Medical mystery: Man sheds tears of blood


A young man from Tennessee is living with an alarming medical condition. Without warning, he begins to bleed from his eyes. And some of the best doctors in the country are completely stumped by his ailment.

What’s more confounding is that the condition is very rare, but some of the only other people known to bleed from the eyes a condition called haemolacria are also from Tennessee.

At age 22, Michael Spann was walking down the stairs of his home in Antioch, Tenn., when he was gripped by an extremely painful headache. “I felt like I got hit in the head with a sledgehammer,” he told the Tennessean. Moments later, Spann realized that blood was trickling from his eyes, nose and mouth. [The 13 Oddest Medical Case Reports]

The bleeding and headaches became a daily occurrence for Spann; now, about seven years later, they happen only once or twice a week. Though he’s hampered by a lack of health insurance, doctors in Tennessee and at the Cleveland Clinic performed an exhaustive series of tests, but were unable to pinpoint a cause or recommend a treatment, according to news reports.

‘Thought I was going to die’

In 2009, Calvino Inman was shocked by what he saw in his bathroom mirror: blood streaming from his eyes. “I looked up and saw myself, and I thought I was going to die,” he told CNN. The teenager from Rockwood, Tenn., was rushed to the local emergency room, but doctors could offer no insights into the perplexing case. A battery of tests including a CT scan, an MRI(magnetic resonance imaging) and an ultrasound offered no clues.

The phenomenon of haemolacria has puzzled doctors for centuries. In the 16th century, Italian physician Antonio Brassavola described a nun who, instead of menstruating, would bleed from her eyes and ears each month. In 1581, Flemish doctor Rembert Dodoens examined a 16-year-old girl “who discharged her flow throughout the eyes, as drops of bloody tears, instead of through the uterus,” according to a 2011 report in the journal The Ocular Surface.

Dr. Barrett G. Haik, director of the University of Tennessee’s Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis, co-authored a 2004 review of four known cases of haemolacria, published in the journal Ophthalmic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. The authors concluded that “bloody tearing is an unusual clinical entity that concerns patients and can perplex physicians.” However, such “cases typically resolve without treatment.”

Indeed, in each of the four cases reviewed, the patients one boy and three girls, ages 6 to 14 simply stopped weeping blood, and the condition never returned. Haemolacria can be caused by ahead injury or other trauma, but these cases, like Inman’s and Spann’s, were idiopathic (of unknown cause). “When you can’t find an origin, you can’t eliminate any of the possibilities,” Haik told CNN.

“Most of these were relatively young patients,” Dr. James Fleming, an ophthalmologist at the Hamilton Eye Institute and co-author of the 2004 review, told the Tennessean. “As they matured, the bleeding decreased, subsided and then stopped.”

A reclusive life

Until the bleeding stops, Spann a talented artist who had hoped to pursue a career in fashion design is forced to live a reclusive life. “Any job I get, I lose, because my eyes start bleeding and they can’t keep me on,” Spann said. “Obviously, I can’t be a waiter and work in any public thing because you are bleeding.”

He is also forced to live with ridicule: “I have kids that ride by on bikes in this neighborhood who point and say, ‘That’s the guy who bleeds,'” Spann told the Tennessean. “I really dont want more than that.” Spann has tried to contact Inman to share his ordeal with a fellow sufferer, but was unable to connect with him.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Mathematician comes up with equation for perfect pizza
  • 032213_fbnlive_pizza_640.jpg

    A mathematician has come up with the first-ever formula for the “perfectly proportioned” pizza. (ISTOCK)

  • pie_formula.jpg

    Mathematician Eugenia Cheng was asked by chain restaurant PizzaExpress to work out why its 14 inch pizzas were so popular.(PIZZAEXPRESS)

Have you ever tried making pizza at home and ended up with a soggy mess?  Well, pizza mistakes like this may be a thing of the past.

The Daily Mail reports Dr. Eugenia Cheng from the University of Sheffield created a mathematical formula that ensures a perfectly proportioned pizza every time.

While working with the pizza chain PizzaExpress to work out why its larger, thinner crust 14 inch pizza was proving so popular, compared to its classic 11inch, Cheng calculated a dough to topping ratio based on the thickness of the crust and size of the pizza.

She concluded that even if a person keeps the same amount of dough and topping, the ratio of topping to crust in an average bite changes with the size of the pizza.  Smaller pizzas typically have more topping per bite than larger ones, but larger pizzas give diners a more even spread of toppings per bite.

She used d as the constant volume of dough and t for the constant volume of topping to come up with a mathematical formula for the ratio of topping to base in a median bite, reported the Mail.

She explains the size of the pizza’s crust is proportional to the thickness of the pizza – the larger the pizza, the thinner the base.  For larger pizzas, it is important how toppings are arranged. The 14 inch pizza cooks just as evenly as the smaller version, but the topping is spread over a larger area on the 14 inch and goes close to the edge of the pizza.

We’re not entirely convinced that you need a mathematical formula to figure this out.  But, it’s good to keep in mind that the next time you make pizza at home, make sure you don’t overload it with too many toppings.  And when in doubt, check out how Dominos does it.

Deadliest known substance kept secret: a botox super-toxin
  • Botulinum.jpg

    A colony of Clostridium sp. bacteria, which had been grown on a plate over a 48-hour time period. (CDC)

Scientists have discovered a new type of botox they believe is the “deadliest substance known to man” and have withheld the DNA sequence because an antidote is not known.

It is the first time the scientific community has made such a move to withhold such information but security concerns have dictated that they do so.

New Scientist reports that just 2 billionths of a gram, or inhaling 13 billionths of a gram, of the protein botulinum produced by the soil bacterium Clostridium botulinum will kill an adult.

The toxin blocks the release of acetylcholine, the chemical secreted by nerves that makes muscles work. People who accidentally ingest it, as can happen when the bacteria grows in food, develop botulism and often die of paralysis.

Victims are treated with antibodies that are produced artificially and react with the seven families of botulinum – named A to G – discovered so far.

Stephen Arnon and colleagues at the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento reported this week that they have found an eighth toxin – type H – in the feces of a child who had the typical symptoms of botulism.

“Because no antitoxins as yet have been developed to counteract the novel C. Botulinum toxin, the authors had detailed consultations with representatives from numerous appropriate U.S. government agencies,” editors of the Journal of Infectious Diseases said.

Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo tried to release Botulinum in downtown Tokyo in the 1990s.

Get more science and technology news at

Novel brain monitoring technique could lead to ‘mind-reading’ devices
  • Brain active istock.jpg

Many movies and novels speculate as to what it would be like to peek inside a person’s mind and know what he or she is thinking. But up until recently, such a skill has only existed in the realm of science fiction.

Now, scientists may be turning fantasy into reality, having created a novel brain monitoring technique that could lead to the development of “mind-reading” applications in the distant future.

Utilizing a series of electrodes attached to portions of a patient’s brain, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine were able to eavesdrop on a person’s brain activity as he or she performed normal, daily functions – a process they termed “intracranial recording.”

The team conducted a number of these recordings on three epilepsy patients who had been admitted to the hospital for observation, allowing the researchers to identify a brain region that is activated when a person performs mathematical calculations. Additionally, researchers were able to determine that this area of the brain is similarly activated when an individual uses numbers – or even quantitative expressions such as “more than” – in everyday conversation.

Detailed in the journal Nature Communications, the findings provide a new framework for studying how the brain works under normal day-to-day circumstances.

“The beauty of this paper is not just to report another experimental finding, but it is a breakthrough in terms of methodological advancement in terms of being able to record from brain activity in real life, natural conditions,” lead author Dr. Josef Parvizi, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences and director of Stanford’s Human Intracranial Cognitive Electrophysiology Program (SHICEP), told

As the director of SHICEP, Parvizi was able to direct this research on seizure patients who had been admitted to the hospital for epilepsy surgery evaluations.  During these visits, patients have a portion of their skull temporarily removed so that intracranial electrodes can be attached to the exposed brain surface.  They are then monitored for up to a week as the electrodes pick up electrical activity in the brain, allowing neurologists to observe the patients’ seizures and pinpoint the exact portion of the brain from which the seizures are originating.

Throughout the course of their hospital stay, these patients are mostly confined to their rooms, as they cannot be disconnected from the monitoring apparatus.  However, they are comfortable, alert and free of pain – making them great test subjects for understanding how the human brain operates in everyday scenarios.

To test their intracranial recording technique, Parvizi and his team recruited three patient volunteers, asking them to solve mathematical equations and various true/false questions that appeared on a computer screen. Some of the true/false questions required the use of simple mathematical calculation, such as verifying whether or not 2 + 2 = 5.

“They had to press ‘1’ for correct or ‘2’ for incorrect for a statement like, ‘I had coffee today,” or, “I took a cab this morning,” Parvizi explained. “So the answer to the first question is ‘yes’ and the answer to the second question is of course ‘no,’ because they are in the hospital; they can’t take a cab.”

For posterity, the entirety of the patients’ stay at the hospital was monitored by a video camera.

After analyzing the volunteer’s electrode records from these experiments, the researchers saw a spike in the electrical activity of the brain’s intraperietal sulcus when the patients performed calculations.  They also found that activity in this brain region spiked several other times throughout the day, prompting Parvizi and his team to turn to their video surveillance to better understand what initiated the electrical bursts.

The footage revealed that when a patient mentioned a number – or even spoke in quantitative terms, such as saying the phrases “more than” or “many” – the same spikes were seen in the intraperietal sulcus.  This finding was mostly unexpected for the researchers.

Given the success of their study, Parvizi said their intracranial recordings could completely change the way researchers observe the brain.  He noted that current brain monitoring techniques, such as the use of functional magnetic resonance imagining (MRI), do not provide a very accurate picture of the human brain as it is in normal settings.

“The MRI scanner is several tons, and you can’t actually take an MRI scanner home, but this (apparatus) is something you can walk with – as a patient of course,” Parvizi said.  “So subjects that are implanted with these spying electrodes, they were walking and talking… We have a new method by which we can study the brain activity in natural environments, so it’s totally different than other experiments.”

Parvizi said this technique has the potential to lead to very beneficial medical applications, especially for patients whose brains or nervous systems have been severely damaged.

“If we’re able to decipher the code of brain activity, let’s say beyond mathematics, then patients who are unable to speak, for example (due to) stroke, or are unable to move, we could use this deciphering method to communicate with machines so that machines can do (the talking),” Parvizi said.  “Or we can somehow try to understand what’s going on in the brain activity without even patients talking.”

While some experts have speculated that Parvizi’s new technique could one day be used in a sinister way to read a patient’s private thoughts, Parvizi said that is still a very fictional concept.

“This is too far-fetched.  We are not there yet.  We are light years away from mind-reading,” Parvizi said. “I don’t want people to get scared (thinking) doctors are mind-reading their patients.”

Flesh-eating Krokodil drug surfaces in Chicago suburb
  • Heroin needle_Reuters.jpg

    A bag of heroin and drug paraphernalia are seen at an abandoned house. (REUTERS/BOR SLANA)

Three patients have been treated this week at a southwest suburban Joliet hospital in Chicago for using a synthetic opiate that doctors say rots the skin from the inside out.

“If you want to kill yourself, (using) this is the way to do it,” said Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet.

Krokodil, which is Russian for crocodile, started being manufactured about a decade ago in Russia, where heroin is harder to find, Singla told the Herald-News.

Codeine tablets are mixed with gasoline, paint thinner, butane and other chemicals to create an injectable drug, he said.

“It’s about three times more potent than heroin, but the ‘high’ lasts only for a few hours,” Singla said. And a hit of Krokodil costs about $8, while users pay $25-$30 for heroin.

But the chemicals destroy the blood vessels and begin killing tissue near the injection.

“You literally start rotting from the inside out,” Singla said.

The first warning sign users will see are redness and blackness around the needle mark. They’d probably be hurting too if they hadn’t just taken a painkiller.

Gangrene develops and gives the dead skin a scaly green appearance, which provided the name of the drug.

“This has been an epidemic in Russia. The average life expectancy of someone using Krokodil is less than two years,” Singla said.

Click for more from My Fox Chicago.

Prosthetic leg may lead to a mind-controlled car

Smarter America

Road & Track
  • Bionic leg treadmill.jpg

Those of you who follow tech news may have already seen the groundbreaking mind-controlled bionic leg. It took $8M to develop, and will soon be helping amputee soldiers return to civilian life. A cool story, sure, but it could get a whole lot better: Buried within the new leg’s technology might be the answer for millions of enthusiasts deprived of the driving experience.

It all starts with two lower branches of the sciatic nerve that control movement for the outer part of the leg, the calf, and the foot. After leg amputations, these nerves usually wind up as dead ends, but a recent surgical technique keeps the branches firing by rerouting them into the thigh and hamstring. To compliment the surgery, Dr. Levi Hargrove, director of the Neural Engineering for Prosthetics and Orthotics Laboratory at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, developed a new neuroprosthetic—a bionic leg that joins with the rewired nerve ends. It reads their signals to the missing limb, and then uses software to interpret these impulses into commands for movement in a bionic knee and ankle. It’s an insanely complex piece of kit, packed with loads of mechanical sensors, gyroscopes, and accelerometers; enough to make an iPhone 5 look like your grandfather’s woodworking tools. The first person to receive one of these seemingly miraculous new neuroprosthetics is a 32-year-old motorcyclist who lost his right leg in a crash. You can see that prosthetic in action in the video below.


Dr. Hargrove says that, as of now, he can’t recommend using this bionic leg to drive or ride a motorcycle—which is disappointing, until he explains that the new prosthetic’s innovative interface could offer a more ambitious, permanent, and fascinating solution for amputee drivers.

“It is not necessary that the leg itself move to push on the pedal,” he says. “Muscle signals from the leg could be integrated into the car’s computer system, which would bypass the leg altogether. Long-term, the technology in this device could potentially be used to eliminate the hand controls on automobiles.”


More from Road & Track

250cc of government shutdown civil disobedience

Your dog’s in-car safety harness may be useless

This is the most amazing Mazda Protoge in the world


It could work like this: A car’s ECU is equipped with the same interface as the mind-controlled bionic leg, allowing the redirected nerve sensors to link up with throttle-position and braking systems instead of an artificial limb. Amputees could then “ghost drive” through canyon twisties and rural two-lanes, all controlling the pedals via muscle memory—think The Six Million Dollar Man with Bluetooth connectivity.

And this sort of system could mean big things in motorsports, too. Racers with conventional prosthetics usually employ a “straight-leg” technique—since the ankle doesn’t rotate, they adjust to feel brake pressure or tip-in higher up in the leg, where the prosthetic is attached.

Nobody is more versed in this than former Ganassi Racing star Alex Zanardi.

Maybe you were lucky enough to be watching live when he executed the gutsiest overtake of the post-Senna era:“The Pass” at Laguna Seca in ’96. Or perhaps you were witness to the horrific wreck that took both of his legs and ended his open-wheel racing career in 2001.

Five years later, he tested a BMW Sauber C24B modified with hand controls, yet Zanardi found that steering through corners with his right hand impeded his use of the car’s left-hand throttle controls.

Though he made a miraculous comeback and eventually raced in the WTCC, Zanardi sees the limitations of artificial legs as a major obstacle.

“I have had experiences with some of these types of electronic legs,” he explains. “In terms of motorsports, there are issues of charging and durability and moisture.”

“The weight of a race car is very powerful, especially on the brakes. The deceleration can be over 2G, maybe even at the 3G mark. Getting into the brake pedal, what you really need is accuracy for moving the weight.”

He thinks there’s still work to be done exploring existing prosthesis, particularly ones that utilize gas-tuned valving. Some even incorporate magnetorheological dampers, the same wizardry responsible for MagnaRide active suspension in theCamaro ZL1 and Corvette.

“I’m amazed nobody has done more studies with that. You wouldn’t need so many complicated pieces. These legs are simple and act like a shock absorber, with a piston and fluid. It can be fine-tuned for each driver and car and course, which are all very different.”

When it comes to racing, though, Zanardi believes that mindset – not technology – is the issue.

“It used to be that I would do laps in the car, then come back to find something slightly different. Maybe the steering wheel was moved slightly left or right, and it would upset me because it wasn’t perfect. Now, I put things like that behind me after the first turn. It doesn’t matter. Racing is about being flexible in the mind. When you’re not able-bodied, you must be even more flexible – you must adapt even more. No magical technology is going to come along and fix that.”


Zanardi makes a good point, but a car running something like Hargrove’s bionic-leg interface could be the answer to some of these problems, and the next advancement is already in the works. While amputees can’t “feel” ankle resistance through artificial limbs, the mind-controlled prosthetic can measure how hard the leg is trying to push. Engineers may be able to relay this information to the user through what’s known as sensory substitution.

“For example, a sensor placed beneath the thigh could vibrate more or less intensely depending on how hard the ankle is pushing [in a car], so the user has feedback regarding how hard they are pushing the pedal,” says Dr. Hargrove.

Hargrove and his team at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago are working on a less expensive bionic leg prototype, and they’re hoping to see it in widespread use within three to five years. Of course, the leg’s software would need to operate flawlessly to be safe, but given that the interface already operates with over 98% accuracy, it isn’t far-fetched to think it could be perfect in the near future. Might some clever automaker or aftermarket operation swoop in and begin mating a car with nerve-sensory software in the meantime? We certainly hope so.

31 in Florida infected by bacteria in salt water

Associated Press
  • vibrio vulnificus CDC.jpg

    Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It normally lives in warm seawater and is part of a group of vibrios that are called “halophilic” because they require salt. (CDC.GOV)

Patty Konietzky thought the small purple lesion on her husband’s ankle was a spider bite. But when the lesion quickly spread across his body like a constellation, she knew something wasn’t right.

After a trip to the hospital and a day and a half later, Konietzky’s 59-year-old husband was dead.

The diagnosis: vibrio vulnificus, an infection caused by a bacteria found in warm salt water. It’s in the same family of bacterium that causes cholera. So far this year, 31 people across Florida have been infected by the severe strain of vibrio, and 10 have died.

“I thought the doctors would treat him with antibiotics and we’d go home,” said Konietzky, who lives in Palm Coast, Fla. “Never in a million years it crossed my mind that this is where I’d be today.”

State health officials say there are two ways to contract the disease: by eating raw, tainted shellfish — usually oysters — or when an open wound comes in contact with bacteria in warm seawater.

While this could potentially concern officials in a state with hundreds of miles of coastline and an economy dependent on tourism, experts say it’s nothing that most people should worry about. Vibrio bacteria exist normally in salt water and generally only affect people with compromised immune systems, they say. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. If the bacteria get into the bloodstream, they provoke symptoms including fever and chills, decreased blood pressure and blistering skin wounds.

But there’s no need to stop swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, says Diane Holm, a spokeswoman for the state health department in Lee County, which has had a handful of cases that included one fatality this year.

“This is nothing abnormal,” she said. “We don’t believe there is any greater risk for someone to swim in the Gulf today than there was yesterday or 10 years ago.”

There have been reports this year in Gulf states of other waterborne illnesses, but they are rare. In fresh water, the Naegleria fowleri amoeba usually feeds on bacteria in the sediment of warm lakes and rivers. If it gets high up in the nose, it can get into the brain. Fatalities have been reported in Louisiana, Arkansas and in Florida, including the August death of a boy in the southwestern part of the state who contracted the amoeba while knee boarding in a water-filled ditch.

Dr. James Oliver, a professor of biology at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, has studied vibrio vulnificus for decades. He said that while Florida has the most cases of vibrio infection due to the warm ocean water that surrounds the state, the bacteria is found worldwide, generally in estuaries and near the coast.

“It’s normal flora in the water,” he said. “It belongs there.”

The vast majority of people who are exposed to the bacteria don’t get sick, he said. A few people become ill but recover. Only a fraction of people are violently ill and fewer still die; Oliver said many of those people ingest tainted, raw shellfish.

Oliver and Florida Department of Health officials say people shouldn’t be afraid of going into Florida’s waters, but that those with suppressed immune systems, such as people who have cancer, diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver, should be aware of the potential hazards of vibrio, especially if they have an open wound.

Holm said nine people died from vibrio vulnificus in Florida in 2012, and 13 in 2011, so this year’s statistics aren’t alarming. What’s different, she said, was that victims’ families are speaking to the news media about the danger.

Konietzky watched as her husband Henry “Butch” Konietzky died on Sept. 23. She said she feels it’s her mission to let others know about the potential risks. Next week, she and her husband’s adult daughter are scheduled to appear on “The Doctors” television program to discuss the disease.

“We knew nothing about this bacteria,” she said. Never mind that both she and her husband grew up in Florida and have spent their lives fishing and participating in other water activities.

The couple had gone crabbing on the Halifax River near Ormond Beach on Sept. 21, she said. Her husband first noticed the ankle lesion in the middle of that night. He didn’t wake his wife, but in the morning, told her that it felt like his skin was burning near the lesion. Patty Konietzky took a photo of it and hours later, when her husband said he was in pain and the lesions had spread, they went to the emergency room.

Konietzky said her husband didn’t have any health problems or open wounds that she knew of, and when doctors told her that he had an infection in his bloodstream, she didn’t think it was too serious. Within hours, her husband’s skin turned purple and it “looked like he had been beaten with a baseball bat.”

Nearly 62 hours after he was in the water, Butch Konietzky died. His wife notes that she, too, was in the same water — yet wasn’t infected.

To walk around in the water and doing the things we did, you didn’t give it any thought,” she said.

Konietzky said her husband wouldn’t want her — or anyone else — to stop fishing or enjoying outdoor activities because of a fear of the bacteria. Nonetheless, She wants people to be aware of the risk and is pushing her local county commission to post signs warning folks about the bacteria.

“I’m not going to be afraid of it,” she said. “I have to personally put some meaning on the loss of my husband. And speaking out is all I can do.”

‘Bionic man’ walks, breathes with artificial parts

Associated Press
  • bionicmanap.jpg

    In this Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 photo provided by Showtime, Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist for the University of Zurich, poses for a photo in New York. Meyer is the face of the the Bionic Man and is featured in the Smithsonian Channel original documentary, “The Incredible Bionic Man.” (AP/SHOWTIME/JOE SCHRAM)

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him, after all. We have the technology.

The term “bionic man” was the stuff of science fiction in the 1970s, when a popular TV show called “The Six Million Dollar Man” chronicled the adventures of Steve Austin, a former astronaut whose body was rebuilt using artificial parts after he nearly died.

Now, a team of engineers have assembled a robot using artificial organs, limbs and other body parts that comes tantalizingly close to a true “bionic man.” For real, this time.

The artificial “man” is the subject of a Smithsonian Channel documentary that airs Sunday, Oct. 20 at 9 p.m. Called “The Incredible Bionic Man,” it chronicles engineers’ attempt to assemble a functioning body using artificial parts that range from a working kidney and circulation system to cochlear and retina implants.

The parts hail from 17 manufacturers around the world. This is the first time they’ve been assembled together, says Richard Walker, managing director of Shadow Robot Co. and the lead roboticist on the project.

“(It’s) an attempt to showcase just how far medical science has gotten,” he says.

The robot is appearing in the U.S. for the first time this week. Having crossed the Atlantic tucked inside two metal trunks — and after a brief holdup in customs — the bionic man will strut his stuff at the New York Comic Con festival on Friday.

Walker says the robot has about 60 to 70 percent of the function of a human. It stands six-and-a-half feet tall and can step, sit and stand with the help of a Rex walking machine that’s used by people who’ve lost the ability to walk due to a spinal injury. It also has a functioning heart that, using an electronic pump, beats and circulates artificial blood, which carries oxygen just like human blood. An artificial, implantable kidney, meanwhile, replaces the function of a modern-day dialysis unit.

Although the parts used in the robot work, many of them are a long way from being used in humans. The kidney, for example, is only a prototype. And there are some key parts missing: there’s no digestive system, liver, or skin. And, of course, no brain.

The bionic man was modeled after Bertolt Meyer, a 36-year-old social psychologist at the University of Zurich who was born without his lower left arm and wears a bionic prosthesis. The man’s face was created based on a 3D scan of Meyer’s face.

“We wanted to showcase that the technology can provide aesthetic prostheses for people who have lost parts of their faces, for example, their nose, due to an accident or due to, for example, cancer,” Meyer says.

Meyer says he initially felt a sense of unease when he saw the robot for the first time.

“I thought it was rather revolting to be honest,” he says. “It was quite a shock to see a face that closely resembles what I see in the mirror every morning on this kind of dystopian looking machine.”

He has since warmed up to it, especially after the “man” was outfitted with some clothes from the U.K. department store Harrods.

And the cost? As it turns out, this bionic man comes cheaper than his $6-million-dollar sci-fi cousin. While the parts used in the experiment were donated, their value is about $1 million.

Scientists stop brain cells in mice from dying in potential Alzheimer’s treatment breakthrough
  • alzheimers_12013.jpg

    This undated file image provided by Merck & Co., shows a cross section of a normal brain, right, and one of a brain damaged by advanced Alzheimer’s disease. A dramatic shift is beginning in the disappointing struggle to find something to slow the damage of Alzheimer’s disease: The first U.S. experiments with “brain pacemakers” for Alzheimer’s are getting under way. Scientists are looking beyond drugs to implants in the hunt for much-needed new treatments. (AP/MERCK & CO.)

A team of British scientists has released a major study that could represent a breakthrough in the treatment of human neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team said that it had halted brain cell death in mice by using a drug-like compound that was injected into the animals’ stomachs through a mouth tube.

The team induced a neurodegenerative disease caused by abnormal prion proteins — the nearest model of human disorders that can be found in animals — before treating one group with the compound. According to the study, the mice who were treated remained free of symptoms like memory loss, impaired reflexes, and limb dragging five weeks later. The treated mice also lived longer than the untreated mice.

“We were extremely excited when we saw the treatment stop the disease in its tracks and protect brain cells, restoring some normal behaviours and preventing memory loss in the mice, ” lead scientist Giovanna Mallucci told Sky News.

The study stresses that human trials have yet to be undertaken, and points out that it could be a decade or more before a medicine for the treatment of human neurodegenerative diseases is produced. In addition, the study notes that the mice suffered side effects, including significant weight loss and higher blood sugar.

However, the study has raised hopes that an orally-taken medicine that would protect the brain from neurological diseases can be developed.

Click for more from Sky News

How to build a human brain (with a computer 1,000x faster than today’s)
  • brain power

What if you could build a computer that works just like the human brain?

Scientists have started to imagine the possibilities: We could invent new forms of industrial machinery, create fully autonomous thinking cars, devise new kinds of home appliances. A new project in Europe hopes to create a computer brain just that powerful in the next ten years — and it’s incredibly well-funded.

There’s just one catch: computers that fast simply haven’t been invented yet.

The Human Brain Project kicks off Oct. 7 at a conference in Switzerland. Over the next 10 years, about 80 science institutions and at least 20 government entities in Europe will figure out how to make that computer brain. The project will cost about $10 billion euros — or about $1.3B in US dollars.

The research hinges on creating a super-powerful computer that’s 1,000 times faster than those in use today. If you’re keeping track, that’s an “exascale” supercomputer, one fast enough to model a nuclear explosion or the complex, planetwide forces that shape the climate. Just a few years ago, scientists started using “petascale” supercomputers like Blue Waters at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in Illinois that went online last year.


‘The more we know about our brains, the more we can utilize our brains to its full potential.’

– Dr. Gayani DeSilva, a psychiatrist with a private practice in Orange, Calif.


“Well-known manufacturers of supercomputers like IBM, Cray, Intel, and Bull, are committed to building the first exascale machines by approximately 2020. So we are confident we will have the machines we need,” Henry Markram, the director of the Human Brain Project at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, told Markram also directs the Blue Brain project started in 2005 that hopes to reverse-engineering the human brain by rebuilding the molecules.

For scientists, these sorts of projects are all about understanding ourselves. The brain is the least understood organ in the human body. We don’t really know how the brain controls our thoughts, our bodily functions, or our behavior. And, Markham says the lack of processing power in modern computer is the least of our worries.

He says a computer brain will consume gigawatts of power, require new forms of memory, and force scientists to look at cutting edge storage techniques. But the immense technical hurdles will be worth the effort. The first phases will help us understand how the brain functions. In later phases, we’ll find out how we learn, how we see and hear, and why the brain sometimes doesn’t process information correctly.

Dr. Gayani DeSilva, a psychiatrist with a private practice in Orange, Calif., told a human brain model could have “unimaginable” implications for medicine, helping us learn how we adapt, heal, and develop. “The more we know about our brains, the more we can utilize our brains to its full potential, intervene when issues arise, replicate in artificial creations the power of the brain’s ability to integrate a vast amount of information that then causes other systems to perform specific actions,” she says.

“The human brain is immensely complex, and a model reduces this complexity into a controlled system. In a model, scientists can test hypotheses as to how the human brain works, and what occurs in disease in order to understand how to treat neurological conditions. It’s analogous to astronauts training in a flight simulator prior to a shuttle launch,” added Amina Ann Qutub, a bioengineer at Rice University.

Fortunately, scientists won’t have to wait 10 years for the results. Markram says there will be initial models they can use for medical research with a year. In three years, they will have models that could help us build new kinds of computer chips. (That’s right: the brain project itself will help them build the computer brain.)

As with any cutting edge science, we don’t know yet what we don’t know. Qutub says this is all unmapped territory. “The number of total cells including the neurons, vascular cells, and glia in a human brain is more than the number of stars in the Milky Way,” she said.

That’s enough to give scientists quite the headache.