Brain Chip May Help Victims of Paralysis
MARK INGEBRETSEN / Wall Street Journal 19apr04
Here's another instance of life imitating science fiction. A Massachusetts company, Cyberkinetics Inc., recently "received Food and Drug Administration approval to begin a clinical trial in which four-square-millimeter chips will be placed beneath the skulls of paralyzed patients," the Associated Press reported.
If successful, the implants will allow a computer to interpret signals generated by the brain, allowing subjects to communicate with a computer with their thoughts instead of a keyboard and mouse, the article said.
Eventually, this sort of direct brain-to-computer communication could aid those suffering from "spinal-cord injuries, strokes, Lou Gehrig's disease or other ailments to communicate better or even to operate lights and other devices through a kind of neural remote control," according to the New York Times2.
Similar research has already proved successful with monkeys. "The company believes it is the first to implant a sophisticated device inside humans' brains," the British Broadcasting Corp.5 said.
Also, a separate BBC article6 said that a team from Duke University has focused its research efforts on interpreting how the brain's own signals correspond to a person's arm and leg movements. In tests conducted on patients with Parkinson's disease, "Tiny electrodes recorded signals coming from the brain as the patients used a joystick to play… [a computer] game. This makes it possible to produce a chip which knows what the signals sent by the brain mean," according to the article.
The research suggests that someday a chip could be linked to a robotic arm or leg, the BBC said.
In the Scientific Interest of Full Disclosure
The financial news media often require reporters and contributors to disclose whether they have financial interests in the stocks and other investments about which they're reporting or commenting. But the same isn't always true in the rigorous world of peer-reviewed medical and scientific publishing.
And though most people would likely want scientists to disclose whether they have a business stake in the outcome of a study, as a Washington Monthly article7 said recently, "the more pertinent question is why scientists with financial stakes in the outcome of scientific studies are allowed anywhere near those studies, much less reviewing them in elite journals."
Meanwhile, Federal officials are considering stockpiling a promising experimental smallpox vaccine as a safeguard against a possible terrorist attack, the Washington Post reported8. "Efforts to develop the new vaccine, underway for several years, have taken on an air of urgency after safety concerns stalled a 2003 campaign to vaccinate millions of health-care professionals and emergency workers who might be first to respond to a biological attack," the article said.
In a game called "Real Lives 2004," players adopt the personas of people throughout the world, and a computer simulation extends them the advantages and disadvantages that might be associated with a particular country. As the game's developer explained to USA Today9, the purpose of "Real Lives 2004" is to enable players to emphasize with those from different circumstances. The complex simulation software allows for billions of potential characters who might "be born in more than 190 countries. The software uses statistics to present accurate cultural, political and economic systems," the article said.
In Maine, where 20% of the population receives Medicaid benefits, state officials are preparing to launch a statewide health-care plan called Dirigo Health. With a goal of insuring everyone in Maine within five years, the "plan calls for achieving this by expanding Medicaid, creating a new and more affordable insurance product, and offering targeted subsidies to low-income residents," the American Medical News10 wrote.
Some soldiers returning from Iraq are suffering from a condition known as the Baghdad boil. It's said to be caused "by a tiny sand fly with a fierce parasite stewing in its gut, an organism that causes stubborn and ugly sores that linger for months," the AP reported11.
By some estimates, as many as 60 million Americans suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease12 or GERD, the Los Angeles Times13 said. The condition costs us "an estimated $9.3 billion a year…. A good chunk of that goes for medications, including over-the-counter antacids," the article said.