Writings from the weekend

I finished some articles in hungarian this afternoon, and I will summarize them here in a few sentences to start accumulating the words on this blog.

The first was about the development of the cerebral cortex. This is the outer grayish rim of the brain which holds a lot of neurons and as this part is the most different between humans and other mammals it is thought that its expansion made our cognitive capabilities possible. A recent research showed that the ASPM gene has a major role in cortical development, as ferrets lacking this gene will develop a considerably smaller and less convoluted brain than their normal peers. The idea is that the product of the ASPM gene holds neural progenitor cells in the vicinity of the ventricles longer, thus exposure to growth factors is also longer and finally, more neurons emerge. This gene may be an important player in human cortical development.

The next one was about stem cell implants to treat spinal cord injury. The scientists used macaques for the studies and grafted human neural stem cells into the injury site (spinal cord at the level of the shoulders). The stem cells were injected with growth factors and a rapidly solidifying material (fibrin-thrombin mix). The idea behind this treatment is that the grafted cells may serve as relays between brain cells directing motion and spinal motor neurons actualizing these directions. Up to 9 months after the implant histological examinations showed that host cells extended axons into the graft and the grafted cells also sent axons in the spinal cord. There were some synapses between graft and host cells too, which may explain the functional outcomes (the implanted monkeys showed slightly better manual dexterity and walking). The most interesting result is that host cells extended axons into the graft. This is a huge step, because after central nervous system damage neural regeneration does not occur normally.

The third one was about a novel retinal implant which may help prevent age-related macular degeneration. The macula is a spot on the retina which enables high resolution central vision. This area may degenerate with age and cause severe visual deficits. It generally goes like this: the retinal epithel cell dies for some reason and shortly the cells responsible for vision, which depend on these for nourishment also die, which causes vision loss. The idea here is by implanting human epithelial cells these may serve the others and prevent vision loss. In two current studies the researchers implanted into severely damaged eyes, as the safety of the implants was assessed. The implants turned out fine and hopefully earlier implantation may prevent vision loss in future patients.

The fourth was something new for me, as I reported on a robotics research. Actually after I started writing it I noticed that I was late by roughly a month, as there were several articles around on the topic: the IKEA chair assembling robot. However I noticed that the (Hungarian) articles are a little vague, so I finished it anyway. The researchers reported that they built a robot which was able to assemble an IKEA chair in a mere 20 minutes. The parts were placed in reach of the robotic arms and by analysing the picture of a 3D camera, the parts were identified. The planning of the assembly took around 11 minutes, this requires a ton of computation even with the clever algorithm they used. The important thing here, which was missed by many I think, is that the steps required for the assembly were hard coded for the robot (the researchers wrote the steps “fit this part into this part” and so on). The actual assembly took 8 minutes, it largely depended on motion sensors and certain correcting algorithms. Thus it the robot assembled the chair faster than humans do it, however, if you wanted it to assemble another piece of IKEA furniture, it would be hopeless until you code the required steps for the machine.


That’s all for now!