Rat brain cells control robot: MedGadget reported on this technology two years ago, but the research has advanced quite a bit and it is time for an update. Researchers from the University of Reading made a robot that is controlled by brain cells extracted from rats. The cells are cultured and connected to the control circuit. The cells are alive and able to form new connections on-the-go. Where last time the robot moved around slowly in a wooden box without obstacles, now they move around freely on the floor at a much faster pace. The neurons learn to avoid obstacles with improving performance over time. A set of brain cells only lasts three months, after which it needs to be replaced by a new set, which actually shows, as you might expect, different behavior patterns. Of course this blurring of the line between organisms and robots sparks some ethical questions, making the researchers write a paper on the “Implications and consequences of robots with biological brains.” See the robot in action below:
Google launches body browser: Google (NSDQ:GOOG) released an in-browser anatomy viewer to demo the new 3D graphics capabilities of their Chrome development version. It lets you explore the human body in all its glory in a Google Earth-like fashion. Individual anatomic layers (skin, muscles, bones, etc.) can be selected or deselected for viewing, but can also be made semi-transparent on an individual level. Labels can be displayed, and all anatomy is fully searchable. The catch is you will need a WebGL enabled browser to try it. WebGL is a technique that enables 3D graphics within the browser without the use of plugins. Chrome 9 Dev Channel, Chrome Canary Build and Firefox 4 beta have this enabled by default. In Chrome 8 (the current stable version), you can enable it by going to about:flags (type it in the address bar), and from there enable WebGL.
Stanford University track school’s population to study epidemics: In order to understand how influenza spreads in a population, Stanford University scientists created an experiment involving an entire American high school. Everyone, including teachers, students, and staff were issued devices that relayed their live location to a central server continuously throughout the school day. The system provided researchers with a better understanding of how disease can spread based on which people were close enough to others, and the recorded database of these interactions can serve as a digital platform on which to simulate other contagious scenarios.
Vector blog’s holiday books guide: The final installment: For the final installment of the year-end book sampling by Children’s Hospital Boston’s Vector blog, themes range from looks back at past eras of great (and goofy) discovery to modern conundrums of mind and pharmaceutical risks. For more reading — or holiday gift — suggestions, read their first and second book recommendation posts.
A weekly roundup of new developments in medical technology, by MedGadget.com.