February 10, 2010

Nature's method of the year, 2009 - iPS

Here is an excellent video from the Nature publishing group on their method of the year for 2009, induced pluripotent (iPS) cells. Follows are some select screenshots from the video (available on YouTube) with annotation:

How can we reproduce the properties of embryonic stem cells cheaply and somewhat efficiently?

By delivering just four factors (via retroviral vector), we can convert somatic cells into pluripotent ones. While not every exposed cell converts, we can convert enough cells to form self-sustaining colonies.

While the goal is to make fully pluripotent cells for experimentation and perhaps even therapy, cells may also be hijacked (e.g. moved towards a pluripotent fate and then differentiated into another somatic cell type). For example, neurons might be made from fibroblasts in this manner. While not a common technique, one round of infection can produce many cells that are partially reprogrammed (that have some but not all the traits of a truly pluripotent cell).

February 1, 2010

Advances in Neuroengineering

A recent event put on by the IEEE EMBS focused on recent advances in Neuroengineering, or the interfacing of the nervous systems. Neuroengineering is an emerging approach to treating disabilities, understanding the brain, and building closed-loop control systems for brain-machine computer applications. Here are the sessions (on IEEE.tv):

Advances in neuroengineering

Understanding and treating conditions of the brain

One interesting topic brought up at these session was "microsleeps". Using advanced monitoring techniques, the presence of signatures akin to attentional lapses have been discovered. Microsleeps are sleep states that last on very short time scales. The presence of microsleeps could only be detected using electrophysiological techniques. This might be useful in predicting the onset of apnea episodes, or instances when a driver or heavy machine operator is about to deficus from their

There are also therapeutic applications of these methods. The most intriguing would be to couple the real-time monitoring of muscle and brain activity with cutting edge gene and cell therapy treatments. The videos are worth the watch.