Monday, January 12, 2009

Swiss neuroprostheses explorations

Over at the BrainSciencePodcast forum, a listener, jezcentral, contributed this link:

Launching of EPFL Center for Neuroprostheses

"What's a neuroprosthesis? It's a device made up of sensors, connections and electronic chips that are embedded in the body to repair certain neurological deficiencies. Recent progress in artificial retinas and man-machine interfaces that permit communication or action via thoughts alone gives us a glimpse of the possibilities the future might hold for improving the lives of the handicapped. The new Center will concentrate on six main themes: vision (retinal implants), hearing (cochlear implants), mobility (cortical and spinal implants), non-invasive man-machine interfaces (piloting at distance, robotics), the micro-and nano-fabrication of implants, and neuronal coding (signal processing, sensors).

The Center will be inaugurated on January 1, 2009, and will formally be part of EPFL's School of Engineering, in collaboration with the School of Life Sciences and the School of Computer and Communication Sciences. This project also opens the door to fruitful collaborations with other institutions in the Lake Geneva area, such as University of Lausanne and the Cantonal Hospital (CHUV)), University of Geneva and its hospital (HUG), and the regional biomedical industry."

Other posts on how prolific neuroresearch appears to be in Switzerland:
1. Virtual Body Experience
2. Something in Swiss water?
3. More from Lausanne: Mapping the structural core of the human cerebral cortex
4. Smelling someone else's alarm bells

On a related topic, related in terms of collaborative projects done by teams of people, in this case by a private backer, reader Kent sent me a link to Piece of Mind, from the Economist.

"When we first put the mouse-brain atlas online free, it was met by the research world with suspicion. People wondered what the catch was. Scientific research has long been a solitary endeavour—one researcher, one microscope. Findings are protected so that discovery credit can be clearly defined and awarded. This is a successful model and will continue to be.

However, the Human Genome Project demonstrated a different path: multiple teams working collaboratively towards a common goal (...) We wanted the mouse atlas to be free and available for all to use as the basis for foundational research and discovery.

A new generation of implantable pacemakers for the brain will be widely used to treat everything from depression to addiction and Parkinson’s disease

If we thought it would be a hit right out of the gate, we were slightly wrong. It took a while for people to trust that it really was free to use. No one believed in a free lunch.

Now, things have changed. Today we have many scientists using the atlas for their research into Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorders, Down’s syndrome, Parkinson’s, fragile x mental retardation and epilepsy. The atlas is also giving scientists insight into alcoholism, obesity, sleep, hearing and memory.

The greatest testament to what we did was that researchers of spinal-cord diseases, trauma and disorders approached the institute and asked us to create a spinal-cord atlas, which is now close to completion. We will launch the first phase of a human-brain atlas, a four-year project, in 2010.

Like the Human Genome Project, the Allen Brain Atlases and Spinal-Cord Atlas have helped democratise the scientific landscape. When you can log on to a map of gene expression from anywhere in the world, more people can enter the scientific conversation. The result is a massive saving in time, since without the atlas each researcher could spend a lifetime trying to gather complete gene-expression data for his or her work."

Nothing but good will come out of this, I'm sure. Seth Grant, who recently decoded human synapse proteomics, used free genomic data bases to arrive at new perspectives on how evolution of the nervous system has proceeded. (Here is a blog post about that.) Listen to Ginger Campbell's BrainSciencePodcast #51 interview with Dr. Grant. (It was my pleasure to transcribe the interview - the transcription is linked to the podcast shownotes.)