‘Bionic’ eye on the future: From ‘Star Trek’ visors to ‘Mission Impossible’ contact lenses

NOW PLAYINGFirepower: Could bionic eyes give the military super sight?

Could bionic eyes restore sight to the blind and give the U.S. military super sight?

Bionic implanted eyeballs, “Star Trek”-style visors, telescopic contact lenses … these are just a few of the many exciting projects underway to both restore and provide enhanced sight.

Significant strides have been made in tech that will restore and transform lives – replacing white canes, service animals, braille machines and more for the visually impaired.

There has been a lot in the media about prosthetic breakthroughs for U.S. veterans, but what about vision? Last year the Blinded Veterans Association told the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs that there are an estimated 131,580 legally blinded veterans in the U.S., citing data from the Depatment of Veterans Affairs.


Technology is being increasingly harnessed to overcome blindness. So far, much of the key progress has been restricted to restoring sight for those with a specific type of visual impairment – in particular retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited condition that involves the loss of cells in the retina and causes a decline in vision.


One of the first and most promising “bionic eyes” is the Argus II made by Second Sight, which is geared toward patients with retinitis pigmentosa.

The system has two parts:  a very high tech retinal implant and a camera mounted on eyeglasses or shades. The “bionic eye” is surgically implanted in, and on, the eye.  It has an antenna, an electronics case, and an electrode array.

The camera processes what it sees and sends it to a small computer that the person wears.  The data is processed and translated into instructions that are sent wirelessly to the antenna in the implant.


The retinal implant has 60 electrodes in it. These electrodes provide information to the optic nerve and the optic nerve relays the data to the brain. The optic nerve understands this data as shapes, light and movement.

This vision is not yet like normal sight and it will not restore vision to 20/20. But with Argus II, folks who were once sightless can see in black and white – they can read a book and see their homes and loved ones for the first time. More advances are in the pipeline for Argus II to restore color as well as resolution and brightness.

Argus II bionic eyes require functioning retina so many, including many visually impaired veterans, can’t take advantage of that tech – Second Sight’s Orion technology could be the solution.


By skipping the optic nerve and directly plugging into the visual cortex, Orion could hold enormous potential for veterans who have visual impairment due to trauma.


In fact, this approach could potentially help those blinded by cancer or glaucoma.

This new device bypasses the retinal layer and implants electrodes directly onto the visual region of the brain.

Second Sight announced a major breakthrough for its Orion I project late last year. In a trial at UCLA, the very first of these devices to directly plug into the brain, a wireless visual cortical stimulator, was implanted in a human subject. The test was a success and restored vision to a 30-year old patient with no major side effects.


Ever seen “Star Trek?” One American company has created a sort of real-life version of character Geordi La Forge’s “visor.”


With the eSight 3 device, the wearer can see full-color video images without a time lag. Wherever the user looks and whatever he or she looks at, the high-speed, high-def camera captures it for them.

Advanced algorithms are used for the video feed. The video is then displayed on two screens in front of the wearer’s eyes. The video image is provided in a way that overcomes their vision loss.

eSight isn’t a cure-all at this point. If the retina damage is too severe, then it may not work. It tends to be more helpful with macular degeneration, for example, than glaucoma. The company says the technology has about a 50 percent chance of working with all conditions.


Advances in this field are also creating the potential to give US warfighters super vision.


One exciting example is a new contact lens funded by DARPA, and made by École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, that gives the wearer the ability to zoom like a telescope.

The scleral lens has thin aluminum mirrors built into it that work with special liquid crystal glasses. These glasses are connected to an electronic system.

Think “Mission Impossible.” If you blink your right eye, then it allows magnifying – but if you wink your left then the vision is normal. If you blink normally, it doesn’t trigger the magnifying mode.

In addition to the contact lens, other projects have made great headway. Even Second Sight bionic eyes can see in IR with a specific input device.


Augmenting soldiers with vision-enhancing tech could provide advantages for ground troops and special operations in particular. Warfighters could switch between seeing in night vision, infrared, thermal, zoom, telescopic and more. Whether worn or implanted, it would provide enhanced capabilities that remove the weight of carrying optics and the time lost shifting optics by switching instead at the speed of thought.

Just one specific illustration of how helpful this could be is explosives. If the amazing advances in explosive detection could be miniaturized and adapted for military bionic eyes, then warfighters with enhanced vision could scan and spot these hidden IEDs before they could strike – putting an end to injury and death due to IEDs.

Meet a Green Beret who was blinded in combat, but still serves, shoots with remarkable accuracy and explored Antarctica with Prince Harry at Tactical Talk this week. 

Allison Barrie consults at the highest levels of defense, has travelled to more than 70 countries, is a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees and now the author of the new book “Future Weapons: Access Granted”  covering invisible tanks through to thought-controlled fighter jets. You can click here for more information on FOX Firepower columnist and host Allison Barrie and you can follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie.

Israel’s Bonus says lab-grown bones successfully transplanted

Dec. 4, 2016: A researcher displays parts of a lab-grown, semi-liquid bone graft at the laboratory of Israeli biotech firm Bonus Biogroup in Haifa, Israel.

Dec. 4, 2016: A researcher displays parts of a lab-grown, semi-liquid bone graft at the laboratory of Israeli biotech firm Bonus Biogroup in Haifa, Israel.  (Reuters)

Israeli biotech company Bonus Biogroup’s lab-grown, semi-liquid bone graft was successfully injected into the jaws of 11 people to repair bone loss in an early stage clinical trial, it said on Monday.

The material, grown in a lab from each patient’s own fat cells, was injected into and filled the voids of the problematic bones. Over a few months it hardened and merged with the existing bone to complete the jaw, it said.

The announcement was made in a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and Bonus Biogroup is presenting its results at the International Conference on Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Spain on Monday.

The company, which has raised $14 million, said it plans to dual list on Nasdaq in the coming months.

“For the first time worldwide, reconstruction of deficient or damaged bone tissue is achievable by growing viable human bone graft in a laboratory, and transplanting it back to the patient in a minimally invasive surgery via injection,” said Chief Executive Shai Meretzki.

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Meretzki previously founded Pluristem Therapeutics, which works with stem cells and is one of the more advanced Israeli biomed companies.

Ora Burger, vice president of regulation affairs at Bonus Biogroup, told Reuters the transplant “was 100 percent successful in all 11 patients”.

“Now we are going to conduct a clinical study in the extremities, long bones,” she said.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Susan Thomas)

Hospital report blames patient’s fart for surgical fire


An operating room snafu out of Japan is generating headlines because of its bizarre nature: It seems a patient’s fart ignited a fire that left her with serious burns.

The incident took place at Tokyo Medical Center, reports the Asahi Shimbun. A laser was being used on the cervix of a woman in her 30s when she broke wind, according to a newly released assessment of the April incident released by the hospital.

All equipment was operating normally, leading a panel to conclude that the woman’s gas ignited the laser. “When the patient’s intestinal gas leaked into the space of the operation (room), it ignited with the irradiation of the laser, and the burning spread, eventually reaching the surgical drape and causing the fire,” says the report.

The resulting fire burned much of the patient’s body, though no details are provided about her condition. “This happens,” writes a commenter at Redditwho says he’s a surgeon’s assistant.

“Not the first instance of it a long time either.” The Washington Post explains that it’s the methane and hydrogen in a person’s gas that makes it potentially flammable, though “it’s difficult to overstate how minuscule the chance of that normal bodily function causing a problem truly is.” (A soccer player got booted from a game over his gas.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Hospital Report Blames Patient’s Fart for Surgical Fire

7-foot-tall Michigan teen can’t stop growing

  • Broc Brown with (L-R) his aunt Stacy Snyder, his mother Darci Moss Elliot and his grandmother Joy Moss at his grandmother's house on January 22, 2016 in Jackson, Michigan.

    Broc Brown with (L-R) his aunt Stacy Snyder, his mother Darci Moss Elliot and his grandmother Joy Moss at his grandmother’s house on January 22, 2016 in Jackson, Michigan.  (Ruaridh Connellan / BarcroftImages)

Every year, Broc Brown, 19, grows 6 inches, and the Michigan young man has already reached 7 feet 8 inches tall. At this rate, he could surpass the current world’s tallest man, who stands at 8 feet 2 inches.

Brown was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, Sotos Syndrome, when he was 5 years old, Barcroft Media reported. Sotos Syndrome affects one in every 15,000 individuals. While his mother, Darci, was initially told the boy wouldn’t live beyond his teen years, doctors are now confident he will have a normal life span.

Brown also suffers from learning difficulties, strain on his heart, curvature of the spine and narrowing of the spinal cord, Barcroft reported. He also has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and intermittent explosive disorder, which involves repeated, sudden outbursts of aggressive behavior. The young man was born with one kidney and can’t take painkillers despite suffering constant back pain.

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“It kind of feels like a big tennis racket has gone through my back,” Brown told Barcroft. “I just wish the doctors could do something to help my pain.”

When Brown was in kindergarten, he was already 5 feet 2 inches tall, his mother told Barcroft. He needs to have his clothes and shoes specially made to fit his size 28 feet and requires a specially made 8-foot bed.  His community raised around $10,000 for the boy, which was used to buy clothing and shoes.

Brown traveled to Arkansas Children’s Hospital and met with Dr. G. Bradley Schaefer, a specialist in Sotos, who was unable to relieve Brown’s pain, but told the family he believes the boy will have a regular lifespan.

“It’s the best thing I could have heard,” Brown told Barcroft. “I’m so happy that I will live for a long time.”

How LSD permits leaping word associations

brain istock


The drug LSD may make it easier for the brain to access distantly related words, a new study finds, suggesting that the drug activates certain language networks in the brain.

The researchers also found that people under the influence of LSD self-monitor their own language less than people who haven’t taken the drug, according to the study, published Aug. 18 in the journal Language, Cognition and Neuroscience.

The study didn’t address questions about the effect of the psychedelic drug on creativity or mental health, but could lead to new research in those areas, said lead researcher Neiloufar Family, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany.

“Our results do hint toward having access to further-away associations under the influence of psychedelics,” Family told Live Science.

The brain on LSD

In the study, Family and her colleagues asked 10 people to complete a rather dull picture-naming task while either under the influence of LSD or not. The participants came to the lab on two different days to do the experiment, and weren’t told which day they were getting the drug, although the psychedelic effects probably made clear if they had received it, the researchers wrote.

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a compound that is similar in structure to the neurotransmitter serotonin. It can thus act on cellular receptors that recognize serotonin, in particular one called 5-HT2AThe drug’s action on this receptor has a wide array of effects, including odd visual distortions and “ego dissolution,” or the sense that the boundaries between the self and the rest of the world have disappeared.

A growing area of research is investigating whether some of these psychedelic effects might have promise for treating people who have mental illnesses; in 2014, for example, researchers reported that taking LSD in a very controlled, supported environment improved people’s anxiety symptoms over time.

Family said she and her colleagues were interested in studying LSD’s effect on language processing in part because by altering the brain with the drug, they could learn about thought processes that are usually hidden. Language is largely automatic and unconscious, Family said, so people can’t explain how they pick words or why they might stumble now and then.

“You’re looking at an altered state of consciousness to get a better idea of how the brain works in its normal state,” she said of the LSD experiment.

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Language and LSD

The participants were shown 32 different pictures in three different categories — clothing, body parts and vehicles — and told to name the objects. Pictures were cycled through again and again, so participants had to name more than 700 in total. It’s a long, boring and repetitive task, Family said, and that’s no accident: The researchers wanted the participants to get a little bored, so the experiment could test whether any errors the individuals made resulted from the drug or just a wandering mind.

In general, the types of errors people make when they speak can illuminate their brain functions. For example, if someone stutters over the beginning of words, it suggests they’re paying too much attention to their word production. If they’re making mistakes with sound, it might show something about how the brain represents different sounds.

In the new study, the researchers found two differences in the types of errors produced by the participants when they were on LSD versus when they were sober. One was that the participants made more errors when on LSD than when sober, but not just any errors. They made their mistakes fully, without catching themselves. Instead of seeing a picture of a car and saying, “Trrr — car,” for example, they’d say the complete word “Truck” before realizing they were wrong.

LSD also made people more likely to mix up similar concepts.

“They would say ‘foot’ for ‘hand’ or ‘sock’ for ‘shoe,'” Family said. This result suggests that LSD was increasing the activation of what linguists call semantic networks. That means that related words were closer to the surface of a person’s consciousness, and were competing to be expressed.

The study is the first since the 1960s to look at LSD’s effect on language (though a 1996 study looked at language processing under the influence of the similar psychedelic drug, psilocybin, or magic mushrooms). The new research suggests that LSD might make linguistic free-association flow more smoothly, Family said, but the study was small and more work needs to be done. She said she hopes to conduct further studies on language and LSD using psilocybin to elucidate what’s going on in the brain while people are under the drug’s influence.

LSD research got a bad rap in the 1960s when the CIA funded secret research investigating the drug’s use for mind control. Today, doing research with the drug requires cutting through a lot of red tape, and the subject is still taboo enough that funding is hard to come by, Family said. Nevertheless, scientific interest in psychedelics and the brain is growing, she said.

“Because societal attitudes are slowly moving away from the hysteria that surrounds these substances, research has been gaining momentum,” Family said.

Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Oldest cancer in human ancestor found in 1.7-million-year-old bone

An image of the 1.7-million-year-old foot bone showing cancer.

An image of the 1.7-million-year-old foot bone showing cancer. (Patrick Randolph-Quinney (UCLAN))

An ancient foot bone from South Africa with an aggressive form of cancer on it is the oldest evidence of cancer in a human relative, researchers from South Africa reported recently.

While the researchers aren’t sure exactly what species the foot bone came from, they do know that it belonged to a bipedal hominin and that it dates to about 1.7 million years ago. The scientists also know that this type of cancer, in modern times, usually causes death if untreated.

“Due to its preservation, we don’t know whether the single cancerous foot bone belongs to an adult or child, nor whether the cancer caused the death of this individual, but we can tell this would have affected the individuals’ ability to walk or run,” Bernhard Zipfel, a scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in a statement announcing the discovery. “In short, it would have been painful.”

The fossilized foot bone with cancer came from a cave complex called Swartkrans outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.

And another bone from another cave near Johannesburg, called Malapa, has given researchers an additional important finding to announce: the oldest known tumor in the human lineage. It was found in one of the vertebra of a boy from the species Australopithecus sediba, and he may have been only eight or nine years old when he died.

While the ancient foot bone had evidence of cancer in it, the tumor found in the vertebra— which is nearly two million years old—  was not cancerous.


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Before these discoveries, researchers had evidence of a noncancerous tumor in part of a rib from a Neanderthal that was 120,000 years old, and also a tumor from an Egyptian mummy that is 3000 year old. These South African findings are much, much older.

“Modern medicine tends to assume that cancers and tumours in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments,” Edward Odes, a doctoral candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in the statement. “Our studies show the origins of these diseases occurred in our ancient relatives millions of years before modern industrial societies existed.”

Both the study announcing the cancer and the tumor were published in the South African Journal of Science.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Mummified body of German adventurer found inside yacht

The mummified body of Manfred Fritz Bajorat was found in a boat drifting off the coast of the Philippines. (Barobo Police via News.com.au)

The mummified body of Manfred Fritz Bajorat was found in a boat drifting off the coast of the Philippines. (Barobo Police via News.com.au)

The mummified body of a German adventurer has been discovered inside an abandoned yacht.

The grisly discovery came after two fishermen off the coast of the Philippines alerted authorities to a drifting vessel.

The body, found slumped near the boat’s radio telephone, has been identified as 59-year-old Manfred Fritz Bajorat.

Inspector Mark Navales said the cause of death was unclear, but there were no signs of foul play.

“It is still a mystery to us,” said Navales, adding it looked like Bajorat “was sleeping”.

It is yet unclear how long Bajorat had been missing, but sightings of him have not been reported since 2009.

Forensic examiners concluded that Bajorat had died more than four days before the yacht was found on Thursday by fishermen in the Philippine Sea about 62 miles from Barabo.

Items inside the yacht were scattered, according to Navales, who said the man’s wallet was not found but that the yacht’s radio, GPS and other valuable items were still there.

Local police spokeswoman Goldie Lou Siega in the Philippines said: “We have no evidence of a second person aboard and no weapon was found on the yacht.”

Dr Mark Benecke, a forensic criminologist in the German city of Cologne, told BILD newspaper: “The way he is sitting seems to indicate that death was unexpected, perhaps from a heart attack.”

Officials said dry ocean winds and the salty air helped to preserve his body.

As authorities tried to put together the circumstances of Bajorat’s death, details of his private life have started to emerge, according to The Sun.

He began his travels with his wife in 2008, but the couple subsequently split up. She later died from cancer.

In 2009 Bajorat is said to have met another sailor, identified only as Dieter, who told BILD that Bajorat was an “experienced sailor.”

“I don’t believe he would have sailed into a storm,” he said. “I believe the mast broke after Manfred was already dead.”

The German embassy in the Philippine capital, Manila, has been notified and is now working on locating Bajorat’s family.

He is believed to have a daughter who works as the captain of a freight vessel.

Click for more from News.com.au.

Drunk Russian man declared ‘dead’ wakes up in morgue


(iStock )

A Russian man gave new meaning to the term “dead drunk” — getting so loaded that he was actually declared dead and brought to the morgue.

The man passed out while partying with pals. First responders thought he was dead, the newspaper Khasanskiye Vesti reported.

Authorities took him to a morgue, but he woke up in the middle of the night, confused and frightened about being locked in a cold room filled with dead bodies, police said.

He banged on the door until cops let him out.

Incredibly, the man didn’t go home immediately, officials said. He instead went to his pal’s place, where the booze-fest had happened, knocked on the door and found his friends mourning his death, the paper reported.

At least one of his buddies fainted upon seeing the walking-dead friend, and the somber gathering turned into a celebration.

Click for more from The New York Post.

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UK woman says she eats 20 sponges a day


Emma Thompson, pictured, eats as many as 20 sponges a day. (The Sun)

A UK woman has admitted to eating as many as 20 sponges a day, saying that while “some people go out for a steak, I would rather go out for a sponge.”

Emma Thompson, from North Tyneside, England, told The Sun that she started chewing on sponges when she was about 3, and as she grew older, she started eating them.

“A couple of years ago I was just washing the dishes and I seen the sponges with the scouring pads, and I just thought it’d be quite interesting to try one of them,” Thompson said.

“Ever since that I’ve been addicted to eating them. I just have to soak them in (dishwashing liquid) and then chew on them. I always have to make sure I have sponges in the house,” she said.

Thompson said she munches through at least two a day, but sometimes will go through a pack of ten or even eat 20 sponges when she is particularly stressed.

It was not immediately clear what medical effect, if any, eating sponges could have.

Click for more from The Sun.

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Rat brain reconstructed in a computer

An image of a simulated rat brain slice

An image of a simulated rat brain slice (Blue Brain Project, EPFL)

Scientists have digitally recreated a slice of a juvenile rat’s brain — including 31,000 brain cells, of 207 different types, with 37 million connections.

The computer-simulated brain achievement is part of the Blue Brain Project, whose aim is to create a rat brain and, eventually, a human brain inside a computer.

Though the new simulation recreates just a tiny sliver of the rat’s brain, the result seems to capture some of the fundamental behavior of neurons, and has even predicted brain behavior that hadn’t been found before, the researchers reported Oct. 8 in the journal Cell. [See Images of the Digital Rat Brain]

Gathering data

The team first conducted tens of thousands of experiments in live juvenile rats, painstakingly cataloging the types of neurons and synapses, or brain cell connections. After watching the firing of the rat brain cells, the researchers derived principles that governed how the brain cells were arranged.

Yet those experiments covered only a tiny fraction of the connections in this brain region, called the neocortex. To fill out the rest of the picture, the team used a computer program to search all of the existing literature for other data on how neurons in the neocortex function.

“We can’t — and don’t — have to measure everything,” study author Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, said in a statement. “The brain is a well-ordered structure, so once you begin to understand the order at the microscopic level, you can start to predict much of the missing data.”

Pruning connections

From there, the team created a 3D computer model of neurons in a virtual volume, using rules about how different neurons are distributed to guide their placement. They created connections, or synapses, wherever these neurons “touched,” leading to about 600 million connections between neurons, said study co-author Michael Reimann, a neuroinformatics researcher at EPFL. From there, they used five basic biological rules for how connections form to prune these connections, leaving 37 million connections.

Then, the researchers integrated their findings from experiments and other research teams to reconstruct how these connections worked. The new brain seems to closely match the connectivity found in real tissue studied under electron microscopes.

Simulating neurons firing

After all that, the team was finally ready to watch the virtual brain firing. The computer simulation solved billions of equations for every 25 microseconds of neuronal activity.

The team ran “experiments” on the virtual rat brain that mimicked experiments done on real rats.

The digital neurons seemed to behave just like physical neurons do in the lab. For instance, both the in silico and the biological brain tissue showed “triplet” firing patterns, wherein three neurons fire together in a precisely timed sequence. The brain simulation found that these triplets occurred only at specific times.

The digital brain tissue also revealed “chorist” neurons, or brain cells whose activity is tightly synchronized to that of their neighboring cells. Other cells, called “soloists,” seem to fire independently of their neighboring neurons. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]

New insights

The digital rat-brain tissue also revealed new findings that could apply to biological systems. For instance, higher calcium levels shifted the virtual brain tissue into a sleeplike pattern, while lower levels seemed to wake up the digital brain tissue.

“When we decreased the calcium levels to match those found in awake animals and introduced the effect that this has on the synapses, the circuit behaved asynchronously, like neural circuits in awake animals,” lead study author Eilif Muller, a physicist at EPFL, said in the statement.

Still, the new brain simulation is just a first draft, Markram said. To get a more thorough representation of the brain, the simulation would need to include other types of brain cells, such as glia, as well as blood vessels. The virtual brain also only includes direct communications between individual brain cells, but a more realistic simulation would account for neuromodulation, in which free-floating brain chemicals tune the behavior of large swaths of neurons in one go, the researchers said.


Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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