Combining Mixed Reality Tech With Brain Signals Could Improve Rehabilitative Medicine

A new headset and software platform allows researchers and developers of mixed reality programs the opportunity to incorporate signals from the brain and body into their technology, something that has wide potential for use in rehabilitative medicine.

Virtual and augmented reality has already been used to treat patients with a range of psychiatric disorders including ADHD, PTSD and anxiety, but this tech could help improve how effective it is.

“You can use virtual reality to put people into those environments and throttle how intense the experience is, but if you could know how intense the reaction is that someone is having, you can decide whether to dial it up a little bit, or dial it down a little bit just to make sure that they’re not overwhelmed by the immersion,” says Conor Russomanno, CEO of OpenBCI, a Brooklyn-based startup that developed the Galea headset.

Another application of the technology, is to give people with spinal injuries or other forms of paralysis more freedom and to allow those who have lost limbs the ability to better control prosthetics.

There are different types of brain-computer interfaces and many involve actually implanting electrodes into the brain or spinal cord to either give people the ability to control a computer, or an artificial limb. However, the OpenBCI technology relies on external, non-invasive electroencephalogram readings to monitor brain activity (taken from sensors on a cap).

“The amount of control and the fidelity you have, obviously increases with the signal quality, and the best signal quality you’re going to get is by putting electrodes down into the brain,” says Russomanno.

“But, a lot of the magic happens in the classification and the machine learning on a case on a person by person basis. And so, this is where I think that BCI technology is going to be used for personalizing control.”

There are of course big attractions to the non-invasive nature of this technology. If the artificial intelligence and machine learning side of the software can make up for the reduced signal then it has great potential to help people in need of this technology.

Russomanno set up OpenBCI with one of his professors after leaving grad school 6 years ago. The company is unusual in that it has been developing inexpensive, non-invasive, open source brain-computer interface technology for the last 6 years.

It’s unusual as most tech companies keep the technology behind their products under high levels of secrecy. “I think it’s super important that that innovation takes place in the public domain, in a way where people have a variety of backgrounds and disciplines can contribute,” emphasizes Russomanno.

“It doesn’t take place behind closed doors where the incentives of what’s being put into the world, and what’s being used by the users, can be misaligned with the best interest of the users themselves.”

Since the company started, many tech companies and researchers have used the OpenBCI tech to develop

Read more

Researchers identify gene that signals need to urinate

Scientists say they have spotted the gene responsible for telling you when it’s time to pee.

The gene, called PIEZO2, may help at least two different types of cells sense when the bladder is full and needs to be emptied.

“Urination is essential for our health. It’s one of the primary ways our bodies dispose of waste. We show how specific genes and cells may play critical roles in initiating this process,” said study senior author Ardem Patapoutian, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, in La Jolla, Calif. “We hope that these results provide a more detailed understanding of how urination works under healthy and disease conditions.”

The study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and included NIH researchers, was published recently in the journal Nature.

The PIEZO2 gene has instructions for making proteins that are activated when cells are stretched or squeezed. The researchers found that patients who are born with a genetic deficiency in PIEZO2 have trouble sensing when their bladder is full, and experiments in mice suggest the gene has two roles in this process.

According to study lead author Kara Marshall, “There were a lot of reasons to think that PIEZO2 could be important for urination. Theoretically, it made sense as it is a pressure sensor for other internal sensory processes.” Marshall is a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps.

In 2015, researchers discovered people who were born with mutations in their PIEZO2 genes. They had no sense of the movement of the body and could not feel some types of touch and pain. They also had something else in common, the study authors said in an NIH news release.

“We were really struck by what we heard during background interviews with patients and their families,” said researcher Dr. Dimah Saade, a clinical fellow at the NIH. “Almost everyone mentioned that the patients had problems with urination. As children, they had trouble potty training. They would often have urinary tract infections. And most of them follow a daily urination schedule. After seeing a consistent pattern, we decided to take a closer look.”

Almost all of the patients said they could go all day without feeling the need to urinate, and most urinated less than the normal five to six times per day.

Marshall said, “These results strongly suggested that PIEZO2 plays a role in urination. We wanted to know how it may do this.” Experiments in mice helped find the answer.

The researchers found that the PIEZO2 gene was highly active in a few neurons that send nerve signals from the mouse bladder to the brain. Aided by an imaging system, they saw that the cells lit up with activity when a mouse’s bladder filled.

“These were the first clues to understanding wherein the urinary tract PIEZO2 worked. They suggested that it may help control the bladder,” said researcher Nima Ghitani, a postdoctoral fellow at the NIH.

More information

For more on urination, head to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright 2020

Read more

White House signals defeat in pandemic as coronavirus outbreak roils Pence’s office

The presidential campaign was roiled this weekend by a fresh outbreak of the novel coronavirus at the White House that infected at least five aides or advisers to Vice President Pence that President Trump’s top staffer acknowledged Sunday he had sought to avoid disclosing to the public.



a group of people looking at a cell phone: Vice President Pence works the crowd after delivering remarks at a campaign rally last Friday at Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, Pa.


© Gene J. Puskar/AP
Vice President Pence works the crowd after delivering remarks at a campaign rally last Friday at Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, Pa.

With the election just nine days away, the new White House outbreak spotlighted the administration’s failure to contain the pandemic, as hospitalizations surge across much of the United States and daily new cases hit all-time highs.

The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is “rounding the turn,” as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.

Further complicating Trump’s campaign-trail pitch was an extraordinary admission Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the administration had effectively given up on trying to slow the virus’s spread.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who regularly wears a mask on the campaign trail and strictly adheres to social distancing guidelines, sought to capitalize on the remark.

“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows; it was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away,” Biden said in a statement. “It hasn’t, and it won’t.”



a group of people sitting on a bench: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, accompanied by his granddaughters Natalie and Finnegan Biden, passes gravesites on their way to a church service Sunday at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Del.


© Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, accompanied by his granddaughters Natalie and Finnegan Biden, passes gravesites on their way to a church service Sunday at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Del.

The outbreak in Pence’s orbit comes roughly three weeks after Trump was hospitalized with the virus and a number of his advisers tested positive. Officials said the new list of those infected includes the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short; his top outside political adviser, Marty Obst; his personal aide Zach Bauer, known as a “body man,” who accompanies him throughout his day; and two other staff members.

Pence has been in close contact with a number of those infected in recent days, but spokesman Devin O’Malley said the vice president and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative for the virus on Saturday and again Sunday, and have been “in good health.”

The vice president continued Sunday with his heavy travel schedule, flying to North Carolina for an evening rally in Kinston. He told aides he was determined to keep up his appearances through the week despite his potential exposure, irrespective of guidelines, officials said.

On Monday, Pence is expected to visit the Capitol to preside over

Read more

White House signals defeat in pandemic as coronavirus outbreak roils Pence?s office

The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is “rounding the turn,” as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.

Further complicating Trump’s campaign-trail pitch was an extraordinary admission Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the administration had effectively given up on trying to slow the virus’s spread.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who regularly wears a mask on the campaign trail and strictly adheres to social distancing guidelines, sought to capitalize on the remark.

“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows; it was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away,” Biden said in a statement. “It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

The outbreak in Pence’s orbit comes roughly three weeks after Trump was hospitalized with the virus and a number of his advisers tested positive. Officials said the new list of those infected includes the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short; his top outside political adviser, Marty Obst; his personal aide Zach Bauer, known as a “body man,” who accompanies him throughout his day; and two other staff members.

Pence has been in close contact with a number of those infected in recent days, but spokesman Devin O’Malley said the vice president and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative for the virus on Saturday and again Sunday, and have been “in good health.”

The vice president continued Sunday with his heavy travel schedule, flying to North Carolina for an evening rally in Kinston. He told aides he was determined to keep up his appearances through the week despite his potential exposure, irrespective of guidelines, officials said.

On Monday, Pence is expected to visit the Capitol to preside over the Senate vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) decried Pence’s plans to continue with his scheduled events. “God help us,” Schumer said in a speech Sunday on the Senate floor.

O’Malley said that Pence was cleared to travel in consultation with White House doctors. “While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel,” O’Malley said in a statement Saturday night.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people stay home for 14 days following possible exposure and to socially distance at all times. The CDC allows an exemption for “critical infrastructure workers” who are not experiencing symptoms so long as they socially distance and cover their faces at

Read more