Sometimes we must be willing to let go of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
— Joseph Campbell
What if the great challenge of our lifetime isn’t all the hard work and sacrifice it will take to bring about our reward?
What if the challenge is that even after all the hard work and sacrifice, the reward never comes?
What if, despite all the risk and vulnerability and exposure, we still don’t get the thing we really want? Or make the impact we’re longing to make? Or seem to matter any more today than we did yesterday?
What if our dreams don’t pan out the way we planned and we end up with nothing to show for all that striving and struggling?
What do we do with the waste?
How do we make up for the loss?
Where can we possibly go from there?
The truth is, it’s hard to invest in ourselves when the returns aren’t visible. It’s difficult to keep pouring our blood, sweat and tears into a tank that never seems to read half full. It’s tempting to give up on our purpose when it doesn’t go according to our plan.
Our purpose rarely stays on script.
In fact, if we were to look back on our lives, we’d probably see that some of our strongest foundations were built on the ruins of “great plans” that never got traction, all because some greater plans happened to be at work behind the scenes.
We’d realize that every rug that’s ever been yanked out from under us has ended up revealing some spiritual equivalent of gorgeous, natural hardwood we never even knew was there.
We’d notice that all the curve balls, forcing us down paths we never would have chosen, have also led us to places we now would never wish to leave.
Our lives are filled with these great rewards.
They just happen to look nothing like we imagined they would.
So friends, if you’re feeling discouraged today, or deflated, or simply tired of searching for rewards in the rubble — take heart:
It’s not your hopes that need tempering, but your expectations.
It’s not your goals that need abandoning, but your ideas of how those goals must be realized.
Because your dreams are not a blueprint for your success. They are a sign that your purpose has a pulse. They are proof that a life of meaning and contribution is alive within you, pulling you forward, inviting you to step into some new version of yourself that you had never before been able to see. Sometimes the journey is uncertain and unsettling. Sometimes things need to be destroyed before they can be rebuilt. Sometimes the getting up is far more painful than the falling down.
But friends? A single defeat is never the same thing as a final defeat.
Want to know how I know?
You’re still standing.
Transformation doesn’t just happen. It takes a plan and a support system. This how-to guide is full of the top wisdom, tips, exercises, and success stories to inspire an old dream or create a new one.
This month, scientists were able to confirm for the first time that a visitor from another part of the galaxy has entered our neck of the celestial woods. This strange space rock, initially thought to be a comet, is the first interstellar object we have ever been able to observe within our solar system.
“This is the first example of a truly interstellar object visiting our solar system,” astrophysicist and Senior Lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology Brian Koberlein said in an email to Futurism. “We’ve known that some asteroids and comets could escape our solar system, through things like a close flyby of Jupiter, and we’ve assumed a similar thing would occur in other star systems, but this confirms it. Some asteroids and comets become interstellar travelers, wandering through the stars and occasionally visiting a star.”
Until this discovery, all of the asteroids and comets we’ve identified have clearly originated from our solar system, forming from matter that was trapped around our Sun. However, even preliminary readings made on Oct. 18 of this unique object indicated it was not local to our solar system. Its velocity and trajectory caused scientists from the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center (MPC) to initially conclude that it must be a comet flung towards us from a neighboring star.
But our guest wasn’t done surprising us.
Additional data collected on Wednesday using the Very Large Telescope in Chile revealed that the object doesn’t have any comet characteristics. The MPC scientists reclassified the object as an asteroid — the first time such a change in designation has been made — and dubbed it A/2017 U1.
Scientists are now racing to uncover as much about our first interstellar object as they can before it zips away. A/2017 U1 appears to be traveling at 26 kilometres (16.2 miles) per second — too fast to be burned up by our Sun or caught in its orbit. Our visitor already seems to be on its way out.
Astronomers hope to learn as much as they can about A/2017 U1’s composition and origin, but they are limited by our current resources. The Very Large Telescope and Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii (both of which were used to make this discovery) are very impressive and useful pieces of equipment. As we continue to look sykward, though, star gazers can look forward to the deployment of new, more powerful telescopes.
Two such examples, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the ExoLife Finder (ELF), will give us clearer views of objects beyond our asteroid belt than ever before. Until these begin collecting data (which will hopefully be within in the next few years ) we still have a number of new cosmic toys to play with, including China’s 500-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope — which just detected a pair of pulsars thousands of light-years away.
Telescopes are even poised to transform our understanding of the very nature of the universe. The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment has been given the daunting mission of detecting gravitational waves and radio bursts from pulsars in order to unveil the history of the universe. The secrets of dark matter may also be revealed in the coming decade by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.
While none of these pieces of equipment are likely to catch a glimpse of A/2017 U1 before it soars out of sight, they will certainly give insight into the kinds of astrological systems it might have come from, as well as the processes that brought this unusual object to our corner of the galaxy.
A team has discovered how to re-program skin cells so that they can become any other type of body cell. This work could create non-invasive, customized treatments for a range of serious illnesses.
Researchers from the University of Michigan, University of Maryland, and Harvard University have developed a method of making cells undergo a remarkable transformation: a shortcut that can transform skin cells into any other type. Their study detailing this metamorphosis was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“Cells in our body naturally specialize,” said senior author Indika Rajapakse, a professor in mathematics and bioinformatics at University of Michigan, in a press release. “What we propose could provide a shortcut to doing the same, to help any cell become a targeted cell type.”
The new method builds on a technique pioneered in the late 1980s, which bathes cells in transcription factors (TFs), molecules that encourage genes to “read” the DNA of certain cells. Rajapakse’s team revised the method by targeting cells with specific TFs at certain points in their growth, using a mathematical control model to map out the proper timing for each TF injection.
By tracking when certain genes are “read,” the team could understand when and how certain transcription factors act in transforming a cell.
“We believe we can go from the cell’s initial configuration to the desired configuration,” says Rajapakse.
SKIN CELLS: THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE
The team is now testing this method with the help of Max Wicha, the Forbes Professor of Oncology at Michigan Medicine.
“This algorithm provides a blueprint that has important implications for cancer, in that we think cancer stem cells may arise from normal stem cells via similar reprogramming pathways,” says Wicha, co-author of the paper. “This work also has important implications for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, since it provides a blueprint for generating any desired cell type.”
Similar work in stem cells has opened incredible new doors for medicine, allowing doctors to create customized treatments, grow complex structures like neurons, and cure seemingly intractable diseases like cancer and diabetes. The discovery of stem cell pluripotency — their ability to transform into any other cell type — earned John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2012.
For many years, the use of stem cells has been highly controversial, as early methods required that the cells be removed from human embryos. Yet that period appears to be ending: research into new methods of harvesting stem cells, as well as work like that of the U. Mich, U. Maryland, and Harvard team that requires nothing more than a skin scrape, could usher in a new era of non-invasive, highly flexible customized medicine for a range of illnesses.
As Wicha added, this work “also demonstrates the beauty of combining mathematics and biology to unravel the mysteries of nature.”
“Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles” – Alex Karras
Our mental strength is elevated through an overload; a distinct push against arises within us a brave push back. It is only by way of our inevitable challenges and hardships that we are able to expand our fibres of strength and become more magnanimous through them. Our resiliency to bounce back after what hits us is paramount for our overall health and inner being. We can often tangle ourselves in external circumstance, our own bad habits and negative processes; when this occurs we need to press an internal reset and touch back to where we can apply ourselves with humility and confidence. Being mentally strong means having the ability to emerge from a situation in order to gain clarity, understanding and utilising your inner powers for evaluation and observing your reactions and responses to circumstance.
Rather than allowing our mind to exacerbate our inner worries and fears, we can master our supreme potential to adjust and adapt to what is before us, and mindfully seek positive solutions.
“If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it” – Michael Jordan
1.Solve the problem outside the problem
As Albert Einstein quoted, “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. All our brilliance to overcome our trials and tribulations lies within. When we change our thinking, our doing naturally follows. This means immersing yourself into a space of quiet where you can reflect and be your own mirror, compassionately opening yourself up to your own patterns of negativity in order to seek a way through. Essentially we break through the shell of our own thinking and chisel away at another viewpoint or perception. We shift the focus from the extrinsic to the intrinsic and turn the spotlight on ourselves- in this way we channel the crux of our energy with wisdom, patience, and grace.
“Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory”- Bill Russell
2. Engage and understand your emotions
Engaging in and understanding our emotions heighten our emotional intelligence. When we work smarter with what we feel we can unveil what sits beneath our fears and anxiety; instead of numbing and denying our emotional strength we can use it to respond rather than react, manage and mitigate, and flow instead of fight. We revert back to an intuitive state where our hearts invincibility is given a platform to sensitively guide us through our dark times and challenges. Emotionally intelligent people are able to strip back their surface level reactions, know their own triggers, and manage their emotions through awareness, observation and perception. Our mental strength is enhanced by our emotional health as we are both thinking and feeling creatures; reaching an escalated level of harmony between these energies inspires equanimity and a lessened effect by external circumstance to permeate what we hold within.
“Great leaders don’t need to act tough. Their confidence and humility serve to underscore their toughness” – Simon Sinek
3. Own your story
Whatever your storybook carries within its pages, own it with love, courage and compassion. Remember that you can change your story at any time- nothing is fixed and we all have free will. We should not seek to love someone else’s journey more than we love our own; the seeds of comparison are sharp and cutting to our soul and innermost values. We are all designed unique with our own original paths to walk through; we lose momentum and our natural impulses for creativity and progression when we focus our energy on other people. When we own our story, we behold all its beauty as well as all its battles. Everything that we have overcome remains imprinted as our badges of honour- something that says we never gave up and we found a way through to rise beautifully on the stalks of our inner strength.
Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose–a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. – Mary Shelley
Through self awareness and conscious thought we can shape and re-structure our beliefs, actions and behaviours and align with our individual truth and authenticity. Being mentally tough is a deep curve of inner work where we liberate ourselves from our own destructive processes- we illuminate our mind with the torch of our inner wisdom and emotional tenacity.
Our masterful minds are forged through an adaptive spirit, a spectrum of inherent strength, and a keen inner awareness that we extend through our looking glass to the outer world.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is betting on Bitcoin, saying that the cryptocurrency could become a better standard of financial value than gold or the U.S. dollar. Wozniak argued that Bitcoin is more stable and less prone to arbitrary supply changes.
BITCOIN IS TAMPER-PROOF
In an interview by CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa at the Money 20/20 event in Las Vegas last weekend, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said that he thinks Bitcoin is a better standard of value than both gold and the U.S. dollar. The difference, he explained, was in how Bitcoin comes in a finite supply, as only 21 million can ever be mined, supposedly. Unlike U.S. dollar, or any fiat currency for that matter, Bitcoin cannot be reprinted to the whims of influential bankers. On the other hand, no one knows just how much gold there is in the world, and it can be mined any time. Gold, Wozniak said, is “kinda phony” in this sense, and Bitcoin is more “genuine and real.”
This comes on the heels of several consecutive months of skyrocketing Bitcoin prices, soaring higher than $6,000 for the first time a few days ago. Currently prices have stabilized around the $5,500, give or take, but we can expect Bitcoin to continue demonstrating its true potential. This is why experts like Wozniak predict that this cryptocurrency could eventually replace gold as the standard of financial value — an idea that he finds quite appealing.
“There is a certain finite amount of bitcoin that can ever exist. Gold gets mined and mined and mined. Maybe there’s a finite amount of gold in the world, but cryptocurrency is even more mathematical and regulated and nobody can change mathematics,” Wozniak explained. In short, with Bitcoin as a standard, it’s difficult to tamper with global prices.
MORE STABLE THAN GOLD?
But is the number-one cryptocurrency truly more stable? Yes and no. Critics would say it’s very prone to fluctuations in value, rendering it rather volatile. However, such volatility can be expected ,and it isn’t unique to the cryptocurrency, as FundStrat Global Advisor co-founder Tom Lee previously told Business Insider. “[W]hen people talk about bitcoin’s volatility today, they’re forgetting that when we went off the dollar — the gold standard on the dollar, gold’s volatility for 4 years was about the same as bitcoin’s volatility today.”
Governments and regulators continue to “experiment” with the growing cryptocurrency market, in light of all the perceived volatility. Some have taken harsher measures by banning the cryptocurrency altogether. Still, Bitcoin persists, and experts predict its value would increase dramatically in the next few months.The point is, Wozniak commented, Bitcoin is easily more regulated than gold. He went on to compare Bitcoin’s stability to owning a house. “Your house has value. And if it is a house today, 40 years from now, it still is a house in value even if the price goes up and the government draws more taxes out of it,” said the former Apple top engineer, whose interest with cryptocurrency began just for fun.
Our purpose can seem elusive and intangible to us, yet many of us are driven to find it, because it brings meaning and definition to our lives. It makes all the struggle, chaos, and confusion worth it in the end, and affirms our value. But the truth is we do not need to focus so intently on finding our reason for being in order to validate our self-worth. We just need to follow our hearts; we are already born worthy.
Our universal purpose lies in being who we sincerely are, in bringing warmth, love, understanding and laughter to others along the way, and in all we bravely seek to create. We can ask ourselves a question, “how many hearts can we raise, uplift, and ignite through the power and attraction of our own?”
Rising to Your Purpose Through the Power of Passion and Possibility
Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.
— Oprah Winfrey
Passion is our inner flame of wanting, craving, and deep yearning. It is an energy of action that lights us up from the inside — our hearts trying to gain our attention. It needs to be heard and heeded. When we dull the surge of that call, we move further away from what our soul desires. We do not need to explain what we are magnetically drawn to, not to ourselves or others — we should not attempt to dissect and deflate desire. Instead, we trust the rush of that energy to lead our way forward.
The journey to our true calling is the journey of our self-discovery — to our authenticity, innate creativity, and natural talents. When we tap into our inner dynamism and truly master the art of following our heart we begin to view life through a different lens. We disengage with mind clutter, foreboding and fears, and we enter a liberating space where our inner voice speaks to us through coherent and crystal-clear speech. We listen tentatively because we have learned to trust that tug from within.
The call of passion
I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.
— Og Mandino
When we are guided by love, curiosity, and enthusiasm we carve a path forward toward the picture of what may be; these are the architects of our dreams. We unlock our potential by pushing back the limits that we set for ourselves. Our purpose may not be something that inspires great and super-quick monetary gain; it is not a dream or vision we sculpt for selfish or egoistic reasons. It is our magnanimous offering to ourselves and the universe; it is embracing our gifts so we can share them with others.
When we are driven by financial gain, we frequently lose. We end up stripping back at our possibilities when they are defined by external measures. However, when we’re focused on what we can give rather than receive, we find a new path that aligns with a more wholesome and altruistic way of existing. It is the call of our passion that drives us to climb the highest mountains and reach the tallest heights. It is the call of our passion to meet our supreme cause and to take the risks in order to reap the commendable rewards.
Where your passion meets your talents
The starting point of discovering who you are, your gifts, your talents, your dreams, is being comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone. Write in a journal. Take long walks in the woods.
— Robin S. Sharma
Our deepest purpose is often found where our flares of passion meet our talents. Together they embolden us and stir us into action. When we perplex and bewilder ourselves by trying to find our purpose, we generate more mental disharmony and emotional turmoil. We look at other people and wonder how they are living their dream when we are yet to realize ours. In doing this, we set ourselves adrift from our true centre and lose sight of our own unique path. In simplicity there is a subtle strength: we can refine rather than pollute our minds with tangled thinking.
Very often we can fall into our purpose by accident. The push that steers us toward one dream might indirectly lead us to something more meaningful. Or we may find our passion meets our talents in the form of something that we loved to do as a child but as an adult had long since forgotten. Perhaps we accept a job opportunity that at first does not look like it will amount to anything fulfilling, only to find that it is the perfect fit. The possibilities are endless as long as we keep living for them rather than the guarantees. As Rumi said, what we are seeking is often seeking us too.
Exploring our full potential
Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.
— Ashley Smith
We never miss out on anything when we focus on experiencing the full promise and escapades of life. It is an exploration of truth, beauty, pain and sorrow, and all the ephemeral joys that create enduring memories. The gifts we have are open for our discovery when we look within for each spark of passion, and each prospect of chance that finds its way to us.
We are strengthened by all we feel makes us weak, and fused together by everything we fear may tear us apart. Our potential is unlimited, boundless, and immense, and only we can accept all it holds.
Keeping our hearts wide open
Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.
— Swami Sivananda
We can find our bliss when we follow our passion and wire ourselves to create. This is how we learn to settle into our skin. We fuel ourselves with the wonder of our full potential and what pumps a wakeful beat to our heart — this is how we rise to our monumental talents. The journey to our purpose is an adventure through mysterious lands: we may walk toward it with our eyes closed, but always with our hearts wide open.
Stem cell researchers aim to cure diabetes, heal injuries, and even regenerate body parts. Recently, the FDA approved clinical trials at Sanford to use stem cells to heal non-healing leg wounds.
Using stem cells to heal wounds is not a new concept, but up until recently testing has been largely experimental. Stem cells have been tested for skin tissue engineering and wound healing, regenerative wound healing, and at Samford Health as a treatment for shoulder injuries. The FDA has approved the institution’s second-ever adipose-derived stem cell clinical trial which is designed to treat non-healing leg ulcers. The trial began back in September of this year.
Participants in the study are above the age of 18 with a leg wound 3-25 centimeters squared (about 1 to 9 inches) and an A1C less than nine. Additionally, to take part in the study, the leg wound must have been present for at least 3 months and non-healing. “This clinical trial can help explore treatments for people with non-healing wounds, including people who have diabetes and others with conditions that affect their quality of life,” according to David Pearce, Ph.D., executive vice president of innovation and research at Sanford Health.
STEM CELL RESEARCH
In 2014, the WHO estimated there were 422 million people living with diabetes worldwide. Non-healing wounds can be a complication of diabetes, as can several types of vascular disease. In the United States, 2.4 to 4.5 million people live with chronic wounds on some part of their body. Especially for those already battling a disease, the additional stress of caring for a non-healing wound can lead to infection, pain, and continuing chronic health issues.
Stem cells are being researched to cure diabetes, regenerate body parts, and so much more. The study at Sanford Health has yet to be completed, but the FDA’s support of the clinical trial shows that there is growing interest and investment in this avenue of research.
Stem cell research began in 1981 and has been viewed at both ends of a wide spectrum of possibility: as potential cure-all answer for some of our most enduring medical mysteries, or as an inherently immoral practice capable of great harm should it get into the wrong hands. In recent years, it would seem that stem cell research has become more widely understood and accepted by the general public, and it continues to grow as a body of research with seemingly countless applications.
When a new employee comes to work for you (or alongside you), making them feel welcome should be a top priority. And that’s because making a new employee feel confident, valued and engaged since the very beginning makes it much more likely that you’ll retain them for longer and help them feel motivated in their work.
Here’s a little help on how to set a good example and work positively, while making your new employee feel like part of the team from the very start.
When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.
Here are a few ways to make your new employees feel welcome:
Prepare Their Work Space
There’s nothing worse for a new employee than arriving at a new company and having no space to call their own.
Make sure your new arrival has a clean desk space and a computer with login details already set up. Provide them with the space they need to work efficiently and consider seating them next to the person they’ll be working most closely with. That way they can reach out for support more easily.
Give Them A Tour
Starting a new job can be intimidating. Not knowing the people they’ll be working with, not having a full grasp of what they’ll be doing, along with a new environment, it all adds up to the anxiety of a new start.
But introducing new hires to their workplace is the easiest fix of them all. That’s why all new employees should be given a tour of the office, shown all of the equipment they’ll need to complete their work, but also where they can make themselves a coffee and go take a break.
Giving them a personal tour will help create a positive and open relationship from the start. This can be a great stepping stone for your relationship, as it will communicate to the new employees that they can rely on you for leadership and guidance.
If you have a big office, introducing your new employee to others — a few at a time — can be a less daunting experience than meeting everyone at once. We’ve all had the trouble of being introduced to lots of people at once and barely being able to remember one name correctly.
If you’d like to take things a step further, you could also provide a list of employees with photos, along with some fun tidbits of information on everyone around the office. Being able to put a face next to a name can help employees fit in much more quickly.
Plan a Social Occasion
Getting to know people in the office environment can be tricky. Everyone has their own daily tasks to get on with and deadlines to meet, oftentimes being too busy to greet and chat with the new people that joined.
But feeling like you belong is very important to anyone joining a new work place. So consider planning a small social get-together with the new person and their team (or even the wider company if appropriate.) It could be something as simple as after-work drinks or a coffee and cake morning at the office.
Socializing in a less formal environment will help your new employee fit in faster, while also learning about their new colleagues and making valuable connections that will make them appreciate their new job more.
Plan Their Training
On your new employee’s first few days in the job, they can be left floundering if they aren’t given enough to do. Don’t add to their confusing first week and plan the workload and training for them in advance. Give them small, manageable projects that will ease them into the role, while also being useful. This can give a huge boost to their confidence and motivation.
Provide A Support Network
Some companies expect new employees to be up and running within days. This can put a lot of pressure on a newbie to learn the ropes fast. They don’t want to ask questions out of fear of looking like they’re not up to the job. But this can lead to mistakes and a feeling of being overwhelmed, which is the worst way to kick-off what could otherwise be a great opportunity for your new hire.
Encourage your new employee to come to you or a dedicated buddy with any questions they have. This will reassure them that they’re not being left to sink or swim. Instead they have a ready-made support network around them.
Making your new employees feel welcome from their very first day can have lots of benefits for them, you, and the wider team. It will also help further promote a positive work environment where employees, new and old, are embraced, motivated and valued each and every day.
Bitcoin, which is unarguably the world’s most prominent digital currency, just broke through one of the most important milestones ever, vaulting to over $6000 and over $100 billion in value.
Welcome to a new kind of currency, or rather, welcome to a new kind of financial system. Today, for the first time ever, Bitcoin surpassed the $6000 barrier, proving that cryptocurrency is, in all likeliness, here to stay.
Bitfinex, which has the highest volume BTC/USD exchange, broke the $6,000 barrier initially. Now, the same can be said for all of the other major exchanges. It has only been a little over a week since the price of bitcoin soared passed $5,300, and then it quickly surpassed $5,800. Now, it has surpassed another barrier.
Ultimately, this surged caused its market capitalization to exceed $100 billion for the first time.
The digital currency is expected to continue rising in price, with cryptocurrency mogul Mike Novogratz predicting that it could hit $10,000 sometime next year and other industry experts saying it will top $25,000 within the next 5 years.
Considering how quickly Bitcoin has risen recently, such predictions may not be impossible…or even unlikely.
That said, Bitcoin isn’t infallible and could eventually collapse. Earlier this month, Harvard professor of economics Kenneth Rogoff claimed that it is only a matter of time before the currency takes a turn for the worse:
“It is one thing for governments to allow small anonymous transactions with virtual currencies; indeed, this would be desirable,” he said in an article that he wrote for MarketWatch. “But it is an entirely different matter for governments to allow large-scale anonymous payments, which would make it extremely difficult to collect taxes or counter criminal activity.”
This year alone, Bitcoin has been impacted by bans and restrictions that were set in countries like China, Russia, and South Korea. It seems, however, that these developments were only minor stumbling blocks for the currency, as Bitcoin has risen by more than 500 percent in value this year alone, and Vladimir Putin subsequently stated that Russia would issue its own cryptocurrency.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.
Scientists are making remarkable progress at using brain implants to restore the freedom of movement that spinal cord injuries take away.
Availability: 10 to 15 years
“Go, go!” was the thought racing through Grégoire Courtine’s mind.
The French neuroscientist was watching a macaque monkey as it hunched aggressively at one end of a treadmill. His team had used a blade to slice halfway through the animal’s spinal cord, paralyzing its right leg. Now Courtine wanted to prove he could get the monkey walking again. To do it, he and colleagues had installed a recording device beneath its skull, touching its motor cortex, and sutured a pad of flexible electrodes around the animal’s spinal cord, below the injury. A wireless connection joined the two electronic devices.
The result: a system that read the monkey’s intention to move and then transmitted it immediately in the form of bursts of electrical stimulation to its spine. Soon enough, the monkey’s right leg began to move. Extend and flex. Extend and flex. It hobbled forward. “The monkey was thinking, and then boom, it was walking,” recalls an exultant Courtine, a professor with Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
nimals and a few people have controlled computer cursors or robotic arms with their thoughts, thanks to a brain implant wired to machines. Now researchers are taking a significant next step toward reversing paralysis once and for all. They are wirelessly connecting the brain-reading technology directly to electrical stimulators on the body, creating what Courtine calls a “neural bypass” so that people’s thoughts can again move their limbs.
At Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, a middle-aged quadriplegic—he can’t move anything but his head and shoulder—agreed to let doctors place two recording implants in his brain, of the same type Courtine used in the monkeys. Made of silicon, and smaller than a postage stamp, they bristle with a hundred hair-size metal probes that can “listen” as neurons fire off commands.
BreakthroughWireless brain-body electronic interfaces to bypass damage to the nervous system.
Why It MattersThousands of people suffer paralyzing injuries every year.
Key Players– École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering – University of Pittsburgh – Case Western Reserve University
Availability10 to 15 years
To complete the bypass, the Case team, led by Robert Kirsch and Bolu Ajiboye, also slid more than 16 fine electrodes into the muscles of the man’s arm and hand. In videos of the experiment, the volunteer can be seen slowly raising his arm with the help of a spring-loaded arm rest, and willing his hand to open and close. He even raises a cup with a straw to his lips. Without the system, he can’t do any of that.
Just try sitting on your hands for a day. That will give you an idea of the shattering consequences of spinal cord injury. You can’t scratch your nose or tousle a child’s hair. “But if you have this,” says Courtine, reaching for a red espresso cup and raising it to his mouth with an actor’s exaggerated motion, “it changes your life.”
The Case results, pending publication in a medical journal, are a part of a broader effort to use implanted electronics to restore various senses and abilities. Besides treating paralysis, scientists hope to use so-called neural prosthetics to reverse blindness with chips placed in the eye, and maybe restore memories lost to Alzheimer’s disease (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Memory Implants”).
And they know it could work. Consider cochlear implants, which use a microphone to relay signals directly to the auditory nerve, routing around non-working parts of the inner ear. Videos of wide-eyed deaf children hearing their mothers for the first time go viral on the Internet every month. More than 250,000 cases of deafness have been treated.
In this video made by EPFL researchers, a monkey with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed its right leg is able to walk again.
But it’s been harder to turn neural prosthetics into something that helps paralyzed people. A patient first used a brain probe to move a computer cursor across a screen back in 1998. That and several other spectacular brain-control feats haven’t had any broader practical use. The technology remains too radical and too complex to get out of the lab. “Twenty years of work and nothing in the clinic!” Courtine exclaims, brushing his hair back. “We keep pushing the limits, but it is an important question if this entire field will ever have a product.”
Courtine’s laboratory is located in a vertiginous glass-and-steel building in Geneva that also houses a $100 million center that the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss funded specifically to solve the remaining technical obstacles to neurotechnologies like the spinal cord bypass. It’s hiring experts from medical-device makers and Swiss watch companies and has outfitted clean rooms where gold wires are printed onto rubbery electrodes that can stretch as our bodies do.
The head of the center is John Donoghue, an American who led the early development of brain implants in the U.S. (see “Implanting Hope”) and who moved to Geneva two years ago. He is now trying to assemble in one place the enormous technical resources and talent—skilled neuroscientists, technologists, clinicians—needed to create commercially viable systems.
Among Donoghue’s top priorities is a “neurocomm,” an ultra-compact wireless device that can collect data from the brain at Internet speed. “A radio inside your head,” Donoghue calls it, and “the most sophisticated brain communicator in the world.” The matchbox-size prototypes are made of biocompatible titanium with a sapphire window. Courtine used an earlier, bulkier version in his monkey tests.
As complex as they are, and as slow as progress has been, neural bypasses are worth pursuing because patients desire them, Donoghue says. “Ask someone if they would like to move their own arm,” he says. “People would prefer to be restored to their everyday self. They want to be reanimated.”
A model of a wireless neurocommunication device sits on a skull.