A remote control for neurons

    A novel material for controlling human neuron cells could deepen our understanding of cell interactions and enable new therapies in medicine.

    A team led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University has created a new technology that enhances scientists’ ability to communicate with neural cells using light. Tzahi Cohen-Karni, associate professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering, led a team that synthesized three-dimensional fuzzy graphene on a nanowire template to create a superior material for photothermally stimulating cells. NW-templated three-dimensional (3D) fuzzy graphene (NT-3DFG) enables remote optical stimulation without need for genetic modification and uses orders of magnitude less energy than available materials, preventing cellular stress.

    Graphene is abundant, cheap, and biocompatible. Cohen-Karni’s lab has been working with graphene for several years, developing a technique of synthesizing the material in 3D topologies that he’s labeled “fuzzy” graphene. By growing two-dimensional (2D) graphene flakes out-of-plane on a silicon nanowire structure, they’re able to create a 3D structure with broadband optical absorption and unparalleled photothermal efficiency.

    These properties make it ideal for cellular electrophysiology modulation using light through the optocapacitive effect. The optocapacitive effect alters the cell membrane capacitance due to rapidly applied light pulses. NT-3DFG can be readily made in suspension, allowing the study of cell signaling within and between both 2D cell systems and 3D, like human cell-based organoids.


    (Image caption: Graphene flakes are grown on silicon nanowires to achieve superior conductivity. Credit: College of Engineering)

    Systems like these are not only crucial to understanding how cells signal and interact with each other, but also hold great potential for the development of new, therapeutic interventions. Exploration into these opportunities, however, has been limited by the risk of cellular stress that existing optical remote-control technologies present. The use of NT-3DFG eliminates this risk by using significantly less energy, on a scale of 1-2 orders of magnitude less. Its biocompatible surface is easy to modify chemically, making it versatile for use with different cell types and environments. Using NT-3DFG, photothermal stimulation treatments could be developed for motor recruitment to induce muscle activation or could direct tissue development in an organoid system.


    (Image caption: Nanowires are able to stimulate neurons from outside the cell membrane. Credit: College of Engineering)

    “This is an outstanding collaborative work of experts from multiple fields, including neuroscience through Pitt and UChicago, and photonics and materials science through UNC and CMU,” said Cohen-Karni. “The developed technology will allow us to interact with either engineered tissues or with nerve or muscle tissue in vivo. This will allow us to control and affect tissue functionality using light remotely with high precision and low needed energies.”

    Additional contributions to the project were made by Maysam Chamanzar, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. His team’s core expertise in photonics and neurotechnologies assisted in developing the much-needed tools to allow both the characterization of the unique hybrid-nanomaterials, and in stimulating the cells while optically recording their activity.


    (Image caption: Neurons respond to optical stimulus from NT-3DFG nanostructures. Credit: College of Engineering)

    “The broadband absorption of these 3D nanomaterials enabled us to use light at wavelengths that can penetrate deep into the tissue to remotely excite nerve cells. This method can be used in a whole gamut of applications, from designing non-invasive therapeutics to basic scientific studies,” said Chamanzar.

    The team’s findings are significant both for our understanding of cell interactions and the development of therapies that harness the potential of the human body’s own cells. Nanostructures created using NT-3DFG may have a major impact on the future of human biology and medicine.

    - How Energy Works - Part One -

    Some things to keep in mind:

  • The idea that nothing exists until it is interacted with is false.
  • Everything has it’s own vibration with or without interaction from outside sources.
  • Everything has energy that controls itself.
  • We control our own energy.
  • The objects around us control their own energy.
  • To bring something into your life, you have to be an exact vibrational match for it. And, because energies are always shifting/never stagnant, to keep something in your life, you have to keep being an exact vibrational match for it. 

    This means that there has to be some sort of quantum convergence or entanglement in your respective energies.

  • Every single thing in the universe is a fractal or mirror of source. 
  • The objects around you are fractals.
  • The people around you are mirrors.
  • You are the mirror.
  • The people and events in your life are direct manifestations and mirrors of your subconscious thoughts and energy.

    The things you think about others are the things you think about yourself. 

    To choose to believe that outside forces can have any effect on other people’s lives or energy without their expressly given consent is to believe that outside forces can have that same amount of sway on your life without your expressly given consent. 

    This is a form of giving away your personal power. It is you choosing to create a world or reality in which these things are true. 

    Astrology: Dualities, Elements, and Modalities

    I’m on a serious Astrology roll this week, so I thought I would put down the dualities, elements, and modalities. I thought I should try to explain what they mean, since before I did my research, I had no idea what these were. Learning new things every day. (There was an error, not sure if it was Tumblr or my computer, but I had to delete this post, but after a while, I was able to repost.)


  • Masculine: The Yang Duality. Extroverted, outgoing, and active, they direct their energy outward.
  • Feminine: The Yin Duality. Introverted, receptive, and self-contained, they direct their energy outward.
  • Elements

  • Fire: Intuitive, Energetic, Confident, Enthusiastic, Passionate, Boisterous.
  • Earth: Practical, Grounded, Cautious, Enduring, Sensuous, Dependable.
  • Air: Intellectual, Rational, Theoretical, Idea-Driven, Communitive, Objective.
  • Water: Emotional, Empathetic, Sensitive, Nurturing, Instinctual, Imaginative.
  • Modalities

  • Cardinal: Enterprise, Action, Assertiveness, Change, Leadership, Direct, Purposeful.
  • Fixed: Stable, Loyal, Resistant, Constant, Persistent, Determined, Rigid.
  • Mutable: Changeable, Versatile, Adaptable, Unpredictable, Multi-Tasking, Superficial.
  • And now, here is a list of which Zodiac signs have which Duality, Element, and Mode.


  • Duality: Masculine
  • Element: Fire
  • Mode: Cardinal
  • Taurus

  • Duality: Feminine
  • Element: Earth
  • Mode: Fixed
  • Gemini

  • Duality: Masculine
  • Element: Air
  • Mode: Mutable
  • Cancer

  • Duality: Feminine
  • Element: Water
  • Mode: Cardinal
  • Leo

  • Duality: Masculine
  • Element: Fire
  • Mode: Fixed
  • Virgo

  • Duality: Feminine
  • Element: Earth
  • Mode: Mutable
  • Libra

  • Duality: Masculine
  • Element: Air
  • Mode: Cardinal
  • Scorpio

  • Duality: Feminine
  • Element: Water
  • Mode: Fixed
  • Sagittarius

  • Duality: Masculine
  • Element: Fire
  • Mode: Mutable
  • Capricorn

  • Duality: Feminine
  • Element: Earth
  • Mode: Cardinal
  • Aquarius

  • Duality: Masculine
  • Element: Air
  • Mode: Fixed
  • Pisces

  • Duality: Feminine
  • Element: Water
  • Mode: Mutable

    Blog #27                                                   Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

    Welcome back,

    Black holes are perhaps the strangest, least-understood objects in our universe. With so much potential — being linked to everything from wormholes to new baby universes — they have sucked in physicists for decades.

    But as strange as these known objects are, even stranger types of black holes could be dreamed up. In one upside-down, hypothetical version of the universe, a bizarre type of black hole could exist that is stranger than an M.C. Escher sketch. Now, a team of researchers has plunged into the mathematical heart of so-called charged black holes and found a slew of surprises, including an inferno of space-time and an exotic fractal landscape … and potentially more.

    There are all sorts of potential, hypothetical black holes: ones with or without electric charge, ones spinning or stationary, ones surrounded by matter or those floating in empty space. Some of these hypothetical black holes are known for certain to exist in our universe; for example, the rotating black hole surrounded by in falling matter is a pretty common presence. We’ve even taken a picture of one. 

    But some other kinds of black holes are purely theoretical. Even so, physicists are still interested in exploring them — by diving into their mathematical foundations, we can realize new relationships and implications of our physical theories, which can have real-world consequences.

    One such theoretical black hole is an electrically charged black hole surrounded by a certain kind of space known as anti-de Sitter. Without getting into too much of the nitty-gritty, this kind of space has constant negative geometric curvature, like a horse saddle, which we know is not a good description of our universe. (A cosmos with anti-de Sitter space, all else being the same, would have a negative cosmological constant, which means that any matter would tend to condense into a black hole, versus the known accelerating expansion that is flinging the universe apart.

    COMING UP!!!!

    (Wednesday, October 17th, 2020)


    Making sense of the self

    Interoception is the awareness of our physiological states; it’s how animals and humans know they’re hungry or thirsty, and how they know when they’ve had enough to eat or drink. But precisely how the brain estimates the state of the body and reacts to it remains unclear. In a paper published in the journal Neuron, neuroscientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) shed new light on the process, demonstrating that a region of the brain called the insular cortex orchestrates how signals from the body are interpreted and acted upon. The work represents the first steps toward understanding the neural basis of interoception, which could in turn allow researchers to address key questions in eating disorders, obesity, drug addiction, and a host of other diseases.

    Using a mouse model his lab developed at BIDMC, Mark Andermann, PhD, principal investigator in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues recorded the activity of hundreds of individual brain cells in the insular cortex to determine exactly what is happening as hungry animals ate.

    The team observed that when mice hadn’t eaten for many hours, the activity pattern of insular cortex neurons reflected current levels of hunger. As the mice ate, this pattern gradually shifted over hours to a new pattern reflecting satiety. When mice were shown a visual cue predicting impending availability of food – akin to a person seeing a food commercial or a restaurant logo – the insular cortex appeared to simulate the future sated state for a few seconds, and then returned to an activity pattern related to hunger. These findings provided direct support for studies in humans that hypothesized that the insular cortex is involved in imagining or predicting how we will feel after eating or drinking.

    “It is as if the insular cortex is briefly estimating, or simulating, the physiological consequences of eating a meal,” said first author Yoav Livneh, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in Andermann’s lab. “When hungry, this would be a simulation of satiety. But when considering whether to eat in the absence of hunger, for example when eating dessert after a big meal, this would be a simulation of the consequences of overeating. We hypothesized in this paper that when insular cortex activity shifts from a pattern reflecting current bodily state to a pattern reflecting a future satiety state, the size of this shift actually predicts how rewarding it will be to eat the food.”

    A second experiment in which thirsty mice were presented with water yielded nearly identical results – with an important difference. The patterns of activity related to hunger and thirst were quite different, allowing the insular cortex to monitor multiple body states simultaneously.

    “Another surprising finding was that insular cortex activity that reflects bodily state was independent of the hypothalamus, which is normally thought to be a master regulator of physiological need states in the brain,” Andermann said. “In contrast, we found that even when we artificially activate hypothalamus in a way that compels sated mice to eat, insular cortex activity isn’t fooled, and still reflects the body’s current physiological state of satiety.”

    Next, Andermann and colleagues plan to directly manipulate specific patterns of activity in the insular cortex with the goal of changing the prediction the brain makes when presented with food or water, thereby making eating and drinking more or less rewarding.

    “If successful, this approach might provide an intervention that could reduce seeking of unhealthy rewards (such as unhealthy foods or drugs of abuse) without affecting the seeking of other, healthier rewards,” said Andermann. “Such an intervention could potentially have a lot of value in both medicine and psychiatry.”

    Metal-ion breakthrough leads to new biomaterials

    Metals such as iron and calcium play a crucial role inside the human body, so it’s no surprise that bioengineers would like to integrate them into the soft, stretchy materials used to repair skin, blood vessels, lungs and other tissue.

    Designing elastomers – a type of polymer with rubber-like properties – is a laborious process that yields a product with limited versatility. But Cornell engineers have developed a new framework that makes elastomer design a modular process, allowing for the mixing and matching of different metals with a single polymer.

    The framework is detailed in “Chelation Crosslinking of Biodegradable Elastomers,” published Sept. 22 in Advanced Materials.

    The framework was conceived when researchers from Cornell’s Biofoundry Lab sought to create an elastic vascular graft that could help repair heart tissue using copper. Yadong Wang, the McAdam Family Foundation Professor of Cardiac Assist Technology in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, and postdoctoral associate Ying Chen wanted to incorporate copper into their graft because of its role in inducing angiogenesis – the process by which new blood vessels grow from existing ones.

    Mixing copper and other metal ions with polymers has remained a niche area of chemistry, so there was no blueprint for Chen to follow. Instead, she set out to engineer a biocompatible and biodegradable elastomer from scratch.

    Read more.

    The link between drawing and seeing in the brain

    Drawing an object and naming it engages the brain in similar ways, according to research recently published in JNeurosci. The finding demonstrates the importance of the visual processing system for producing drawings of an object.


    (Image caption: Brain activation patterns during object recognition and production. Credit: Fan et al., JNeurosci 2019)

    In a study by Fan et al., healthy adults performed two tasks while the researchers recorded brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging: they identified pieces of furniture in pictures and produced drawings of those pieces of furniture. The researchers used machine learning to discover similar patterns of brain activity across both tasks within the occipital cortex, an area of the brain important for visual processing. This means people recruit the same neural representation of an object whether they are drawing it or seeing it.

    As the participants drew each object multiple times, the activity patterns in occipital cortex remained unchanged, but the connection between occipital cortex and parietal cortex, an area involved in motor planning, grew more distinct. This suggests that drawing practice enhances how the brain shares information about an object between different regions over time.

    Why doesn’t deep-brain stimulation work for everyone?

    People with severe Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions that cause intractable symptoms such as uncontrollable shaking, muscle spasms, seizures, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are sometimes treated with electric stimulators placed inside the brain. Such stimulators are designed to interrupt aberrant signaling that causes the debilitating symptoms. The therapy, deep-brain stimulation, can provide relief to some people. But in others, it can cause side effects such as memory lapses, mood changes or loss of coordination, without much improvement of symptoms.

    Now, a study from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis may help explain why the effects of deep-brain stimulation can vary so much – and points the way toward improving the treatment. The stimulators typically are implanted in structures known as the thalamus and the basal ganglia that are near the center of the brain. These structures, the researchers found, serve as hubs where the neurological networks that control movement, vision and other brain functions cross paths and exchange information. Each person’s functional networks are positioned a bit differently, though, so electrodes placed in the same anatomical spot may influence different networks in different people – alleviating symptoms in one but not in another, the researchers said.

    The findings were published in Neuron.

    “The sites we target for deep-brain stimulation were discovered serendipitously,” said co-author Scott Norris, MD, an assistant professor of neurology and of radiology who treats patients with movement disorders. “Someone had a stroke or an injury in a specific part of the brain, and suddenly their tremor, for example, got better, and so neurologists concluded that targeting that area might treat tremor. We’ve never really had a way to personalize treatment or to figure out if there are better sites that would be effective for more people and have fewer side effects.”

    What neurosurgeons lacked were individualized maps of brain functions in the thalamus and basal ganglia. These structures connect distant parts of the brain and have been linked to neurological and psychiatric conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But their location deep inside the brain means that mapping is technically challenging and requires enormous amounts of data.

    Nico Dosenbach, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology and the study’s senior author – along with co-first authors Deanna Greene, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and of radiology, and Scott Marek, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher, and other colleagues – set out to create individual maps of the functional networks in the basal ganglia and thalamus. Such maps, they reasoned, might provide clues to why people with neurological and psychiatric conditions exhibit such a wide range of symptoms, and why electrodes placed in those structures produce variable results.

    “Deep-brain stimulation is a very invasive treatment that is only done for difficult, severe cases,” said Greene, who specializes in Tourette’s syndrome. “So it is difficult to grapple with the fact that such an invasive treatment may only help half the people half the time.”

    Using data from a group of Washington University scientists who scanned themselves at night as part of the so-called Midnight Scan Club, the researchers analyzed 10 hours of MRI brain scan data on each of 10 individuals. From this, they created 3D maps color-coded by functional network for each individual. One of the functional networks is devoted to vision, two relate to movement, two involve paying attention, three relate to goal-directed behaviors, and the last network is the default network, which is active when the brain is at rest.

    The researchers discovered that each functional network followed its own path through the deep structures of the brain, intermingling with other networks at defined meeting spots. Some of these spots – such as the motor integration zone, where a movement and a goal-directed network come together – were located in much the same place in all 10 people. The locations of other networks and their points of intersection varied more from person to person.

    “I showed a neurosurgeon where we’d found the motor integration zone, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s where we put the electrodes for essential tremor, and it always works,’” said Dosenbach, who is also an assistant professor of occupational therapy, of pediatrics and of radiology. People with essential tremor experience uncontrollable shaking. “That’s interesting because there isn’t a lot of variability among people in terms of where the motor integration zone is located. So then we looked at a spot they target to treat Parkinson’s disease. We saw that there was a great deal of variation across people in terms of what functional networks are represented there, and deep-brain stimulation is only about 40% to 50% successful there.”

    The findings suggest that the outcome of deep-brain stimulation may reflect how successfully a neurosurgeon taps into the correct functional network – and avoids tapping into the wrong one.

    “Historically, our understanding of deep-brain stimulation has been based on averaging data across many people,” Norris said. “What this study suggests is that a particular patient may do better if the wire is placed in relation to their personal functional brain map rather than in context of the population average. A personalized functional map – as opposed to an anatomical map, which is what we use today – could help us place a wire in the exact place that would provide the patient with the most benefit.”

    The researchers now are studying the relationship between the locations of an individual’s functional networks and the outcomes of deep-brain stimulation to identify the networks that provide relief when stimulated, and those that cause side effects. In the future, the researchers hope to dig deeper into the networks with therapeutic effects, looking for other spots that might provide even better results than the traditional sites of electrode placement.

    “A lot of what I do is basic science – understanding how the brain works,” Dosenbach said. “But now we can make a map and give it to neurosurgeons and potentially improve treatment for these devastating conditions. We still have to prove the hypothesis that deep-brain stimulation outcomes are linked to functional networks, and translation will take time, but this really could make a difference in people’s lives.”