Google TechTalk on personal genomics

Personal genomics is just starting and this talk gives a preview of what one of the first companies is doing to bring this to market, though the field is starting to heat up with some competition.

Surprising facts from the video:

  1. 23andme co-founder Anne Wojcicki is married to Google co-founder Sergei Brin
  2. Data portability is already available. According to the video, users can download the raw data from the 580,000 SNP array and do whatever they want with it.
  3. The SNP array is 580,000 SNPs! Wow. I assumed that the number of genetic features was on the order of 100-1000, giving a rough haplotype.
  4. Sharing/Web 2.0 features: The real power is 23andwe, an effort to data mine and leverage the power of a large database with many people’s genetic information. The founders mention that they want to contribute back to science and healthcare by surveying their customers behaviors and medical issues to uncover further correlations with genes. Like Facebook, the service becomes more valuable and more informative as the network grows.

Description of the talk from Google:

The 23andMe Personal Genome Service offers customers a glimpse at their own DNA sequence, a 750-megabyte string that functions as the operating system for a human being. Common variations in this code can influence the structure and function of the associated wetware in predictable ways. Some of these variations and their effects on traits such as athletic talent, pain sensitivity and avoidance of errors will be discussed in reference to three well-documented examples.

PBS: Not so neuroscience-savvy

Salon has an interesting piece condemning a recent PBS show purportedly on Alzheimer’s treatment but really more of a sketchy informercial. The program concerns a neurologist with tenuous ties to UC Irvine who advocates SPECT (single photon emission computed tomograpy, a technique which, similar to PET, uses a radiotracer) and some unfounded preventative treatments for Alzheimer’s. The neurologist Bill Amen has appeared on many big-name media outlets including CNN, the Today Show, and Fox News (and the real sign of media success — Oprah) although his approach to Alzheimer’s detection and treatment is lacking in scientific credibility:

“SPECT scans are not sufficiently sensitive or specific to be useful in the diagnosis of A.D.,” neurologist Michael Greicius , who runs the Stanford University memory clinic, and has a special interest in the use of functional brain imaging in the diagnosis of A.D., tells me. “The PBS airing of Amen’s program provides a stamp of scientific validity to work which has no scientific validity.”

Continued pontification on neuroethics issues after the jump. Continue reading

Emotiv gaming headset

We’ve certainly come a long way. (And I never knew about Music Portal behind that thing.)

Download MP3It’s hard to judge the merits of this particular interface but I’m sure this is just the first of many such devices that we’re about to see (demo starts 2:00):

This is an Emotiv headset. More than the gaming application, I like the idea of using it for IM emoticons.

Anyone know if the consumer version will require gel for the scalp electrodes? Hmmm… if gamers are the target audience, I think I have a good idea for a cross-promotional opportunity here.

Company Using "In Silico Embodiment" To Build Artificial Intelligence

If there’s one lesson to be learned from almost 60 years of AI research it’s almost certainly to be skeptical of anyone who says they have found THE ANSWER to producing human-level intelligence from computers. Even in the face of this, however, I am intrigued by a new company’s approach to developing Artifical General Intelligence (AGI), a term which is meant to indicate Strong AI rather than Weak AI. That’s probably because its founder, Ben Goertzel, manages to skillfully walk the tightrope between staying conservative about how much they can realistically accomplish and still managing to inspire hope that their methodology has the potential to get close to AGI.

Continue reading

Neurotechnology Ventures: New Course

Our brains have a lot of problems that need to be solved — now. And neurotechnology is a hot field. But what knowledge and skills do you study if you want to be a neurotechnologist? What problems are important, but also tractable within a reasonable timeframe? And, can you survive while climbing this possibly-very-high mountain?

A team of three academics at MIT and the University of Hong Kong is launching an international collaboration to create a set of novel courses to address this need. The first one, Neurotechnology Ventures, is being taught in Spring 2007 and focuses on neurotechnologies that are close to solving major human problems. The class explores the problems that neurotechnologists encounter when envisioning, planning, and building startups to bring neuroengineering innovations to the world.

Emphasizing the global nature of any modern neurotechnology, Neurotechnology Ventures will be videoconferenced between the U.S. and China, which is increasingly becoming a major neurotechnology player (including some very daring and scientifically interesting developments in fields such as human spinal cord regenerative medicine). Information will be posted online as the class evolves dynamically, to the web site HTTP:// The goal is to open up this new field to the world, and see if we can solve the major problems of the brain in an open and efficient way.


Help Please: Future of Neural Engineering: From Job perspective

Dear Members,
I am a prospective graduate student interested in taking up Neural Engineering under EE or Biomedical Engg for research. But I have a lot of concerns and need help from a person who knows about the field well.
1. I have studied VLSI, DSP, Image Processing, Wireless Communication, Control Systems and Embedded Systems as graduate and undergraduate courses and have some research interest in Neural Networks and Machine Learning(That’s how I got interested in Neural Engg and Prosthetics). Which of these subjects will be of help in Neural Engg/Prosthetics research. Which will be of most relevance. Please list them in the order of relevance(high->low).
2. What are the applications of the research ?
3. What is the research and JOB scope for this field? Are there any companies who recruit people with this specialisation? How is the job scene in academia? How many univs are doing research in this field in US? Please let me know about the career progression in academia, like how much time does it take to get full time academic position after PhD?
4. Especially, what are the applications of this research in Robotics?
5. What are the current problems and research themes in universities?
6. What imaging technologies are used in this research?

Though my queries may seem a bit ameteuristic, it is very important for me to get clarity on these doubts.
Hope my queries will be answered.
Thanking all of you in advance,

TR: Future of Neurotechnology

Technology Review: Emerging Technologies and their Impact

I don’t know too much about Zach Lynch, other than that he has a blog and refers to his company as the “neurotechnology market authority”, but there are some interesting tidbits from the TR interview:

TR: Research suggests that antidepressants are effective partly because they stimulate neurogenesis. So companies such as BrainCells, based in San Diego, CA, are screening compounds that promote growth of neural stem cells in the brain. They say these drugs could bring new therapies for depression and, eventually, neurodegenerative diseases.

ZL: It’s an exciting area, and the investment community is certainly interested. But the jury is still out.

TR: We’re also starting to see a new kind of therapy for brain-related illnesses — electrical stimulation. Various types of stimulation devices are now on the market to treat epilepsy, depression, and Parkinson’s disease. What are some of the near- and far-term technologies we’ll see with this kind of device?

ZL: We’re seeing explosive growth in this area because scientists are overcoming many of the hurdles in this area. One example is longer battery life, so devices don’t have to be surgically implanted every five years. Researchers are also developing much smaller devices. Advanced Bionics, for example, has a next-generation stimulator in trials for migraines.

In the neurodevice space, the obesity market is coming on strong. Several companies are working on this, including Medtronics and Leptos Biomedical. In obesity, even a small benefit is a breakthrough, because gastric bypass surgery [one of the most common treatments for morbid obesity] is so invasive.

In the next 10 years, I think we’ll start to see a combination of technologies, like maybe a brain stimulator that releases L-dopa [a treatment for Parkinson’s disease]. Whether that’s viable is a whole other question, but that possibility is there because of the microelectronics revolution.

The real breakthrough will come from work on new electrodes. This will transform neurostimulator applications. With these technologies, you can create noninvasive devices and target very specific parts of the brain. It’s like going from a Model T to a Ferrari. Those technologies will present the real competition for drugs.