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neural engineering jobs

I just found a blog that regularly details jobs for neural engineers – both in industry and academia. Knowing how hard it is to search for such a specialized field, here is the link.

The FFI curse

FFI means fatal familial insomnia. It is a genetic disease that manifests itself after the age of procreation – we’re talking about a smart gene, right?

I got interested in this rare disease as the last year of medical school approaches and I need a good subject for the final medical thesis. I am looking for a mathematical model for this disease or at least for the thalamic degeneration that is central to it, but meanwhile I found this documentary made by the Prion Information Center:

Mathematical models in neuroscience

Mathematical models are mandatory for designing neural prostheses that can close the nervous circuit in order to treat a neurological disorder. Here are some sites that shared their mathematical models for the rest of us in order to use and improve them!

SenseLab – This is a project funded by The Human Brain Project and it includes these databases:

– neuronal databases: CellPropDB, NeuronDB, ModelDB,  MicrocircuitDB

– olfactory databases: ORDB, OdorDB, OdorMapDB

– disease databases: BrainPharm

If you need a mathematical model of a certain brain region, here is a very useful list.

In order to run these models, I advise you to download the NEURON software. In order to learn how to use it, here is an online version of exercises from the 2008 summer course.

Visiome is a database where you can find a lot of mathamatical models related to vision.

CellML is being developed by the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland.

A free software to open the CellML files is Cellular Open Resource .

BioModels Database is a database of mathematical models of biological interest.

If you know of any good database of such mathematical models, please leave a comment!

Protective brain hypothesis

This hypothesis says that an organism with a  large brain comparing to its size increases its lifespan although it implies higher energetic costs. This hypothesis was finally confirmed – take a look!

Artificial organs getting better each day!

People can’t yet replace all their organs with artificial ones, but researchers are making huge progresses: artificial organs

I also just discovered a magazine only about artificial organs! How awesome is that!

Face blindness

These days I read a book “Neuroengineering the future” by Bruce F. Katz and it made me realize that the human brain is severely limited by evolution. It is a brilliant device, but it could be improved a lot.

It is limited in terms of weight because the birth canal is limited in its size by a small pelvis necessary for walking and running and it is limited in terms of volume because it needs a hard shell that can’t extend too much after 2 years when the fontanels close. Although the human cortex is already folded to increase its available surface, it can’t fold too much otherwise the signals will interfere with each other and that is bad.

Leaving anatomy aside and viewing the brain as a computational device, its short-term memory allows one to remember 7 plus/minus 2 objects at a time. The author defined creativity as “the ability to produce items that are both novel and useful” – considering this, he is right to say that most people are not that creative as we think so. Our limited lifetime narrows our possible thoughts even more and as “any finite device has finite memory” – our long-term memory has about 100 Mb in a lifetime taking into consideration the normal forgetting of things.

Yet we can still remember about distinct 10 000 faces in a lifetime and that speaks a lot on the survival role of this aspect. Basic security relies on identifying the people around you yet there are people that suffer from face blindness/prosopagnosia. The area responsible for identifying faces is the fusiform face area (FFA) located on the temporal lobe on the fusiform gyrus. Some say that this area is responsible for recognizing fine differences between well-known objects, not just faces.

If you are curious to know how good is your memory at identifying faces I recommend you this test. I correctly identified 69 out of 72 faces or 96% of them. If you scored under 65% there might be a problem though. you can also find good tests on prosopagnosia.com

Differences in myelin repair

It has been noticed from clinical observations that there are differences in the axons’ability to regenerate their myelin sheath according to their topography.

The myelin sheath from the perifery repairs itself better and faster than in the central nervous system. Why?

It is not very clear for me why that happens, but I found these possible explanations:

– the myelin sheath in the peripherical nervous system is made by the Schwann cells where 1 Schwann cell secretes the myelin for 1 axon

– the myelin sheath in the central nervous system is made by the oligodendrocytes where 1 oligodendrocyte secretes myelin for 30-40 axons so there is a difference in quantity here

– another cause could be factors secreted by the glial scar, from which I found some data about the NoGo factor

I wonder if the factors possibly secreted by the glial scar could be inhibited therapeutically but found no data available till now. I am mainly thinking about the demyelinating diseases that could benefit from these. The only demyelinating disease that I saw till now is multiple sclerosis and although theoretically I found this to be an interesting disease from what I have read, I find it now a dramatical disease.

If you are interested in the topic, here is a great link:

The Myelin Project

Myelin Repair Foundation