse size, lost but in awe of giant blades of grass swaying overhead.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 12:42 pm on October 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Medicine,   

    From Science News: “To unravel autism’s mysteries, one neuroscientist looks at the developing brain” 

    From Science News

    October 16, 2018
    Laura Sanders

    Understanding how the disorder arises could lead to new interventions.

    HEAD START Studying early signs of autism in the developing brain may ultimately help researchers figure out why more boys are diagnosed with the disorder than girls. Africa Studio/Shutterstock

    As the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder increases, so too has research on the complex and poorly understood disorder. With powerful genetic tools, advanced brain-imaging methods and large groups of children to study, the field is poised to make big contributions in understanding — and potentially treating — autism.

    Neuroscientist Kevin Pelphrey, who is formerly of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., but has recently moved to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, studies autism’s beginnings. He described some of his findings about the link between brain development and the disorder on October 15 at a meeting of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

    Here are some of the key points Pelphrey made on how autism may get its start in the developing brain, how the disorder is different between boys and girls, and how large, long-term studies of children with autism might yield clues about the condition.

    What causes autism spectrum disorder?

    For most cases, no one knows. There’s likely no single cause — environmental and genetic risk factors work in combination. In some children, rare mutations in key genes have been linked to the disorder. More commonly, many genetic changes, each with a small influence on overall risk, may increase a child’s likelihood of developing the disorder.

    With the number of autism diagnoses growing, partly due to better detection, researchers are looking at potential factors beyond genetics, such as parents’ age, premature birth and maternal obesity.

    When does the disorder begin?

    On average, kids are diagnosed with autism around the age of 4, though symptoms can appear by around age 2. But Pelphrey says the disorder starts long before then, as the brain is built in utero (SN: 4/29/17, p. 10). Evidence is growing that alterations in brain development, perhaps in nerve cell connections or communication between brain regions, are involved in the disorder.

    By studying newborns and even fetuses, Pelphrey aims to uncover some of the key differences in the brains of babies who go on to develop the disorder. That early detection could ultimately allow clinicians to change the brain’s developmental trajectory in a way that prevents the disorder.

    How close are scientists to an autism biomarker?

    Biological signatures, or biomarkers, of autism might enable both earlier detection and a way to see if interventions to treat the disorder are working. In 2017, researchers found signatures of autism [PubMed] in the brains of 6-month-old babies who would go on to be diagnosed with the disorder at age 2. Other attempts to find autism markers involve abnormal neural activity [Journal of Neurosciene], differences in eye contact [Nature] and even changes in gut microbes.

    But for a biomarker to be useful, it needs to check a lot of boxes, Pelphrey said. It must be reliable, predictive, informative at the individual level and easy to bring into pediatricians’ offices, among other things. So far, none of the proposed biomarkers check all of those boxes.

    Along with colleagues, Pelphrey is studying the utility of a brain-imaging technique that could make spotting abnormal neural activity a little easier for clinicians. Called functional near-infrared spectroscopy, it uses light to measure oxygenated blood as a proxy of brain activity. The method is less precise than MRI but cheaper and more mobile.

    Why do more boys get autism diagnoses than girls?

    Researchers don’t yet know for sure. Scientists recently began studying the differences between boys and girls, in the hopes of explaining why an estimated four boys are diagnosed with autism for every girl diagnosed. One clue comes from big genetic studies that suggest girls are somehow more resistant to genetic mutations than boys (SN Online: 2/27/14). Sex hormones may also have something to do with the differences between boys and girls, Pelphrey says.

    What’s more, by looking at brain behavior, scientists are beginning to suspect that girls’ autism is, at its core, distinct from that of boys. “The behaviors that we call autism, while on the surface are the same, have different biological origins,” Pelphrey says.

    Females with autism, for example, are more likely to have stronger social abilities, though it may be hard work for the girls [PubMed], a 2017 study suggests.

    What’s the future of autism research?

    Autism is an idiosyncratic disorder, one that’s likely a bit different for each person. As such, making progress toward understanding common pathways will require large numbers of subjects and many types of measurements.

    With collaborators, Pelphrey has collected data on genetics, brain behavior and structure, and behavior for about 500 children with autism, about half of whom are girls, he says. That project will continue to recruit more participants and also collect personal experiences and adult outcomes.

    Other large research collectives will likely move the field forward, such as the Simons Foundation’s Simons Simplex Collection, which contains genetic samples from 2,600 families with children with autism.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 3:46 pm on October 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Medicine, , Ultra-light gloves let users 'touch' virtual objects   

    From ETH Zürich: “Ultra-light gloves let users ‘touch’ virtual objects” 

    ETH Zurich bloc

    From ETH Zürich


    ETH Zürich
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    Phone: +41 44 632 41 41

    For now the glove is powered by a very thin electrical cable, but thanks to the low voltage and power required, a very small battery could eventually be used instead. (Photograph: ETH Zürich)

    Scientists from ETH Zürich and EPFL have developed an ultra-light glove – weighing less than 8 grams – that enables users to feel and manipulate virtual objects. Their system provides extremely realistic haptic feedback and could run on a battery, allowing for unparalleled freedom of movement.

    Engineers and software developers around the world are seeking to create technology that lets users touch, grasp and manipulate virtual objects, while feeling like they are actually touching something in the real world. Scientists at ETH Zürich and EPFL have just made a major step toward this goal with their new haptic glove, which is not only lightweight – under 8 grams – but also provides feedback that is extremely realistic. The glove is able to generate up to 40 Newtons of holding force on each finger with just 200 Volts and only a few milliwatts of power. It also has the potential to run on a very small battery. That, together with the glove’s low form factor (only 2 mm thick), translates into an unprecedented level of precision and freedom of movement.

    “We wanted to develop a lightweight device that – unlike existing virtual-reality gloves – doesn’t require a bulky exoskeleton, pumps or very thick cables,” says Herbert Shea, head of EPFL’s Soft Transducers Laboratory (LMTS). The scientists’ glove, called DextrES, has been successfully tested on volunteers in Zürich and will be presented at the upcoming ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST).

    Fabric, metal strips and electricity

    DextrES is made of cotton with thin elastic metal strips running over the fingers. The strips are separated by a thin insulator. When the user’s fingers come into contact with a virtual object, the controller applies a voltage difference between the metal strips causing them to stick together via electrostatic attraction – this produces a braking force that blocks the finger’s or thumb’s movement. Once the voltage is removed, the metal strips glide smoothly and the user can once again move his fingers freely.

    Tricking your brain

    For now the glove is powered by a very thin electrical cable, but thanks to the low voltage and power required, a very small battery could eventually be used instead. “The system’s low power requirement is due to the fact that it doesn’t create a movement, but blocks one”, explains Shea. The researchers also need to conduct tests to see just how closely they have to simulate real conditions to give users a realistic experience. “The human sensory system is highly developed and highly complex. We have many different kinds of receptors at a very high density in the joints of our fingers and embedded in the skin. As a result, rendering realistic feedback when interacting with virtual objects is a very demanding problem and is currently unsolved. Our work goes one step in this direction, focusing particularly on kinesthetic feedback,” says Otmar Hilliges, head of the Advanced Interactive Technologies Lab at ETH Fabric, metal strips and electricity

    DextrES is made of cotton with thin elastic metal strips running over the fingers. The strips are separated by a thin insulator. When the user’s fingers come into contact with a virtual object, the controller applies a voltage difference between the metal strips causing them to stick together via electrostatic attraction – this produces a braking force that blocks the finger’s or thumb’s movement. Once the voltage is removed, the metal strips glide smoothly and the user can once again move his fingers freely.

    In this joint research project, the hardware was developed by EPFL at its Microcity campus in Neuchâtel, and the virtual reality system was created by ETH Zürich, which also carried out the user tests. “Our partnership with the EPFL lab is a very good match. It allows us to tackle some of the longstanding challenges in virtual reality at a pace and depth that would otherwise not be possible,” adds Hilliges.

    The next step will be to scale up the device and apply it to other parts of the body using conductive fabric. “Gamers are currently the biggest market, but there are many other potential applications – especially in healthcare, such as for training surgeons. The technology could also be applied in augmented reality,” says Shea..

    See the full article here .


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    ETH Zurich campus
    ETH Zürich is one of the leading international universities for technology and the natural sciences. It is well known for its excellent education, ground-breaking fundamental research and for implementing its results directly into practice.

    Founded in 1855, ETH Zürich today has more than 18,500 students from over 110 countries, including 4,000 doctoral students. To researchers, it offers an inspiring working environment, to students, a comprehensive education.

    Twenty-one Nobel Laureates have studied, taught or conducted research at ETH Zürich, underlining the excellent reputation of the university.

  • richardmitnick 3:17 pm on October 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Medicine, New Techniques Can Detect Lyme Disease Weeks Before Current Tests,   

    From Rutgers University: “New Techniques Can Detect Lyme Disease Weeks Before Current Tests” 

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    From Rutgers University

    October 11, 2018
    Patti Verbanas

    Rutgers researcher leads team analyzing more exact methods to diagnose the most common tick-borne infection

    New tests are at hand that offer more accurate, less ambiguous test results that can yield actionable results in a timely fashion.

    Researchers have developed techniques to detect Lyme disease bacteria weeks sooner than current tests, allowing patients to start treatment earlier.

    The findings appear in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The authors include scientists from Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Harvard University, Yale University, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other institutions.

    The new techniques can detect an active infection with the Lyme bacteria faster than the three weeks it takes for the current indirect antibody-based tests, which have been a standard since 1994. Another advantage of the new tests is that a positive result in blood indicates the infection is active and should be treated immediately, allowing quicker treatment to prevent long-term health problems. The techniques detect DNA or protein from the Lyme disease bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi.

    “These direct tests are needed because you can get Lyme disease more than once, features are often non-diagnostic and the current standard FDA-approved tests cannot distinguish an active, ongoing infection from a past cured one,” said lead author Steven Schutzer, a physician-scientist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “The problem is worsening because Lyme disease has increased in numbers to 300,000 per year in the United States and is spreading across the country and world.”

    Lyme disease signs frequently, but not always, include a red ring or bull’s eye skin rash. When there is no rash, a reliable laboratory test is needed and preferably one that indicates active disease. The only FDA-approved Lyme disease tests rely on detecting antibodies that the body’s immune system makes in response to the disease. Such a single antibody test is not an active disease indicator but rather only an exposure indicator — past or present.

    “The new tests that directly detect the Lyme agent’s DNA are more exact and are not susceptible to the same false-positive results and uncertainties associated with current FDA-approved indirect tests,” said Schutzer. “It will not be surprising to see direct tests for Lyme disease join the growing list of FDA-approved direct tests for other bacterial, fungal and viral infections that include Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Candida, influenza, HIV, herpes and hepatitis, among others.”

    The authors developed the paper after a meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Banbury Conference Center, a nonprofit research institution in New York to discuss current Lyme disease tests and the potential of new scientific advances to increase the accuracy of an early diagnosis.

    See the full article here .


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    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Rutgers is dedicated to teaching that meets the highest standards of excellence; to conducting research that breaks new ground; and to providing services, solutions, and clinical care that help individuals and the local, national, and global communities where they live.

    Founded in 1766, Rutgers teaches across the full educational spectrum: preschool to precollege; undergraduate to graduate; postdoctoral fellowships to residencies; and continuing education for professional and personal advancement.

    As a ’67 graduate of University college, second in my class, I am proud to be a member of

    Alpha Sigma Lamda, National Honor Society of non-tradional students.

  • richardmitnick 5:29 pm on October 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Medicine, , Scientists Uncover Possible New Causes of Tourette Syndrome   

    From Rutgers University: “Scientists Uncover Possible New Causes of Tourette Syndrome” 

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    Our Great Seal.

    From Rutgers University

    September 25, 2018

    Caitlin Coyle


    An international team that includes multiple Rutgers scientists has made significant progress in understanding the genetic causes of Tourette syndrome. They estimate that over 400 singular or combined mutated genes could pose a risk for Tourette syndrome, suggesting the disorder is as complex as autism, epilepsy and intellectual disability.

    The study appears in the journal Cell Reports.

    Jay Tischfield, MacMillan Distinguished Professor of Genetics, and Gary Heiman, associate professor in the Department of Genetics at Rutgers-New Brunswick are part of the ongoing Tourette International Collaborative Genetics (TIC Genetics) study, which is the largest DNA sequencing study of Tourette. The new results are the second major set to come out of the 11-year-old study, following last year’s findings Neuron, that four damaged, high-risk genes may disrupt the normal brain development.

    Rutgers and a group of scientists from across the country identified one damaged, or mutant, “high confidence” risk gene for Tourette’s as well as three others they believe are genes whose mutation is a probable risk for the disorder. Photo: Courtesy of Neuron

    In the new study, scientists and clinicians from Rutgers, the University of California-San Francisco, and from around the United States, Europe and South Korea report two significant findings: Tourette syndrome is sometimes caused by new and rare damaging mutations in specific genes or through structural mutations, known as copy number variants (CNVs), spanning multiple genes. In addition to likely Tourette risk genes, they found another “high confidence” risk gene called CELSR3.

    According to Tischfield, CNVs change the structure of segments of DNA, either through duplication or deletion. “We discovered that CNVs occur two to three times more often in children with Tourette syndrome compared to those without,” he said.

    Additionally, the reoccurring damaging mutations in CELSR3 in different families, as well as observation of new mutations in other genes involved in cell polarity, provide additional evidence for how brain development is disrupted in Tourette syndrome. “These two significant findings provide a framework for future research into the causes and treatment of this remarkable and peculiar disorder,” said Tischfield.

    Recently, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) awarded the TIC Genetics study a grant of more than $10 million to continue the research for the next five years.

    According to Heiman, the ongoing funding and research would not have been possible without the support of the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS).

    “NJCTS executive director Faith Rice and the more than 200 families at NJCTS were instrumental in launching the pilot study,” said Heiman. “Through the initial families who participated, we were able to collect samples and data to start the study and establish the first sharing repository for researchers from all over the world interested in studying Tourette syndrome.”

    In 2011, the NJCTS sharing repository at Rutgers was incorporated as part of the study, which allows researchers around the world to work together to investigate the possible causes of Tourette and attempt to ultimately enable the development of more effective treatments.

    “It has been rewarding to see researchers come together as a strong team committed not only to research but to finding answers,” Rice said.

    According to NJCTS, Tourette syndrome is a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by involuntary movements and uncontrollable vocal sounds referred to as tics. Tourette usually presents in early childhood, affects all races and ethnic groups, and is often accompanied by co-occurring conditions such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or attention deficit disorder. Currently, there is no known cause for Tourette syndrome nor is there a medication available that completely eliminates symptoms.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition


    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Rutgers is dedicated to teaching that meets the highest standards of excellence; to conducting research that breaks new ground; and to providing services, solutions, and clinical care that help individuals and the local, national, and global communities where they live.

    Founded in 1766, Rutgers teaches across the full educational spectrum: preschool to precollege; undergraduate to graduate; postdoctoral fellowships to residencies; and continuing education for professional and personal advancement.

    As a ’67 graduate of University college, second in my class, I am proud to be a member of

    Alpha Sigma Lamda, National Honor Society of non-tradional students.

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