BRAIN and BEHAVIOR INITIATIVE WEEKLY DIGEST

August 5, 2019


News

Engineers have mimicked the human brain with an electronic chip that uses light to create and modify memories. Drawing from
optogenetics, engineers developed the device to replicate the way the brain stores and loses information. The technology is an advance in fast and efficient light-based computing, and it brings researchers closer to the realization of a bionic brain—that is, to a brain-on-a-chip that can learn from its environment just as humans do.
Researchers report new evidence that a protein pumped out of some—but not all—populations of “helper” cells in the brain, called astrocytes, plays a specific role in directing the formation of connections among neurons needed for learning and forming new memories. Using mice genetically engineered and bred with fewer such connections, the researchers conducted proof-of-concept experiments that show they can deliver corrective proteins via nanoparticles to replace the missing protein needed for “road repairs” on a defective neural highway.
A new study in mice suggests not only that aging changes one's microbiome but also that, in some cases, a poop transplant might help set it right. The study found that microbiome from healthy mice extended life span by 15%. Fecal microbiota transplants, in which the gut microbiome from a healthy person is used to treat someone who is sick, are not a new treatment, but this study holds particular promise for helping researchers one day design targeted probiotic treatments for age-related conditions.
In a recent study, participants listened to questions from a predetermined set, then, with researchers monitoring their brain activity, they spoke a response to the question from a group of answer options. When these answers and the brain monitoring data were given to a computer program, researchers found that the AI was able to correctly predict the original question most of the time. Ultimately, this proof-of-concept study might be a step toward better assisted communication devices for paralyzed people.
Recently, the BRAIN Initiative held a “Show Us Your Brain Contest!”, which invited researchers involved in the effort to submit their coolest images. Here is a closer look at some of the images showcasing the wonder and beauty of the brain. For example, the picture above is the first place winner in the still-image category. It is an artistic rendering of deep brain stimulation, an approach now under clinical investigation to treat cognitive impairment that can arise after a traumatic brain injury and other conditions.
The “LUKE Arm” (so named after the robotic hand that Luke Skywalker got in “The Empire Strikes Back”) mimics the way that a human hand feels objects by sending the appropriate signals to the brain. An amputee wearing the prosthetic arm can sense the touch of something soft or hard, understand better how to pick it up, and perform delicate tasks that would otherwise be impossible with a standard prosthetic.
During pregnancy, the placenta provides a fetus with everything it needs to develop: oxygen, food, waste disposal, and even antibodies from a mother’s immune system. But not, apparently, microbes. A new study finds that the placenta lacks bacteria, reaffirming the idea that babies gain a microbiome at birth. The research is the latest salvo in a hot debate over when humans first acquire the microbes that shape their nutrient processing and ability to fight off diseases later in life.
Striving to create a stronger, more flexible robot, researchers are turning to the tiny but mighty creatures of the insect world: cockroaches. Observing cockroaches as they were squished, scientists tried to get a sense of how these sneaky insects manage to squeeze through tight cracks and withstand heavy loads. Now, researchers say they have developed a robot that mirrors the movements of these tenacious critters. They note that the roboroach they developed can squeeze almost anywhere.
At age 34, Helen Hoang learned she had Asperger’s syndrome. That revelation inspired her to create characters who are also on the autism spectrum, a trait that had yet to be explored in the romance genre. Her novels are resonating with readers of all kinds, from autistic readers who may not have seen themselves represented in a positive way to the parents of children with autism who worry that their kids are not going to have happy futures.

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Funding Announcements

New FOA are listed below. Please visit bbi.umd.edu/news/FOA for the complete list of open Funding Announcements.
 
The National Hearing and Research Foundation invites applications for its Hearing and Balance Research to investigate aspects of the auditory and vestibular systems including but not limited to genetics, neurotology, anatomy, auditory processing, molecular and cellular biology, therapeutic studies, and investigations of current or experimental devices. Applications due August 15, 2019.
 
The Russell Sage Foundation invites applications for its Decision Making and Human Behavior inContext initiative to support innovative research on decision making across the social sciences that examines causes, consequences, processes, or context from a behavioral or alternative perspective. Letters of Inquiry due August 21, 2019.
 
The Department of the Army invites applications to conduct Complex Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Research to 1) develop and validate rehabilitation outcome measures; 2) systematically analyze standard of care cognitive interventions to identify optimal treatment ingredients; and 3) improve clinician-driven assessment strategies to guide RTD decision-making. There are two separate opportunities, one for Clinical Research and another for Clinical Trials. Pre-applications due September 10, 2019.
 
The American Psychological Foundation invites applications for its David H. and Beverly A. Barlow Grant to support innovative basic and clinical research on anxiety and anxiety related disorders. Eligibility is restricted to graduate students or early career researchers affiliated with nonprofit charitable, educational, and scientific institutions, or governmental entities operating exclusively for charitable and educational purposes. Applications due September 15, 2019.
 
New! The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) seeks applications from outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. The GRFP provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. Applications due October 21-25, 2019, depending on discipline.

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