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A Portable, Dry EEG Could Change the Way We Monitor Brain Activity

A new high-tech headset could make analyzing brain activity feasible even outside the lab. Developed by alumni of the University of California, San Diego through a company called Cognionics, the dry, portable system makes it easier to take electroencephalograms (EEGs)—tests used to diagnose epilepsy and other neurological disorders and study brain activity. 

Normally, getting an EEG is a messy, wet process. In order to get a high-quality reading on what’s going on in your head, dozens of nodes are attached to different places around your scalp, often with the help of conductive gel or paste. 

However, researchers working on the Cognionics headset claim it’s just as accurate as a traditional EEG, without the gels or wires. They document their findings in a new study in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering. 

Their elastic headgear is embedded with 64 flexible, spider-like sensors that can read brain waves through your hair. It’s certainly not something you’d hit the runway in, but it could feasibly be something you could use at home. You could drive in it, play video games, or perform low-level exercises. 

Traditional EEGs are near-impossible to take out of the laboratory setting, because they require hooking up a patient to a machine and gluing electrodes to precise locations on their scalp. More portable consumer systems are not terribly accurate, but if we can only see how brains work in a research lab, there’s only so much we can learn. It’s difficult to replicate real-world results in an artificial setting where patients are stressed out or can’t move. An accurate EEG system that can be used while the patient is going throughout their day would be a boon to neurology research. 

“This is going to take neuroimaging to the next level by deploying on a much larger scale,” Mike Yu Chi, the study’s lead author, said in a press release. “You will be able to work in subjects’ homes. You can put this on someone driving.”

[h/t: Psy Post]

All images courtesy UCSD

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science
How Michael Jackson's Dancing Defied the Laws of Biomechanics
Phil Walter, Getty Images
Phil Walter, Getty Images

From the time he debuted the moonwalk on broadcast television in 1983, Michael Jackson transcended the label of "dancer." His moves seemed to defy gravity as well as the normal limits of human flexibility and endurance.

Now we have some scientific evidence for that. Three neurosurgeons from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, recently published a short paper in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine that examines just how remarkable one of Jackson's signature moves really was.

In the 1988 video for "Smooth Criminal" and subsequent live performances, Jackson is seen taking a break from his constant motion to stand in place and lean 45 degrees forward. Both he and his dancers keep their backs straight. Biomechanically, it's not really possible for a human to do. And even though he had a little help, the neurosurgeons found it to be a pretty impressive feat.

An illustration of Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal' dance move.
Courtesy of 'Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.' Copyright Manjul Tripathi, MCh.

Study co-author Manjul Tripathi told CNN that humans can't lean forward much more than 25 or 30 degrees before they risk landing on their faces. (He knows, because he tried it.) Normally, bending involves using the hip as a fulcrum, and erector spinae muscles to support our trunk. When Jackson leaned over, he transferred the fulcrum to the ankle, with the calf and Achilles tendon under strain. Since that part of the body is not equipped to support leaning that far forward without bending, the "Smooth Criminal" move was really a biomechanical illusion. The act was made possible by Jackson's patented shoe, which had a "catch" built under the heel that allowed him to grasp a protruding support on the stage. Secured to the floor, he was able to achieve a 45-degree lean without falling over.

But the neurosurgeons are quick to point out that the shoes are only part of the equation. To achieve the full 45-degree lean, Jackson would have had to have significant core strength as well as a strong Achilles tendon. An average person equipped with the shoe would be unable to do the move.

How does this apply to spinal biomechanics research? The authors point out that many dancers inspired by Jackson are continuing to push the limits of what's possible, leading to injury. In one 2010 paper, researchers surveyed 312 hip-hop dancers and found that 232 of them—almost 75 percent of the cohort—reported a total of 738 injuries over a six-month period. That prevalence could mean neurosurgeons are facing increasingly complex or unique spinal issues. The surgeons hope that awareness of potential risks could help mitigate problems down the road.

[h/t CNN]

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Scientists May Have Pinpointed How Much Exercise Your Heart Needs to Stay Healthy
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There’s really no limit to the benefits of exercise, from cognitive improvement to increased cardiovascular capacity to more energy. But one of the biggest reasons to maintain a fitness regimen is to ward off chronic conditions. For example, exercise helps keep arteries from stiffening as we age, which lowers our risk of heart disease.

"Get some exercise," however, isn't exactly specific advice. Is twice a week good enough? Three times a week? Five? And for how long each time?

Researchers in Dallas, Texas may have found an answer. According to Newsweek, a study by staff at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine and area hospitals looked at 102 people, aged 60 and over, who self-identified as either sedentary, casual, committed, or master-level exercisers. They worked out anywhere from almost never to daily. The researchers found that casual exercise (two to three times weekly, 30 minutes each session) was associated with keeping the mid-sized arteries, like those found in the head and neck, from aging prematurely. But four to five sessions per week helped stabilize the larger central arteries, which send blood to the chest and abdomen. The research was published in the Journal of Physiology.

The study did not look at the type of exercise performed or other lifestyle choices that may have affected the participants' arterial health. But when it comes to moving your body to keep your arteries limber, it seems safe to say that more is better.

[h/t Newsweek]

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