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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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Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
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Medicine
Bill and Melinda Gates Will Repay Nigeria's $76 Million Polio-Fighting Loan
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

Not long after announcing a $100 million donation to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, Bill and Melinda Gates have agreed to pay off Japan's $76 million loan to Nigeria to stamp out polio, Quartz reports.

Polio has been eradicated in most countries around the world, but it's still present in Nigeria, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2008, according to The Conversation, Nigeria accounted for 86 percent of all polio cases in Africa. This high number was thanks in part to low immunization rates and calls from extremists to boycott polio vaccinations out of fear that they were tainted with anti-fertility steroids.

National and international campaigns were launched to lower polio rates in Nigeria, and in 2014 the nation received the loan from Japan to boost disease-fighting efforts. Progress has been made since then, with no new cases of polio reported in Nigeria in 2017. Two children had contracted polio in 2016, two years after Nigeria's last known case.

Nigeria's loan repayments to Japan were slated to begin in 2018. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to cover the costs after Nigeria met its goal of "achieving more than 80 percent vaccination coverage in at least one round each year in very high risk areas across 80 percent of the country's local government areas," Quartz reports. The loan will be repaid over the next 20 years.

While the Gates Foundation is lending a hand to Nigeria, the Associated Press reports that health officials in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province recently launched a new chapter in the nation's ongoing struggle against the disease. Health workers will engage in a week-long, door-to-door vaccination campaign, though efforts like this are risky due to threats from the Taliban and other militant groups, who view vaccinations as a Western conspiracy and believe they sterilize children. Anti-polio efforts in Pakistan also suffered after the CIA used vaccinations as a cover to get DNA samples from the Bin Laden compound.

[h/t Quartz]

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Aflac
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Aflac's Robotic Duck Comforts Kids with Cancer
Aflac
Aflac

Every year, close to 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. That news can be the beginning of a long and draining battle that forces kids and their parents to spend large amounts of time with medical providers, enduring long and sometimes painful treatments. As The Verge reports, a bit of emotional support during that process might soon come from an unlikely source: the Alfac duck.

The supplemental insurance company announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it has partnered with the medical robotics company Sproutel to design and manufacture My Special Aflac Duck, a responsive and emotive sim-bird intended exclusively for children undergoing cancer treatment.

When a child cuddles the fuzzy robotic duck, it can cuddle back. It reacts to being cradled and stroked by quacking or moving its head. Kids can also touch special RFID chips emblazoned with emoji on the duck's chest to tell it how they’re feeling, and the device will mimic those emotions.

But the duck isn’t solely for cuddling. In “IV Mode,” which can be switched on while a child is undergoing IV therapy, the duck can help the user relax by guiding them through breathing exercises. Accessories included with the toy also allow children to "draw blood" from the duck as well as administer medication, a kind of role-playing that may help patients feel more comfortable with their own treatments.

Aflac approached Sproutel with the idea after seeing Sproutel’s Jerry the Bear, a social companion robot intended to support kids with diabetes. Other robotic companions—like the Japanese-made seal Paro and Hasbro's Joy for All companion pets for seniors—have hinted at a new market for robotics that prioritize comfort over entertainment or play.

My Special Aflac Duck isn’t a commercial product and won’t be available for retail sale. Aflac intends to offer it as a gift directly to patients, with the first rollout expected at its own cancer treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia. Mass distribution is planned for later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

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