Mutations tied to autism may alter gut function, microbiome in mice – Spectrum

Image by Floris Slooff/Shutterstock

Mutations in the gene NLGN3, found in some people with autism, alter mice’s gut nervous system, two new studies suggest. One of these mutations also affects the population of microbes that live inside their gut. The results may help explain why gastrointestinal problems often accompany autism, says lead researcher Elisa Hill-Yardin.

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The world’s strongest MRI machines are pushing human imaging to new limits – Nature

Image credit: Centre for Advanced Imaging, The University of Queensland

On a cold morning in Minneapolis last December, a man walked into a research centre to venture where only pigs had gone before: into the strongest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine built to scan the human body. First, he changed into a hospital gown, and researchers made sure he had no metal on his body: no piercings, rings, metal implants or pacemakers. Any metal could be ripped out by the immensely powerful, 10.5-tesla magnet — weighing almost 3 times more than a Boeing 737 aeroplane and a full 50% more powerful than the strongest magnets approved for clinical use. “This is a window we’ve just never had in the intact human brain,” says Ravi Menon.

How cerebral organoids are guiding brain-cancer research and therapies – Nature

Image credit: M. Lancaster/MRC-LMB

People with glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most common forms of brain cancer, have a median survival of less than 15 months after diagnosis. If researchers could grow numerous small brain-like structures that contained a replica of the person’s tumour and then bathe them in various treatments, in the space of a few weeks, they might learn exactly which ones would have the best chance of fighting brain cancer in that individual. Howard Fine, a neuro-oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, is developing such models, known as cerebral organoids. Organoids are particularly valuable for studying brain cancer because neither human brain tumours transplanted into mice nor human tumour stem cells grown in a culture dish behave in the same way as their counterparts in the body.

Take two placebos and call me in the morning – NeoLife

Illustration by Gabriel Alcala

When a new drug is being tested in a controlled clinical trial, half the patients get the real drug and half get a placebo, something harmless like a sugar pill or a saline injection. But patients on the placebo often improve anyway, and that’s because they expect that they’re getting the real drug, right? Well, no. Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk’s research has exploded that explanation. Read the full story in NeoLife.

Maestro – Tufts Magazine

A new artificial intelligence system designed at Tufts has made it faster and easier to learn to play the piano. Is it the future of education? 

Illustration by Gaby D’Allesandro

In a fourth-floor Tufts lab, a computer program was in the process of convincing a student that she was actually interacting with a human. It was spring 2015, and the student had come to the lab for a study involving a new way of teaching people to play the piano.

Yuksel and Oleson call their AI system Brain Automated Chorales, or BACh. It’s the first AI system to collect brain data and use that information to adapt a task for learners in real time. “It’s a huge deal,” said H. Chad Lane, an educational psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies intelligent technologies for learning. “No one has really successfully integrated neuroscience into interactive digital learning very well yet.”

With BACh’s flexibility, it becomes possible to envision brain-based AI tutoring systems that students could use in daily life—while doing homework, for example.

Read the full story in Tufts Magazine.

Elizabeth Mormino | Innovators Under 35

A telltale protein seen in people’s brains before they have Alzheimer’s could offer a clue about possible treatments.

Elizabeth Mormino knows it’s too late to save her grandfather, whose Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed a few years ago. “It’s really hard to see a familiar face go through this, knowing that there’s really no drugs that work right now,” she says. But her work may help future patients by showing an intriguing new path to treating the disease.

Read the full profile in MIT Technology Review.