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Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Science, Stanford News, Technology

Manu Prakash on how growing up in India influenced his interests as a Maker and entrepreneur

Manu Prakash on how growing up in India influenced his  interests as a Maker and entrepreneur

foldscope_6.23.14Last week, Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD, inventor of the 50-cent microscope, called the Foldscope, and a $5 chemistry kit, participated in the White House’s first-ever Maker Faire.

In a Q&A recently published on the White House blog, Prakash discusses what led him to become a Maker, his journey to the United States from India to pursue science and how he hopes his inventions will change the world. On the topic of how his immigrant roots influenced his interests as a Maker and entrepreneur, he says:

I recently started my own lab in the U.S. I decided to dedicate half of my time to frugal science (in the night time, I am a marine biophysicist). Because of growing up in a developing country context with very little resources, I naturally understand the scale of problems and the scale of solutions needed. But only by being in the hyperdrive mode of innovation in the U.S. do I have the tools at hand to actually tackle these challenges. So what I am as a Maker, an entrepreneur, and as an academic scientist is truly a juxtaposition/superposition of my experiences in these two countries.

Another common thread that my Indian roots taught me, which got strengthened by my experiences in the United States, is empathy. Without it, all the technological innovation in the world will not be utilized. It’s humans that make this incredible machine we call society run. The current society is truly global and we need to be global scientists.

Previously: Dr. Prakash goes to Washington, Stanford microscope inventor invited to first White House Maker Faire, The pied piper of cool science tools, Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries and Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas
Photo by @PrakashLab

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Science, Stanford News, Technology

Dr. Prakash goes to Washington

Dr. Prakash goes to Washington

Prakash at White House

It’s not every day that a researcher gets to hang out at the White House – so Wednesday was rather unusual for Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD. Prakash, inventor of the 50-cent microscope, called the Foldscope, and a $5 chemistry kit, participated in the White House’s first-ever Maker Faire that day. He called it an “inspiring event” and tweeted the above photo from his time there.

And for those interested in learning more, a paper on the Foldscope was published online this week in PLOS One.

Previously: Stanford microscope inventor invited to first White House Maker Faire, The pied piper of cool science tools, Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries, Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas and Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope
Photo by Manu Prakash

Bioengineering, Neuroscience, Sports, Stanford News

Mouthguard technology by Stanford bioengineers could improve concussion measurement

Mouthguard technology by Stanford bioengineers could improve concussion measurement

head impactPerhaps you’ve heard of helmet sensors to alert emergency contacts if a rider falls from a bicycle. Now, Stanford bioengineers are working with mouthguards that measure and report head impacts in football players in real time, and the research could have implications for understanding the forces of head traumas from more common accidents.

Stanford News reports:

For the past few years, David Camarillo, an assistant professor of bioengineering, and his colleagues have been supplying Stanford football players with special mouthguards equipped with accelerometers that measure the impacts players sustain during a practice or game. Previous studies have suggested a correlation between the severity of brain injuries and the biomechanics associated with skull movement from an impact.

Camarillo’s group uses a sensor-laden mouthguard because it can directly measure skull accelerations – by attaching to the top row of teeth – which is difficult to achieve with sensors attached to the skin or other tissues. So far, the researchers have recorded thousands of these impacts, and have found that players’ heads frequently sustain accelerations of 10 g forces, and, in rarer instances, as much as 100 g forces. By comparison, space shuttle astronauts experience a maximum of 3 g forces on launch and reentry.

Camarillo, PhD, and colleagues including bioengindeering doctoral student Lyndia Wu are enhancing the technology and refining the data collected, detecting head impacts in a lab test-dummy with 99 percent accuracy.  They’ve recently published a paper on their work in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

“Our football team has been extremely cooperative and interested in helping solve this problem,” Camarillo told writer Bjorn Carey. “What we are learning from them will help lead to technologies that will one day make bike riding and driving in your car safer too.”

Previously: Is repetitive heading in soccer a health hazard?Now that’s using your head: Bike-helmet monitor alerts emergency contacts after a crash and Stanford researchers working to combat concussions in football
Photo by Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service

Behavioral Science, Bioengineering, Neuroscience, Research, Stanford News, Technology

Party animal: Scientists nail “social circuit” in rodent brain (and probably ours, too)

Party animal: Scientists nail "social circuit" in rodent brain (and probably ours, too)

party animalStimulating a single nerve-cell circuit among millions in the brain instantly increases a mouse’s appetite for getting to know a strange mouse, while inhibiting it shuts down the same mouse’s drive to socialize with the stranger.

Stanford brain scientist and technology whiz Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, is already renowned for his role in developing optogenetics, a technology that allows researchers to turn on and turn off nerve-cell activity deep within the brain of a living, freely roving animal so they can see the effects of that switching in real time. He also pioneered CLARITY, a method of rendering the brain – at least if it’s the size of of a mouse’s – both transparent and porous so its anatomy can be charted, even down to the molecular level, in ways previously deemed unimaginable.

Now, in another feat of methodological derring-do detailed in a new study in Cell, Deisseroth and his teammates incorporated a suite of advanced lab technologies, including optogenetics as well as a couple of new tricks, to pinpoint a particular assembly of nerve cells projecting from one part to another part of the mouse brain. We humans’ brains obviously differ in some ways from those of mice. But our brains have the same connections Deisseroth’s group implicated in mice’s tendency to seek or avoid social contact. So it’s a good bet this applies to us, too.

Yes, we’d all like to be able to flip a switch and turn on our own “party animal” social circuitry from time to time. But the potential long-term applications of advances like this one are far from frivolous. The new findings may throw light on psychiatric disorders marked by impaired social interaction such as autism, social anxiety, schizophrenia and depression.From my release on this study:

“Every behavior presumably arises from a pattern of activity in the brain, and every behavioral malfunction arises from malfunctioning circuitry,” said Deisseroth, who is also co-director of Stanford’s Cracking the Neural Code Program. “The ability, for the first time, to pinpoint a particular nerve-cell projection involved in the social behavior of a living, moving animal will greatly enhance our ability to understand how social behavior operates, and how it can go wrong.”

Previously: Lightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact, Researchers induce social deficits associated with autism, schizophrenia in mice, Anti-anxiety circuit found in unlikelybrain region and Using light to get muscles moving
Photo by Gamerscore blog

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Science, Science Policy, Stanford News

Stanford microscope inventor invited to first White House Maker Faire

Stanford microscope inventor invited to first White House Maker Faire

Foldscope-adams-squareLast week assistant professor of bioengineering Manu Prakash, PhD, received a call he couldn’t refuse — an invitation to attend the first-ever White House Maker Faire, to show attendees how to build a 50-cent microscope out of laser-cut paper, plastic tape and a tiny glass bead.

At today’s event, Prakash will also demonstrate how he turned a toy music box into a $5 programmable microfluidic chemistry set that can be used for applications as diverse as testing water quality and science fair projects.

Maker Faires, started by Make magazine in 2006, are gatherings where do-it-yourself enthusiasts show off their homemade projects and teach others how to make things using new technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and desktop machine tools.

President Obama is hosting the first-ever White House Maker Faire to celebrate our “Nation of Makers” and to help empower America’s students and entrepreneurs to invent the future.

Prakash, who grew up in the mega-cities of India without a refrigerator, is a leader in the frugal maker movement. At Stanford, he works with students from bioengineering, medicine, and Bio-X to reengineer expensive, complex health-related devices to make them better, faster and cheaper.

His team also focuses on developing affordable science tools to inspire global innovation. To that end, Prakash recently launched an educational initiative called the “10,000 Microscopes Project,” where build-your-own-microscope kits will be shipped to the first 10,000 people who pledge to share their microscope images and experiments in a free, online microscopy manual.

“I’m so happy that the White House is looking at ways to celebrate scientific curiosity and invention,” Prakash told me. “Many children around the world have never used a microscope, even in developed countries like the United States. A universal program providing a microscope for every child could foster deep interest in science at an early age.”

For more information on the White House Maker Faire and today’s National Day of Making, or to watch the event live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/makerfaire or follow #NationofMakers on Twitter.

Previously: The pied piper of cool science tools, Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries, Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas and Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope
Photo, of Quinn Monahan trying out a paper microscope, by Amy Adams
Photo in featured entry box by Manu Prakash

Bioengineering, Genetics, Neuroscience, Pregnancy, Research, Stanford News

Step away from the DNA? Circulating *RNA* in blood gives dynamic information about pregnancy, health

Step away from the DNA? Circulating *RNA* in blood gives dynamic information about pregnancy, health

blood on fingertip - 260

I read a lot of scientific papers. And while they’re all interesting, they don’t all make me snap to attention like the latest from Stanford bioengineer Stephen Quake, PhD. I even remarked to my husband that it’s rare to get the immediate sense that a discovery will significantly change clinical care.

If anyone’s going to shake up the status quo, however, it would be Quake. You may remember that Quake has made waves before with his pioneering discoveries involving the analysis of tiny bits of DNA circulating in our blood. His 2008 discovery that it’s possible to non-invasively detect fetal chromosomal abnormalities with a maternal blood sample has revolutionized prenatal care in this country. It’s estimated that, in 2013, hundreds of thousands of pregnant women used a version of this test to learn more about the health of their fetuses. And, in 2012, Quake showed its possible to sequence an entire fetal genome from a maternal blood sample.

Now he and his lab have gone one step further by turning their attention to another genetic material in the blood, RNA. Although information conveyed in the form of DNA sequences is mostly static (the nucleotide sequence of genes, for example), RNA levels and messages change markedly among tissues over time and at various developmental points. The difference in available information is somewhat like comparing a still photo with a high-resolution video when it comes to sussing out what the body is actually doing at any point in time.

The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As I explain in my release:

In the new study, the researchers used a technique previously developed in Quake’s lab to identify which circulating RNA molecules in a pregnant woman were likely to have come from her fetus, and which were from her own organs. They found they were able to trace the development of specific tissues, including the fetal brain and liver, as well as the placenta, during the three trimesters of pregnancy simply by analyzing blood samples from the pregnant women over time.

Quake and his colleagues believe the technique could also be broadly useful as a diagnostic tool by detecting distress signals from diseased organs, perhaps even before any clinical symptoms are apparent. In particular, they found they could detect elevated levels of neuronal-specific RNA messages in people with Alzheimer’s disease as compared with the healthy participants.

Quake and the lead authors, graduate students Winston Koh and Wenying Pan, liken their technique to a “molecular stethoscope.” They believe it could be broadly useful in the clinic. More from my release:

“We’ve moved beyond just detecting gene sequences to really analyzing and understanding patterns of gene activity,” said Quake. “Knowing the DNA sequence of a gene in the blood has been shown to be useful in a few specific cases, like cancer, pregnancy and organ transplantation. Analyzing the RNA enables a much broader perspective of what’s going on in the body at any particular time.”

Previously: Whole-genome fetal sequencing recognized as one of the year’s “10 Breakthrough Technologies” and Better know a bioengineer: Stephen Quake
Photo by Alden Chadwick

Bioengineering, Research, Stanford News, Technology

An advancement in optogenetics: Switching off cells with light now as easy as switching them on

An advancement in optogenetics: Switching off cells with light now as easy as switching them on

Earlier this week, the New York Times featured Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, and his work in optogenetics, which involves precisely turning select brain cells on or off with flashes of light. Today, Deisseroth and colleagues share in the journal Science an advancement in the field. As Tom Abate explains in a release:

Optogenetics gave researchers a powerful investigational technique to deepen their understanding of biological system design and function in animal models. But first-generation optogenetics had a shortcoming: Its light-sensitive proteins were potent at switching cells on, but less effective at turning them off.

Now in a paper culminating years of effort, Deisseroth’s team has re-engineered their light-sensitive proteins to switch cells off far more efficiently than before…

“This is something we and others in the field have sought for a very long time,” said Deisseroth, senior author of the paper and professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Thomas Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the study, said this improved “off” switch will help researchers to better understand the brain circuits involved in behavior, thinking and emotion.

“This latest discovery by the Deisseroth team is the kind of neurotechnology envisioned by President Obama when he launched the BRAIN Initiative a year ago,” Insel said. “It creates a powerful tool that allows neuroscientists to apply a brake in any specific circuit with millisecond precision, beyond the power of any existing technology.”

The release offers more details on the work and its implications.

Previously: New York Times profiles Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and his work in optogenetics, A federal push to further brain research, An in-depth look at the career of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, “a major name in science”, Lightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact, The “rock star” work of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and Nature Methods names optogenetics its “Method of the Year
Related: Head lights

Bioengineering, In the News, Neuroscience, Stanford News, Technology

New York Times profiles Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and his work in optogenetics

New York Times profiles Stanford's Karl Deisseroth and his work in optogenetics

Rockefeller University neurobiologist Cori Bargmann, PhD, is quoted in today’s New York Times as saying optogenetics is “the most revolutionary thing that has happened in neuroscience in the past couple of decades.” The article is a profile piece of Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, the Stanford researcher who helped create the field of optogenetics, and it reveals how a clinical rotation in psychiatry led him to this line of work:

It was eye-opening, he said, “to sit and talk to a person whose reality is different from yours” — to be face to face with the effects of bipolar disorder, “exuberance, charisma, love of life, and yet, how destructive”; of depression, “crushing — it can’t be reasoned with”; of an eating disorder literally killing a young, intelligent person, “as if there’s a conceptual cancer in the brain.”

He saw patient after patient suffering terribly, with no cure in sight. “It was not as if we had the right tools or the right understanding.” But, he said, that such tools were desperately needed made it more interesting to him as a specialty. He stayed with psychiatry, but adjusted his research course, getting in on the ground floor in a new bioengineering department at Stanford. He is now a professor of both bioengineering and psychiatry.

Previously: A federal push to further brain research, An in-depth look at the career of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, “a major name in science”, Lightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact, The “rock star” work of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and Nature Methods names optogenetics its “Method of the Year
Related: Head lights
Photo in featured-entry box by Linda Cicero/Stanford News Service

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Global Health, Microbiology, Science

The pied piper of cool science tools

The pied piper of cool science tools

Kid-scopeWhen Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD, and his students set out to solve a challenging global health problem, the first order of business is to have fun.

“We’re a curiosity-driven lab,” says Prakash, as he sits in his office overflowing with toys, gadgets, seashells and insect exoskeletons.

In the last month, Prakash introduced two new cool science tools — a 50-cent paper microscope and a $5 programmable kid’s chemistry set. The response from fellow science lovers, compiled on this Storify page, has been amazing.

Already, 10,000 kids, teachers, health workers and small thinkers from around the globe have signed up to receive build-your-own-microscope kits. Thousands more have sent us e-mails describing the creative ways they’d use a microscope that they could carry around in their back pockets.

For the love of science, here are a few of these inspirational e-mails:

I would love to have one. I’m only in 6th grade but I love science. I hope to visit the moon one day. — Raul

I am an electrical engineer from Kenya and have never used a microscope in all my life. But what I would really like to do is to avail the foldscope to students in a primary school that I am involved in mentoring. This apart from hopefully inspiring them in the wonders of science, would enable the students see the structure of the mosquito proboscis, a malaria-spreading agent in this part of the world. I would also like to look at the roots of mangrove trees and see the structure that enables them to keep sea water salts out. — Macharia Wanyoike

This is brilliant! I am in science and nanotechnology education and my wish is for South African rural children, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana to all have these microscopes! It will be amazing. — Professor Sanette Brits, University of Limpopo, South Africa

waterbearI am studying how magnetic fields at different frequencies affect water bears. They are very difficult to find and it would be great if I had a tool to help me find them that is  portable while searching for them. I have digital motic microscope phase contrast and darkfield microscopes but nothing portable. — Edward W. Verner (Water bear shown to the left.)

I could use it to check if patients have scabies. Or if I were visiting remote monasteries in the Himalayas where they have outbreaks. I’d definitely pack it. For myself I’d use it on nature walks. GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT for mankind. Congratulations. — Linda Laueeano, RN

Hi! I am a high school student from South Korea. While I was searching for interesting project, I saw your video. It was very amazing and I can’t believe that only one dollar can save hundreds and thousands people who were suffering from malaria and other diseases that can be found by your “foldscope”. I really love to study about your project and I had already read your thesis. Truly, it was hard to understand everything, but I really tried hard and I discussed this issue for more than a week with my science club. We are group of 10 people and we are eager to do this project. Also I really appreciate you to do this wonderful thing for poor kids in many other countries. Thanks. — Joung Yeon Park

I am assisting a K-12 community school with creating a STEAM Innovation Knowledge HUB, as they are trying to move their Common Core Curriculum into a STEM to STEAM driven program. It would be great to receive several Foldscopes or be able to purchase. Please contact me ASAP. Congratulations on a great new support product and great innovation. Thank you, smile. — Dr. Dion N. Johnson, Wayne State University

Continue Reading »

Bioengineering, Global Health, Medicine and Society, Stanford News, Videos

Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries

Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries

Over the past few weeks my colleague Kris Newby has been writing about the Foldscope, the 50-cent microscope developed by bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD. Today Prakash is announcing another device that will bring high tech science to the developing world – and to kids.

The device won a contest from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Society for Science & the Public to “Reimagine the chemistry set for the 21st century.” In the contest materials, the two groups cite the absence of chemistry sets on the market today that inspire creativity.

As the parent of two boys I have to agree. Chemistry toys these days come with prepackaged materials and set instructions for how to use them. Sure, I’m not enthusiastic about some of the dangerous chemicals in the kits that inspired an older generation of scientists, but a bit of creativity would be nice.

Prakash took inspiration from a simple music box to design a handheld chemistry set that can be programmed using holes punched in a paper tape. The prize came from the set’s use as a toy to inspire kids, but Prakash and graduate student George Korir also envision it being used to carry out science in developing countries. They say it can be built for about $5. Prakash told me, “I’d started thinking about this connection between science education and global health. The things that you make for kids to explore science [are] also exactly the kind of things that you need in the field because they need to be robust and they need to be highly versatile.”

My Stanford Report story goes on to describe how it works:

Like the music box, the prototype includes a hand cranked wheel and paper tape with periodic holes punched by the user. When a pin encounters a hole in the tape it flips and activates a pump that releases a single drop from a channel. In the simplest design, 15 independent pumps, valves and droplet generators can all be controlled simultaneously.

Prakash and Korir didn’t set out to make a kit for kids. Their idea was that a portable, programmable chemistry kit could be used around the world to test water quality, provide affordable medical diagnostic tests, assess soil chemistry for agriculture or as a snake bite venom test kit. It could even be used in modern labs to carry out experiments on a very small scale.

This chemistry set and the Foldscope are both part of what Prakash calls “frugal science.” There’s more about how the device works in the technical paper.

Previously: Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope and Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas
Photo in featured entry box by George Korir

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