Experimental Brain Implant Lets Paralyzed People Communicate by Turning Thoughts Into Text

BrainGate Collaboration
BrainGate Collaboration

People with paralysis could someday use a brain implant to help them communicate their thoughts and carry out everyday tasks. As Engadget reports, a brain-computer interface (BCI) called the BrainGate2 Neural Interface System has enabled three paralyzed people to send texts, buy groceries online, stream music, and even play a virtual piano on a tablet.

The interface was developed by the BrainGate consortium, a team of neuroscientists, engineers, and computer scientists that creates new technologies for people who are paralyzed, have lost a limb, or have a neurologic disease that limits their motor function or speaking ability. Their findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

The three participants in the clinical study are paralyzed and lack the use of their arms. An implant about the size of a baby aspirin pill containing an array of microelectrodes was placed in their motor cortex—the part of the brain responsible for movement. A small sensor was used to record any neural signals associated with moving a limb, which were then decoded and sent to a virtual mouse paired to a tablet via Bluetooth.

In other words, the participants just had to think about moving a cursor on a screen, and the interface did the heavy lifting for them. They were able to type 30 characters per minute and make 22 point-and-click selections per minute.

Similar technologies have been developed in the past, but this one lets people use an off-the-shelf tablet without having to make any modifications, according to Engadget.

A participant plays a virtual piano
BrainGate Collaboration

Although the brain implant technology is still in the experimental stage and is not yet ready for commercial development, several of the study’s authors said the results are promising and could vastly improve the quality of life for people with paralysis.

Stanford University bioengineer and lead author Paul Nuyujukian said in a statement, "One of the participants told us at the beginning of the trial that one of the things she really wanted to do was play music again. So, to see her play on a digital keyboard was fantastic."

[h/t Engadget]

Bad News: The Best Time of the Day to Drink Coffee Isn’t as Soon as You Wake Up

iStock.com/ThomasVogel
iStock.com/ThomasVogel

If you depend on coffee to help get you through the day, you can rest assured that you’re not the world's only caffeine fiend. Far from it. According to a 2018 survey, 64 percent of Americans said they had consumed coffee the previous day—the highest percentage seen since 2012.

While we’re collectively grinding more beans, brewing more pots, and patronizing our local coffee shops with increased frequency, we might not be maximizing the health and energy-boosting benefits of our daily cup of joe. According to Inc., an analysis of 127 scientific studies highlighted the many benefits of drinking coffee, from a longer average life span to a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

Sounds great, right? The only problem is that the benefits of coffee might be diminished depending on the time of day that you drink it. Essentially, science tells us that it’s best to drink coffee when your body’s cortisol levels are low. That’s because both caffeine and cortisol cause a stress response in your body, and too much stress is bad for your health for obvious reasons. In addition, it might end up making you more tired in the long run.

Cortisol, a stress hormone, is released in accordance with your circadian rhythms. This varies from person to person, but in general, someone who wakes up at 6:30 a.m. would see their cortisol levels peak in different windows, including 8 to 9 a.m., noon to 1 p.m., and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Someone who rises at 10 a.m. would experience cortisol spikes roughly three hours later, and ultra-early risers can expect to push this schedule three hours forward.

However, these cortisol levels start to rise as soon as you start moving in the morning, so it isn’t an ideal time to drink coffee. Neither is the afternoon, because doing so could make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. This means that people who wake up at 6:30 a.m. should drink coffee after that first cortisol window closes—roughly between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.—if they want to benefit for a little caffeine jolt.

To put it simply: "I would say that mid-morning or early afternoon is probably the best time," certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Lisiewski told CNBC. "That's when your cortisol levels are at their lowest and you actually benefit from the stimulant itself."

[h/t Inc.]

26 Amazing Facts About the Human Body

Mental Floss via YouTube
Mental Floss via YouTube

At some point in your life, you've probably wondered: What is belly button lint, anyway? The answer, according to Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy, is that it's "fibers that rub off of clothing over time." And hairy people are more prone to getting it for a very specific (and kind of gross-sounding) reason. A group of scientists who formed the Belly Button Biodiversity Project in 2011 have also discovered that there's a whole lot of bacteria going on in there.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Erin is sharing 26 amazing facts about the human body, from your philtrum (the dent under your nose) to your feet. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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