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A cutting-edge brain implant has been developed that can accurately translate imagined speech in real time, achieving the highest level of precision to date

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Caltech bioengineers’ new tool has proven to be exceptionally adept at deciphering brain signals related to internal speech. Although it has only been tested in two patients thus far, with further development, this technology has the potential to enable individuals who cannot speak to communicate solely through their thoughts.

BMIs are already achieving remarkable feats. These systems have been utilized to assist paralyzed patients in walking and, in the case of Neuralink’s first experimental subject, enable them to control a computer through a “telepathic” connection.

One of the primary applications of this technology involves facilitating communication. For people who are unable to speak, such as those with neurological conditions or brain injuries, BMIs can give them a voice.

There are some limitations to devices of this kind, like the one that the late Stephen Hawking famously used. One challenge is capturing the natural rhythm of speech, which scientists are actively researching, aided by Pink Floyd. Another limitation is that many speech BMIs rely on users attempting to vocalize words, which may not be feasible for everyone. An optimal solution would involve discovering a method to decipher internal speech, allowing individuals to simply imagine uttering a word. Progress in this field has been made, but it has been quite difficult, and the outcomes have been varied.

Now, the team at Caltech has created a system that can accurately decode internal speech with unprecedented precision.

Microelectrode arrays were surgically inserted into the brains of two male patients who were experiencing tetraplegia, one aged 33 and the other aged 39. The team focused on the primary somatosensory cortex and the supramarginal gyrus (SMG), a brain region that has not been investigated in previous studies on speech BMI.

The interface was trained on a combination of real and made-up words to determine their impact on the system’s effectiveness. The participants were presented with each word either visually or audibly and were subsequently instructed to mentally simulate saying the word for a duration of 1.5 seconds. They were then requested to vocalize the word.

According to first author Sarah Wandelt, this technology would be especially beneficial for individuals who have lost their ability to move. For example, let’s consider a condition such as locked-in syndrome.

Using the BMI, the researchers were able to analyze the real-time activity in the SMG while the participants were contemplating each word. One participant achieved an accuracy of 79 percent, which is comparable to the accuracy of decoding vocalized speech, according to Wandelt and co-author David Bjånes. The other participant, however, only achieved an accuracy of 23 percent.

The technology will require additional refinement and testing on a larger sample size with a broader range of words. However, the study does indicate that the SMG shows promise as a brain region to focus on.

“Although the second participant did not replicate these results, this study holds significance as it is, to my knowledge, the first successful implementation of a real-time speech brain-computer interface using single unit recordings in the SMG,” remarked Blaise Yvert of The Grenoble Institute of Neuroscience, who was not part of the study.

Additionally, the team is interested in exploring whether the BMI can effectively differentiate between different letters of the alphabet. Wandelt and Bjånes propose that decoding individual sound units of speech, known as phonemes, may offer a potential avenue for investigation.

According to Giacomo Ariani, the Associate Editor of the paper, this proof-of-concept study on high-performance decoding of internal speech will undoubtedly capture the attention of researchers who are dedicated to advancing the capabilities of BMIs and other therapeutic devices for individuals who have lost their ability to speak.

The study has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Human Behavior.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Medicine and Health

Microplastics have been detected in the male genitalia of humans for the first time

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Researchers have recently discovered microplastics in human penises, expanding the list of body parts where these harmful particles have been detected.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are shorter than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) and can originate from various sources, including plastic production or the breakdown of plastic objects. With their apparent penetration into every small space, some people are worried about the potential consequences for our well-being.

The initial phase of this process involves determining their presence within the body. Researchers from the University of Miami, the University of Colorado, and the research institution Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon embarked on a quest to ascertain whether these entities could be detected in penises.

In order to accomplish this, the team collected penile tissue samples from six individuals who were undergoing surgery to treat erectile dysfunction. One of the samples was used as a control for comparison. Subsequently, the samples were examined for microplastics using laser direct infrared (LDIR) microspectroscopy, a method that enables scientists to identify the types, sizes, and quantities of microplastics present.

The analysis indicated that microplastics were present in 80 percent of the samples, with sizes ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers. However, another microscopy technique detected some microplastics as small as 2 micrometers (equivalent to thousandths of a millimeter, for reference to their minuscule size).

The microplastics (MPs) consisted of seven distinct types, with polyethylene terephthalate being the most abundant at 47.8 percent. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of plastic, is frequently utilized in the manufacturing of clothing as well as packaging for food and beverages.

Polypropylene, accounting for 34.7 percent of the sample, emerged as the second most prevalent plastic. This versatile plastic is utilized in various applications, including rigid food packaging and plastic laboratory equipment.

The authors state that their study is a pioneering investigation into the existence of microplastics (MPs) in penile tissue. “Our research provides important information about the presence of MPs in human tissues, which contributes significantly to the ongoing discussion about the impact of environmental pollutants on human health.”

While this study represents the initial discovery of microplastics in penile tissue, previous findings have already identified their presence in the surrounding region. In a recent study, scientists discovered substantial amounts of microplastics in the testes of both humans and dogs. Additionally, another investigation revealed the presence of microplastics in all 36 semen samples examined by the researchers.

Scientists have consistently highlighted the need for further research, but they have indicated the potential impact of microplastics on reproductive health, specifically investigating the connection between microplastics and erectile dysfunction.

In an interview with Sky News, Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy, the main researcher, stated that further investigation is needed to understand the mechanism behind the presence of microplastics in the penis.

The research is published in the International Journal of Impotence Research

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Medicine and Health

Long-Term COVID Risk Factors Found in Data from Almost 5,000 People

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More information about who may be most likely to get a long-lasting illness has been found by looking at data from 4,700 people who have recovered from COVID-19. Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes the painful symptoms of long COVID—there are hundreds of possible causes—but this new study gives them a better idea of who may be affected.

If you get infected with SARS-CoV-2, you will have a long-term condition called Long COVID for at least three months. The symptoms may get worse over time or come on and off in waves. Some people will get better after a while, but for others, whose symptoms started in the early days of the pandemic in 2020 and haven’t gone away yet, they are still sick.

A lot of work has been done by scientists to figure out what causes long-term COVID and to find treatments that might help, not just for these patients but also for people with other post-viral syndromes. There are still a lot of things we don’t know, though. One of the biggest questions is who may be most likely to get long-term COVID. Someone at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center may have led a new study that could help.

“Our study clearly establishes that COVID posed a substantial personal and societal burden,” said Professor Elizabeth C. Oelsner, who wrote the study and was the lead author. “By figuring out who was most likely to have had a long recovery, we have a better idea of who should be involved in ongoing research into how to lessen or stop the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

The 4,700 people who took part in the study agreed to be a part of the Collaborative Cohort of Cohorts for COVID-19 Research, or C4R. C4R is made up of more than 50,000 people from all over the US who are doing long-term research to help us learn as much as we can about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The people who took part were asked to say how long it took them to get better after getting COVID. The average time to get better from an infection between 2020 and 2023 was 20 days, and more than one in five adults had symptoms for at least three months.

The biggest groups of those were found to be women and people who already had heart disease. American Indian and Alaska Native people who took part also had more severe first infections and took longer to recover.

Being vaccinated against the virus and having an infection with an omicron lineage variant, which is usually linked to milder disease, were both linked to a faster recovery. She said, “Our study shows how important it is that COVID vaccinations have been, not only in lowering the severity of an infection but also in lowering the risk of long-term COVID.”

Other health problems that are usually linked to worse outcomes from COVID, like diabetes and chronic lung disease, were linked to longer recovery times. However, this was no longer a statistically significant finding when sex, heart disease, vaccination status, and variant exposure were taken into account.

The study also found an interesting lack of a significant link with mental health disorders. Studies have shown that a lot of people with long COVID have problems with their mental health, but Oelsner said, “We did not find that depressive symptoms before SARS-CoV-2 infection were a major risk factor for long COVID.”

The main thing to remember is that getting vaccinated is still the best way to avoid getting COVID in the first place, so make sure you don’t have a worse experience with it. The current circulating variants are mostly offshoots of Omicron. This may also be a reason to be hopeful, since these variants were linked to shorter recovery times.

New vaccines are being made to match the newest strains, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts out detailed information on when people of different ages and risk levels should think about getting their next booster. Different countries have different vaccine availability, but the health authority in your area should be able to tell you if you can get a shot.

The study can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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Medicine and Health

Which is better for us: fresh or frozen vegetables?

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People are changing how they shop at the grocery store to save money because the cost of living is going up. This is especially true when it comes to vegetables. As a general rule, frozen vegetables are less expensive than fresh ones. However, some people think that fresh vegetables are naturally “better” for you. Which is it?

In a clean corner
Fresh vegetables that are crunchy and taste great are great, but they might not have as many nutrients as you think.

They start to lose their nutrients as soon as they are picked. That’s because they are taken away from their source of nutrients when they are picked. So that they can stay alive, the cells in vegetables breathe faster, which can cause nutrients to be lost. It’s also possible for this to happen when vegetables are stored or processed and are exposed to oxygen.

But this is the big nutritional catch with fresh vegetables: how healthy they are depends on how soon you eat them after picking them. Since the prices of vegetables at stores are going through the roof, some people are growing their own or getting them from community gardens. It usually takes a little longer for fresh vegetables from the store to get to our tables.

To get the most out of fresh vegetables, they should be eaten within a few days, if possible. CNN Health spoke with Gene Lester, a plant physiologist and national program leader for the US Department of Agriculture. “After it’s four, five, or seven days old, it’s a whole different story.”

In the cold corner
It became popular to freeze fresh vegetables because they go bad faster when left out in the open air. This way, you can use them up faster and avoid having a fridge full of spoiled green beans. Besides that, because they are frozen so soon after being picked, frozen vegetables are usually thought to have more nutrients.

Still, there is some evidence that frozen vegetables may have less vitamin C than fresh vegetables. Vitamin C is important for many bodily functions and, you know, keeps you from getting scurvy. For that reason, frozen vegetables are blanched, which means they are quickly scalded in steam or boiling water and then quickly cooled.

Blanching food is thought to help keep the flavor and stop that weird gray color that can happen with frozen food. This is done by turning off enzymes in the vegetables, which freezing alone couldn’t do. But heat can also break down vitamin C, so some of it might be lost in vegetables that are going to be frozen.

Vitamin C loss doesn’t seem to be that clear-cut, though. If it’s frozen, there may not be any more loss.

A study from 2015 that looked at how well eight different fruits and vegetables kept their vitamins found that spinach, carrots, peas, and broccoli that were stored fresh or frozen did not differ significantly in terms of vitamin C. It was discovered that frozen corn and green beans had higher levels of vitamin C than fresh ones. The authors said this was because fresh vegetables break down faster.

The whole picture
The study mentioned above also discovered that, on average, frozen vegetables had the same amount of vitamins as fresh ones, and sometimes even more. Any food is “better” than none at all, and any vegetable is better than none at all in the big picture.

Vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they are good for you in many ways, like helping your immune system and giving you more energy.

If you can’t decide between fresh and frozen, choose the option that works best for you, whether it’s financially, practically, or just in terms of taste.

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