Ultra-luminous X-ray Pulsar Swift J0243.6+6124 Investigated With AstroSat (Astronomy)

Using India’s AstroSat spacecraft, astronomers have performed broadband timing and spectral observations of an ultra-luminous X-ray (ULX) pulsar known as Swift J0243.6+6124. Results of this observational campaign, presented in a paper published October 16 on arXiv.org, reveal more details about the properties of this pulsar.

Swift–BAT light curve of J0243 in the 15-50 keV range, from October 3, 2017 (MJD 58029) to February 11, 2018 (MJD 58160). Arrows mark times of AstroSat observations, the first starting on MJD 58033.193, the second on MJD 58052.619. Credit: Beri et al., 2020.

ULXs are point sources in the sky that are so bright in X-rays that each emits more radiation than a million suns emit at all wavelengths. They are less luminous than active galactic nuclei, but more consistently luminous than any known stellar process. Although numerous studies of ULXs have been conducted, the basic nature of these sources still remains unknown.

Some ULXs exhibit coherent X-ray pulsations, and therefore are classified as ULX pulsars (ULPs). To date, only a handful of ULPs have been identified and one of them is Swift J0243.6+6124 (or J0243 for short). The discovery of this pulsar was reported in October 2017, when X-ray pulsations of approximately 9.86 seconds were detected from a transient X-ray source in outburst by NASA’s Swift spacecraft in the 0.2-10 keV band. At a distance of about 23,000 light years, J0243 is the first galactic ULP detected so far.

J0243 was further observed with AstroSat during its 2017-2018 bursting activity, as part of a multi-wavelength campaign. Now, a team of astronomers led by Aru Beri of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Mohali, India, has published results of these observations, which could help us better understand the nature of this pulsar.

“AstroSat observed J0243 twice during its 2017-18 outburst, and we have analyzed data obtained over a broad energy range (0.3-150 keV) with all three of its X-ray instruments,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

AstroSat allowed Beri’s team to detect X-ray pulsations up to 150 keV during the second observation. However, for the relatively fainter first observation, pulsations were detected only up to 80 keV. The average pulse profiles revealed a double-peaked behavior during both observations, separated by approximately 19 days, which could be due to the contribution from both magnetic poles of the neutron star or two sides of a fan beam from one pole.

The results indicate that J0243 was accreting at sub-Eddington level (about 70 undecillion erg/s) during the first AstroSat observation and at super-Eddington level (about 600 undecillion erg/s) when it was observed for the second time. The astronomers noted that spectral data at the sub-Eddington level could be modeled well using an absorbed high-energy cut-off power law and a blackbody. When it comes to the super-Eddington phase, they added that it requires additional components such as another blackbody and a Gaussian component for the iron emission line.

The authors of the paper assume the presence of two blackbodies: one with a radius of about 18−19 km for the high temperature one, and another with a radius of 121−142 km for the low temperature one. This possibly indicates contribution to thermal emission from the accretion column and optically thick outflows.

References: Beri et al., AstroSat Observations of the first Galactic ULX Pulsar Swift J0243.6+6124, arXiv:2010.08334 [astro-ph.HE] arxiv.org/abs/2010.08334

Models For Potential Precursors Of Cells Endure Simulated Early-Earth Conditions (Biology)

Researchers demonstrate the behavior of membraneless ‘protocell’ compartments through multiple rounds of wet-dry cycling.

Membraneless compartments–models for a potential step in the early evolution of cells–have been shown to persist or form, disappear, and reform in predictable ways through multiple cycles of dehydration and rehydration. Such wet-dry cycles were likely common conditions during the early development of life on Earth and could be a driving force for reactions important for the evolution of life.

Membraneless compartments, called complex coacervates, which form micrometer-sized droplets (center), are widely studied as models of protocells, a potential step in the evolution of life on Earth. New research shows that the droplets behave as predicted by an experimentally derived phase diagram (left) in response to a proposed early-Earth environmental process, the wet-dry cycle as could be seen as small ponds or puddles evaporate and reform. The preference for RNA molecules (fluorescently labeled red in the right panel) to accumulate inside the droplets decreases as the solution dries. ©Hadi Fares, Penn State.

Understanding how the compartments–known as complex coacervates–respond to wet-dry cycling also informs current applications of the droplets, which are found in many household items, such as adhesives, cosmetics, fragrances, and food, and could be used in drug delivery systems. A paper describing the research, led by Penn State scientists, appears October 27, 2020 in the journal Nature Communications.

“Wet-dry cycling has gotten attention recently in attempts to produce molecules that could be the precursors to life, things like the building blocks of RNA, DNA, and proteins,” said Hadi Fares, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Penn State and the first author of the paper. “We are looking into a possible step further in the evolution of life. If these building blocks form compartments–the precursors of cells–what happens if they undergo the same type of wet-dry cycling?”

The researchers make membraneless compartments, which form through liquid-liquid phase separation in a manner akin to oil droplets forming as a salad dressing separates, by controlling the concentrations of reagents in a solution. When the conditions–pH, temperature, salt and polymer concentrations–are right, droplets form that contain higher concentrations of the polymers than the surrounding solution. Like oil drops in water, there is no physical barrier or membrane that separates the droplets from their surroundings.

Dehydrating the solution, like what could happen during dry periods on a pre-life Earth where small ponds or puddles might regularly dry up, changes all of these factors. The researchers, therefore, wanted to know what would happen to the membraneless compartments in their experimental system if they recreated these wet-dry cycles.

As mixtures of membraneless compartments, called complex coacervates, are dried, the concentrations of all components increase as the total volume decreases. The preference of an added RNA molecule to locate within the coacervate droplets decreases with drying while its mobility increases. These results emphasize the importance of carefully considering the environment in studies of membraneless coacervate compartments as models of protocells in the early evolution of life on Earth. © Hadi Fares, Penn State.

“We first mapped out how the compartments form when we alter the concentrations of the polymers and the salt,” said Fares. “This ‘phase diagram’ is experimentally determined and represents the physical chemistry of the system. So, we know whether or not droplets will form for different concentrations of polymers and salt. We can then start with a solution with concentrations at any point on this phase diagram and see what happens when we dehydrate the sample.”

If the researchers start with a solution with concentrations that favor the formation of droplets, dehydration can change the concentrations such that the droplets disappear. The droplets then reappear when the sample is rehydrated. They can also start with a solution in which no droplets form and dehydration could bring the concentrations into the range that droplets begin to form. The behavior of the droplets during dehydration and rehydration match the predictions based on the experimentally derived phase diagram and they continue to do so through several iterations of the wet-dry cycle.

Next, the researchers addressed the ability of droplets to incorporate RNA molecules inside of the membraneless compartments. The “RNA world” hypothesis suggests that RNA may have played an important role in the early evolution of life on Earth and previous experimental work has shown that RNA in these solutions becomes concentrated inside of the droplets.

“As we dry droplets that contain RNA, the overall concentration of RNA in the solution increases but the concentration of RNA inside the droplets remains fairly stable,” said Fares. “The preference of RNA molecules to be inside the droplets seems to decrease. We believe that this is because as they dry the composition inside the droplets is changing to look more like the composition outside the droplets.”

The research team also looked at the ability of RNA to move into and within the droplets during dehydration. As they dry the sample the movement of RNA into and out of the droplets increases massively, but movement within the droplets increases only modestly. This difference in RNA mobility could have implications for the exchange of RNA among droplets during dehydration, which could in turn be functionally important in protocells.

“What we are showing is that as the membraneless compartments dry, they are able to preserve, at least to some extent, their internal environment,” said Fares. “Importantly, the behavior of the coacervates, or protocells, whether they persist or disappear and reappear through the wet-dry cycle, is predicable from the physical chemistry of the system. We can therefore use this model system to think about the chemistry that might have been important for the early evolution of life.”

Beyond early life scenarios, the research has implications much closer to home.

“People underestimate how important coacervates are beyond their role as a model for protocells,” said Christine Keating, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Penn State and leader of the research team. “Many of the things that you have in your house that appear cloudy have coacervates in them. Any time you want to compartmentalize something, whether it’s for drug delivery, a fragrance, a nutrient, or food product, coacervates may be involved. Understanding something new about the physical chemistry of the process of droplet formation will be important for all of these things.”

References: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19184-z

Provided by Penn state

Weak Equivalence Principle Violated In Gravitational Waves (Physics)

Calculations reveal that a key principle of classical physics is broken by quantum particles as they pass through ripples in spacetime.

The Weak Equivalence Principle (WEP) is a key aspect of classical physics. It states that when particles are in freefall, the trajectories they follow are entirely independent of their masses. However, it is not yet clear whether this property also applies within the more complex field of quantum mechanics. In new research published in EPJ C, James Quach at the University of Adelaide, Australia, proves theoretically that the WEP can be violated by quantum particles in gravitational waves – the ripples in spacetime caused by colossal events such as merging black holes.

As well as resolving a long-standing debate in quantum theory, Quach’s findings could lead to the development of advanced new materials, including fluids with infinite conductivity and zero viscosity. These could be used as advanced gravitational wave detectors and may even lead to devices which can mirror gravitational waves and harvest their energy. Quach based his approach around a principle named ‘Fisher information’ – a way of measuring how much information an observable random variable carries about a particular unknown parameter. Here, the random variable describes the position of a quantum particle in a gravitational field, while the unknown parameter is its mass. If the WEP were obeyed, the Fisher information should be zero in this case.

Through his calculations, Quach rewrote an equation describing the WEP for freely falling quantum particles, to incorporate their Fisher information. He showed that while these particles obey the WEP in static gravitational fields, their trajectories can indeed give away information about their mass when they pass through gravitational waves. For the first time, the calculation precisely characterises how the WEP can be violated by quantum particles, and provides key insights for future studies searching for the violation through real experiments.

References: J Q Quach (2020), Fisher information and the weak equivalence principle of a quantum particle in a gravitational wave, European Physical Journal C 80:987, DOI 10.1140/epjc/s10052-020-08530-6

Provided by Springer

Solved: The Mystery Of How Dark Matter In Galaxies Is Distributed (Astronomy)

The gravitational force in the Universe under which it has evolved from a state almost uniform at the Big Bang until now, when matter is concentrated in galaxies, stars and planets, is provided by what is termed ‘dark matter’. But in spite of the essential role that this extra material plays, we know almost nothing about its nature, behaviour and composition, which is one of the basic problems of modern physics. In a recent article in Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters, scientists at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC)/University of La Laguna (ULL) and of the National University of the North-West of the Province of Buenos Aires (Junín, Argentina) have shown that the dark matter in galaxies follows a ‘maximum entropy’ distribution, which sheds light on its nature.

Dark matter in two galaxies simulated on a computer. The only difference between them is the nature of dark matter. Without collisions on the left and with collisions on the right. The work suggests that dark matter in real galaxies looks more like the image on the right, less clumpy and more diffuse than the one on the left. The circle marks the end of the galaxy. Image taken from the article Brinckmann et al. (2018, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 474, 746; https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/stx2782).

Dark matter makes up 85% of the matter of the Universe, but its existence shows up only on astronomical scales. That is to say, due to its weak interaction, the net effect can only be noticed when it is present in huge quantities. As it cools down only with difficulty, the structures it forms are generally much bigger than planets and stars. As the presence of dark matter shows up only on large scales the discovery of its nature probably has to be made by astrophysical studies.

MAXIMUM ENTROPY

To say that the distribution of dark matter is organized according to maximum entropy (which is equivalent to ‘maximum disorder’ or ‘thermodynamic equilibrium’) means that it is found in its most probable state. To reach this ‘maximum disorder’ the dark matter must have had to collide within itself, just as gas molecules do, so as to reach equilibrium in which its density, pressure, and temperature are related. However, we do not know how the dark matter has reached this type of equilibrium.

“Unlike the molecules in the air, for example, because gravitational action is weak, dark matter particles ought hardly to collide with one another, so that the mechanism by which they reach equilibrium is a mystery”, says Jorge Sánchez Almeida, an IAC researcher who is the first author of the article. “However if they did collide with one another this would give them a very special nature, which would partly solve the mystery of their origin”, he adds.

The maximum entropy of dark matter has been detected in dwarf galaxies, which have a higher ratio of dark matter to total matter than have more massive galaxies, so it is easier to see the effect in them. However, the researchers expect that it is general behaviour in all types of galaxies.

The study implies that the distribution of matter in thermodynamic equilibrium has a much lower central density that astronomers have assumed for many practical applications, such as in the correct interpretation of gravitational lenses, or when designing experiments to detect dark matter by its self-annihilation.

This central density is basic for the correct interpretation of the curvature of the light by gravitational lenses: if it is less dense the effect of the lens is less. To use a gravitational lens to measure the mass of a galaxy one needs a model, if this model is changed, the measurement changes.

The central density also is very important for the experiments which try to detect dark matter using its self-annihilation. Two dark matter particles could interact and disappear in a process which is highly improbable, but which would be characteristic of their nature. For two particles to interact they must collide. The probability of this collision depends on the density of the dark matter; the higher the concentration of dark matter, the higher is the probability that the particles will collide.

“For that reason, if the density changes so will the expected rate of production of the self-annihilations, and given that the experiments are designed on the prediction of a given rate, if this rate were very low the experiment is unlikely to yield a positive result”, says Sánchez Almeida.

Finally, thermodynamic equilibrium for dark matter could also explain the brightness profile of the galaxies. This brightness falls with distance from the centre of a galaxy in a specific way, whose physical origin is unknown, but for which the researchers are working to show that it is the result of an equilibrium with maximum entropy.

SIMULATION VERSUS OBSERVATION

The density of dark matter in the centres of galaxies has been a mystery for decades. There is a strong discrepancy between the predictions of the simulations (a high density) and that which is observed (a low value). Astronomers have put forward many types of mechanisms to resolve this major disagreement.

In this article, the researchers have shown, using basic physical principles, that the observations can be reproduced on the assumption that the dark matter is in equilibrium, i.e., that it has maximum entropy. The consequences of this result could be very important because they indicate that the dark matter has interchanged energy with itself and/or with the remaining “normal” (baryonic) matter.

“The fact that equilibrium has been reached in such a short time, compared with the age of the Universe, could be the result of a type of interaction between dark matter and normal matter in addition to gravity”, suggests Ignacio Trujillo, an IAC researcher and a co-author of this article. “The exact nature of this mechanism needs to be explored, but the consequences could be fascinating to understand just what is this component which dominates the total amount of matter in the Universe”.

References: Jorge Sánchez Almeida, Ignacio Trujillo and Ángel Ricardo Plastino. “The principle of maximum entropy explains the cores observed in the mass distribution of dwarf galaxies”. 2020, A&A Letters. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/202039190

Provided by IAC

Stem Cells: New Insights For Future Regenerative Medicine Approaches (Medicine)

Researchers discover that a specialized part of the chromosomes, essential for a correct cell division, is smaller and weaker in stem cells, when compared to the ones of differentiated cells.

Stem cells are considered one of the most promising tools in the field of regenerative medicine because they are a cell type that can give rise to all the cells in our bodies and that has the potential to be used to treat tissue loss due to damage or disease. Stem cells that are similar to the ones of embryonic origin can be generated in the laboratory and they are known as induced stem cells (which can obtained from skin cells, for example). Their induction relies on the reprograming of their gene expression and originates a stem cell from differentiated one, a finding that earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

Chromosome segregation in a human induced pluripotent stem cell. Centromeres in green and DNA in magenta. © Carolina Pereira & Inês Milagre.

Despite their potential, little is known about the mechanisms that govern the division of stem cells, which have propensity to accumulate chromosome segregation errors during this process. Stem cells can duplicate almost indefinitely and one of the elements necessary for a successful cell division (or mitosis) is the centromere. This is the binding place of the protein complexes that ensure that the genetic material, when duplicated and condensed in chromosomes, is distributed equally between the two daughter-cells.

Driven by the curiosity to understand the mechanisms that govern chromosome segregation in stem cells, the team of researchers from the IGC, led by Raquel Oliveira and Lars Jansen, designed a fundamental biology project with eyes set on centromeres and the protein complexes associated to them.

The study allowed “a precise definition of the composition and size of the centromeres of stem cells and revealed that their chromosomes have weaker centromeres when compared to the ones of differentiated cells. Moreover, these structures become weaker as a consequence of acquiring the identity of stem cell itself”, explains Inês Milagre, main author of the study.

“This ‘weakness’ in a structure of such importance for the correct distribution of chromosomes between daughter-cells might explain why these cells make more mistakes when they divide”, adds Lars Jansen, principal investigator at the IGC and the University of Oxford.

The high tendency for errors during cell division, which originates chromosomal anomalies, is currently one of the biggest limitations to the usage of these cells. “To overcome this limitation we must understand why such mistakes occur. Beyond the important discovery of this study, we are now looking at other structures that are important for cell division in order to have a more holistic vision of all the mitotic machinery of stem cells, so that we can revert their tendency for erroneous divisions”, reveals Raquel Oliveira, principal investigator at IGC.

This study brings new perspectives to the understanding of cell division fidelity and points our possible causes for the presence of anomalies, which can greatly impact the therapies developed in the field of regenerative medicine.

References: Inês Milagre , Carolina Pereira , Raquel A. Oliveira and Lars E. T. Jansen, “Reprogramming of human cells to pluripotency induces CENP-A chromatin depletion”, Royal Society Publishing, Published:21 October 2020. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsob.200227 link: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsob.200227

Provided by INSTITUTO GULBENKIAN DE CIENCIA

Specific and Rapid Expansion Of Blood Vessels (Biology)

Upon a heart infarct or stroke, rapid restoration of blood flow, and oxygen delivery to the hypo perfused regions is of eminent importance to prevent further damage to heart or brain. Arterial diameter is a critical determinant of blood flow conductance. Scientists of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now discovered a novel mechanism to structurally increase arterial diameter by selectively increasing the size of arterial endothelial cells, thereby allowing rapid increases in flow. The team has published their results in Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19008-0).

(A,B) in vivo image of growing artery (yellow arrowhead) in control scenario (A) and upon growth factor stimulation (B). (C,D) Confocal image of arterial blood flow (red) and arterial endothelial actin cytoskeleton (green) in control scenario (C) and upon growth factor stimulation (D). ©ZOO, KIT.

Research team leader Professor Ferdinand le Noble of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the KIT explains that the prevalence of complex vascular disease is steadily rising and it is especially this patient population that will benefit from adjunct therapy to conventional revascularization methods. Unfortunately, many recent clinical therapeutic vascular growth trials failed, thus emphasizing the need for a more rational approach to this important area of clinical cardiovascular medicine, le Noble explains.

His research team now identified a novel mechanism to improve arteriogenesis involving enlargement of the endothelial cells lining the arteries. Larger endothelial cells allow a structural increase of arterial diameter in developing vascular networks. “This is important, as already small increases in arterial diameter considerably augment flow conductance, a simple physical principle,” le Noble explains.

The process of cell enlargement is coordinated by a molecule called Trio. Trio is located inside the endothelial cell and plays a pivotal role in determining endothelial shape. Trio does this by selectively activating specific molecules, so called small Rho GTPases, that affect the structure and rigidity of the endothelial cytoskeleton in the cell periphery. The authors show that Trio can be activated selectively in developing arteries by precisely titrating Vegf signaling strength in the arterial wall. This is achieved by targeting soluble Vegf receptor Flt1, a decoy receptor for the growth factor VEGF. Endothelial cell enlargement is a fast process, independent of shear stress or inflammatory processes and within several hours results in 2-3 fold structurally larger arterioles that can attract flow to hypoperfused regions. Due to the rapid nature of this process, the authors believe that this approach has significant advantages over the (relatively slow) conventional angiogenesis approaches aimed at improving vessel number.

“We hope that our research can contribute to improving the treatment of ischemic cardiovascular diseases” le Noble says. “Our data derived from experimental models and human endothelial cells suggest that Trio is an interesting therapeutic target, and together with our collaboration partners, we envision to extend our work to pre-clinical models.”

References: Klems, A., van Rijssel, J., Ramms, Anne S., Wild, R., Hammer, J., Merkel, M., Derenbach, L. Préau, L., Hinkel, R., Suarez-Martinez, I., Schulte-Merker, S., Vidal, R., Sauer, S., Kivelä, R., Alitalo, K., Kupatt, C., van Buul, J. D., le Noble, F. (2020): The GEF Trio controls endothelial cell size and arterial remodeling downstream of Vegf signaling in both zebrafish and cell models. Nature Communications, 2020, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19008-0 link: Publication in Nature Communications: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19008-0

Provided by KIT

Single-atom Alloy: Superb Cocatalyst For Photocatalysis (Material Science)

Photocatalysis, converting solar energy into chemical energy, has been recognized to be a very promising solution to the current energy and environmental issues. The performance of the photocatalytic system depends largely on the surface charge state of active sites (usually, i.e., co-catalysts), as the Schottky junction between photosensitizer and co-catalyst facilitates charge transfer between them and finally to reactant molecules, promoting the adsorption and activation of the latter.

The surface charge state of co-catalyst plays an important role in photocatalysis. However, the regulation on surface charge state of co-catalysts especially by changing their microstructures and coordination environment almost remains unexplored. Recently, Hai-Long Jiang’s research group from the University of Science and Technology of China made very interesting progress in this aspect by fabricating single-atom alloy cocatalyst. ©Science China Press

In contrast to the existed reports centered on co-catalysts, such as the development of non-noble metal, particle size and distribution control, exposed crystal facets and their interface contact with photosensitizers, the regulation on surface charge state of co-catalysts by changing their microstructures provides vast opportunities for boosting photocatalysis, yet remains extremely rare.

In this work, Dr. Jiang’s research group from the University of Science and Technology of China has achieved the goal of optimizing Pt surface charge state via the control of bimetallic Pd@Pt microstructure and Pt coordination environment.

The bimetallic core-shell-structured Pd@Pt NPs have been in situ fabricated and stabilized by a photosensitive and representative metal-organic framework (MOF), UiO-66-NH2. The microstructure of the Pd10@Ptx co-catalyst can be precisely controlled from core-shell to single-atom alloy (SAA), during which Pt coordination environment changes, by precisely and simply tuning the Pt content.

Given the different working functions of Pd and Pt, the charge between Pd and Pt is redistributed, accompanied by Pt coordination environment change, thus achieving the surface charge state regulation of Pt sites.

As a result, all Pd@Pt/MOF present excellent photocatalytic hydrogen production activity due to the electron-rich Pt sites benefited from charge redistribution effect. Moreover, the optimized Pd10@Pt1/MOF composite with SAA co-catalyst, which features the most electron-rich Pt, exhibits an exceptionally high photocatalytic hydrogen production activity, far surpassing its corresponding counterparts (see in image).

This is the first report on SAA co-catalyst toward photocatalysis. It provides the design strategy and synthetic protocol for the fabrication of SAA catalysts and opens up a new avenue to SAA-based photocatalysis. In addition, as an alternative to the classical Schottky junction strategy, this work introduces a novel approach to charge state optimization by regulating the co-catalyst microstructure (especially the coordination environment control), toward enhanced photocatalysis.

References: Yating Pan, Yunyang Qian, Xusheng Zheng, Sheng-Qi Chu, Yijun Yang, Chunmei Ding, Xi Wang, Shu-Hong Yu, Hai-Long Jiang, Precise fabrication of single-atom alloy co-catalyst with optimal charge state for enhanced photocatalysis, National Science Review, , nwaa224, https://doi.org/10.1093/nsr/nwaa224 https://academic.oup.com/nsr/advance-article/doi/10.1093/nsr/nwaa224/5900997

Provided by Science China Press

JNIS: Brain-computer Allows Patients With Severe Paralysis To Text, Email, Bank (Neuroscience)

Researchers demonstrated the success of a fully implantable wireless medical device, the Stentrode™ brain-computer interface (BCI), designed to allow patients with severe paralysis to resume daily tasks — including texting, emailing, shopping and banking online — without the need for open brain surgery. The first-in-human study was published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery™, the leading international peer-reviewed journal for the clinical field of neurointerventional surgery.

Endovascular motor neuroprosthesis system. The internal and external system components in a participant with flaccid upper limb paralysis due to motor neurone disease are demonstrated. The device was implanted within the superior sagittal sinus, immediately adjacent to the precentral gyrus. The highlighted yellow region in the brain depicts the activation of primary motor cortex that occurs with attempted limb movement. The transmission lead, exiting the internal jugular vein between the heads of sternocleidomastoid, was tunneled subcutaneously and connected to the internal telemetry unit (ITU) placed within a subclavicular pocket. The external telemetry unit (ETU) inductively powers the ITU and receives the electrocorticography signal via infrared light transmission. The signal is sent to a tablet computer via a signal control unit and translated into multiple-click actions by the custom decoder, including a zoom function and single-click command. Multiple command control was combined with eye-tracking to enable general operation of Windows 10.
The Stentrode brain-computer interface, implanted via procedures commonly used for neurovascular stent implantation, is designed to self-expand and grow into the blood vessels wall without obstructing blood flow. (Photo: Synchron, Inc.)

The patients enrolled in the study utilized the Stentrode neuroprosthesis to control the Microsoft Windows 10 operating system in combination with an eye-tracker for cursor navigation, without a mouse or keyboard. The subjects undertook machine learning-assisted training to control multiple mouse-click actions, including zoom and left click.

“This is a breakthrough moment for the field of brain-computer interfaces. We are excited to report that we have delivered a fully implantable, take home, wireless technology that does not require open brain surgery, which functions to restore freedoms for people with severe disability,” said Thomas Oxley, MD, PhD, and CEO of Synchron, a neurovascular bioelectronics medicine company that conducted the research. “Seeing these first heroic patients resume important daily tasks that had become impossible, such as using personal devices to connect with loved ones, confirms our belief that the Stentrode will one day be able to help millions of people with paralysis.”

The Stentrode brain-computer interface can translate brain signals from the inside of a blood vessel – without the need for open-brain surgery. (Photo: Synchron, Inc.)

Graham Felstead, a 75-year-old man living at home with his wife, has experienced severe paralysis due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was the first patient enrolled in the first Stentrode clinical study and the first person to have any BCI implanted via the blood vessels. He received the Stentrode implant in August 2019. With the Stentrode, Felstead was able to remotely contact his spouse, increasing his autonomy and reducing her burden of care. Philip O’Keefe, a 60-year-old man with ALS who works part time, was able to control computer devices to conduct work-related tasks and other independent activities after receiving the Stentrode in April 2020. Functional impairment to his fingers, elbows and shoulders had previously inhibited his ability to engage in these efforts.

The Stentrode device is small and flexible enough to safely pass through curving blood vessels, so the implantation procedure is similar to that of a pacemaker and does not require open brain surgery. Entry through the blood vessels may reduce risk of brain tissue inflammation and rejection of the device, which has been an issue for techniques that require direct brain penetration. Implantation is conducted using well-established neurointerventional techniques that do not require any novel automated robotic assistance.

References: Oxley TJ, Yoo PE, Rind GS, et al Motor neuroprosthesis implanted with neurointerventional surgery improves capacity for activities of daily living tasks in severe paralysis: first in-human experience Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery Published Online First: 28 October 2020. doi: 10.1136/neurintsurg-2020-016862 link: https://jnis.bmj.com/content/early/2020/10/23/neurintsurg-2020-016862

Provided by Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery’s (SNIS)

Can Touch Heal? (Psychology)

For over 40 years, I have practiced the integration of bodywork and psychotherapy as a clinician licensed in both disciplines. I have pioneered the integration of these methods at the Harvard Medical School Department of psychiatry in 1985 and have worked with over 60,000 clients. The application of these therapies is most effective when tailored to the needs of each individual and to their specific stage of recovery.

©gettyimages

Massage and bodywork decrease depression and anxiety; they were used in children with PTSD following Hurricane Andrew (Field, Seligman, Scafidi, & Schanberg, 1996), in female survivors of sexual abuse (Field, et al., 1997; Price, 2005, 2007), and in dementia caregivers with a history of trauma (Korn et al., 2009). Several studies and metastudies have demonstrated efficacy for massage and bodywork for the treatment of fibromyalgia (Cao, Liu, & Lewith, 2010; Kalichman, 2010; Sunshine et al., 1996).

Massage is used extensively along with psychotherapy for the treatment of torture victims at rehabilitation centers around the world; it often comprises a special massage of the galea, a band of muscle around the head, for relief of the headaches common to nearly all torture victims (Bloch, 1988). Complementary forms of touch physiotherapy are practiced at rehabilitation centers throughout Europe with a focus on specific physical injuries; it includes body awareness methods that help the torture victim to accept his or her body again (Ortmann, Genefke, Jakobsen, & Lunde, 1987). 

During the 1960s, the early pioneering work of biologist Bernard Grad, a student of the body-oriented psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, measured changes in the growth of plants and bacteria in response to the “laying on of hands.” Since then, numerous studies have measured functional alterations in brainwaves, heart rhythm, and hormone levels in response to direct touch or nonlocal “touch” or intention within healer and “healer.” Among the biofield, touch therapies are methods called therapeutic touch, Reiki, healing touch, and the light touch of polarity therapy. They all appear to reduce sympathetic activity (Cox & Hayes, 1999; Gehlhaart, 2000; Rowlands, 1984) by stimulating the vagal response. Biofield therapies also lead to a reduction in pain (Sansone & Schmitt, 2000), anxiety (Gagne & Toye, 1994), cancer-related fatigue (Roscoe, Matteson, Mustian, Padmanaban, & Morrow, 2005), quality of life (Metz, 1992), and depression (Field, 2000; Rowlands, 1984; Wardell & Engebretson, 2001). These therapies have, furthermore, been found to increase energy (Lee et al., 2001) and mood and improve sleep (Smith, Stallings, Mariner, & Burrall, 1999).

©gettyimages

How does touch heal?

  • Touch arouses, desensitizes, and transduces state-dependent memory; it also facilitates consciousness states associated with alpha, beta, theta, and delta brainwaves.
  • Touch can induce trance and simultaneously provide the grounding rod to gain control over dissociative processes.
  • Touch is anxiolytic and soporific; it also stimulates circulatory, lymphatic, and immune responses and regulates the primary respiratory mechanism (the cranial-sacral rhythm).
  • Touch activates assorted neurohormonal responses, including the release of beta-endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin; it improves cortisol levels and stimulates the endocannabinoid system.
  • Touch provides a nonverbal form of biofeedback, allowing for the simultaneous retrieval of somatosensory memory, body sensations, articulation of associative feelings, and cognitive reframing.
  • Touch changes body image and improves body concept, including the exploration of kinesthetic and proprioceptive boundaries as it reduces autonomic hyperactivity.
  • Touch reduces lactic acid, thereby reducing the chemistry feedback loop of anxiety.
  • Touch facilitates somatic empathy, a psychobiological attunement that is a prerequisite for attachment and bonding.
  • Touch alters favorably the subtle human biofields that are the foundation of the healthy functioning of the human organism.

Therapeutic forms of massage and touch therapies like Polarity therapy, cranial-sacral therapies can be used alone or integrated into the psychotherapeutic model if the individual is trained and licensed to practice both therapies. It then is often called Body Oriented psychotherapy or somatic psychotherapy.

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