#5 — Groundbreaking brain implant gives voice to the mute

A groundbreaking brain implant has been developed that can translate brain activity during speech attempts by the mute to words on a screen.

#5 — Groundbreaking brain implant gives voice to the mute
Frank Willett and other researchers with Pat Bennett, an ALS patient implanted with sensors in her brain. These sensors can communicate with special software that can translate brain activity during attempts of speech into words on a screen. Photo by Steve Fisch/Stanford Medicine.

Scientists are bringing the power of speech back to individuals who have lost it due to strokes or conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Through a combination of brain implants and machine learning, researchers have managed to decode neural signals and translate them into spoken words, offering hope to people with paralysis. In separate cases, patients with locked-in syndrome and ALS regained their ability to communicate, thanks to electrode arrays implanted in their brains. By training AI models to comprehend phonemes instead of full words, they achieved remarkable results. These breakthroughs signify a new era of communication for those previously unable to express themselves verbally, bridging the gap between mind and machine in remarkable ways.

Read more from Standford Medicine and the research papers and associated content from Nature below:

  1. Metzger et al., 2023.
  2. Willet et al., 2023.
  3. Nature News and Views, Podcast and Video.

Common acne bacteria may actually enhance skin health

Recent research conducted by dermatology experts from the University of California, San Diego, sheds light on the surprising benefits of Cutibacterium acnes, a bacteria often associated with acne. Contrary to the misconception that this bacterium is solely detrimental, the study reveals that it triggers skin cells to increase the production of essential lipids crucial for maintaining the skin barrier. These lipids, including ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, play a pivotal role in preserving moisture, safeguarding against damage, and maintaining a healthy skin microbiome. The research identifies propionic acid as a key player in this process, creating an acidic skin environment that combats pathogens and inflammation. This newfound understanding of C. acnes' positive impact may pave the way for innovative approaches to skincare and skin condition treatments.

Read more from The Conversation and Science Advances.

Can AI help us to understand animal language?

Humans communicate with animals.
Can AI help us understand animals better?

Yossi Yovel and Oded Rechavi, researchers from Tel Aviv University, delve into the intriguing world of non-human animal communication and its potential intersection with artificial intelligence (AI). In their essay titled "AI and the Doctor Dolittle challenge," published in Current Biology, the researchers explore the complexities of deciphering animal communication, the nuances of their intelligence, and the challenges AI faces in understanding these languages. Drawing inspiration from Doctor Dolittle, who converses with animals in a fictional world, the researchers highlight three key obstacles to AI-animal communication: understanding context, eliciting natural responses, and dealing with a limited range of communication contexts. Despite these hurdles, successful communication with animals could bring forth benefits like efficient pollination, improved farming, enhanced wildlife conservation, and even insights into potential extraterrestrial contact scenarios. The research opens a window into the intricacies of decoding the language of the animal kingdom through the lens of AI technology.

Read the paper on Current Biology.

New heat-reflecting paint paves the way to energy savings

Roof painting.

Stanford University scientists have unveiled a groundbreaking paint that holds the potential to revolutionize energy efficiency. Capable of reflecting a remarkable 80% of mid-infrared sunlight, this innovative paint surpasses conventional counterparts by a factor of 10. Its dual-layer composition, featuring reflective metallic flakes and infrared-transparent nanoparticles, offers a versatile solution to temperature control. By deflecting sunlight when applied externally and conserving warmth when used internally, this paint significantly reduces the energy consumption of buildings. Tested scenarios demonstrated a 21% decrease in cooling energy and a 36% reduction in heating energy. With estimates suggesting that air conditioning will become more prevalent in households, this paint presents a promising and eco-friendly alternative to combat excessive energy use, potentially reducing up to 7.4% of energy needs in mid-rise apartment buildings. Amidst escalating climate concerns, this innovative paint paves the way for a cooler and more sustainable future.

Read more on Stanford University and PNAS.

After India, Japan hopes to land on the Moon next

The moon.

Japan's space program, recovering from recent setbacks, is preparing for its "Moon Sniper" mission after India's recent lunar triumph. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is set to launch a rocket carrying the "Smart Lander for Investigating Moon" (SLIM), designed for precise lunar landing within 100 meters of a specific target—a significant advancement compared to previous ranges of several kilometres. The SLIM project also involves a palm-sized mini rover to explore the lunar mantle. Japan's ambitious space efforts come in the wake of challenges, including failed lunar landings and rocket launch mishaps. Additionally, JAXA's upcoming launch includes the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), aimed at studying cosmic phenomena and dark matter's influence on the universe. Despite setbacks, Japan's space program perseveres, aspiring to add valuable insights to space exploration.

A new way to counter heart attacks

Researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and the Catholic University of Korea College of Medicine have pioneered an innovative treatment for myocardial infarction (heart attack) using nanovesicles derived from fibroblasts. This research addresses the pressing issue of myocardial infarction, a major cause of mortality globally. The treatment involves utilizing nanovesicles to modulate the immune response by reducing inflammation in the heart muscle. Unlike conventional treatments, which may not suit severe cases, this novel approach offers promise. The research involves engineering nanovesicles with specific peptides and substances to target macrophages at the site of the infarction, thereby improving cardiac function and reducing inflammation and fibrosis. The implications for improved cardiac health are significant, and the researchers aim to further explore this advancement in collaboration with medical institutions and bio companies.

Read more on KIST and the research paper.

Paper cups may not be better than plastic cups for the environment

Paper and plastic.

As the world seeks alternatives to combat plastic pollution, the University of Gothenburg uncovers a concerning revelation in a study evaluating disposable cups' impact on butterfly mosquito larvae. Though bioplastics, like polylactide (PLA), are considered environmentally friendly due to their renewable origins, their effects on nature and health aren't straightforward. The study discovered that both paper cups lined with PLA and traditional plastic cups negatively affected larvae growth, shedding light on their toxicity. The researchers caution that bioplastics, though marketed as biodegradable, may persist in the environment, posing health risks through contact with food and potential ingestion by animals and humans. The findings reinforce the need for global shifts to mitigate plastics' harm to the environment and health. The study's author, Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth, advocates for responsible consumption and comprehensive transparency within the plastics industry, aligning with ongoing UN negotiations to address plastic pollution.

Read more from the University of Gothenburg and Environmental Pollution.

That's it for today!