Doctors are using brain scanners to ask patients who cannot speak about their treatment wishes


When a person sustains a severe brain injury that leaves them unable to communicate, their families and doctors often have to make life-or-death decisions about their care for them. Now brain scanners are being tested in intensive care to see if mind-reading can enable some patients to have their say, New Scientist can exclusively reveal.


At the moment, doctors ask the families of people who have a poor prognosis and cannot communicate if they think their relatives would want to continue life-sustaining treatments such as being on a ventilator. “Life would be so much easier if you could just ask the person,” says Adrian Owen at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.


Owen’s team previously developed a brain-scanning approach for a much smaller group of people – those in states between consciousness and being in a coma, for example, those in a vegetative state. Such people show few signs of awareness and have to be fed through a tube.


Owen found that some of these people can direct their thoughts in response to instructions, which can be picked up on brain scans. If someone is asked to imagine playing tennis, for instance, the part of their brain involved in movement lights up in the scan. This has let him and other teams ask those who are able to respond in this way yes/no questions, which can give people a say over their living conditions. About a fifth of people the technique is tried on can respond.


Owen is now using the same technique on people who are in intensive care in the first few days after sustaining a severe brain injury. In such circumstances, just over a quarter of people end up having their treatment withdrawn due to a poor prognosis. For example, in some cases, doctors may predict that if the person survives, they would be paralyzed and unable to speak. “A decision will typically be made in the first 10 days about whether to go on or pull the plug,” says Owen.

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More than half of mainland China’s Covid-19 patients did not have a fever when admitted to hospital, a leading researcher said on Saturday, calling on the Hong Kong government to introduce social distancing measures such as flexible lunch hours when civil servants resume work next week, as the city recorded its 95th infection.


Chinese University respiratory medicine expert Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who co-authored the study, also urged for more tests to be conducted in private and public clinics to enable early detection and isolation of suspected cases after the study findings showed more than 80 per cent of coronavirus inpatients had reduced lymphocyte count in their blood.


Hong Kong has been battling the spread of a novel strain of coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19. The newest case, announced by the Centre for Health Protection late on Saturday, concerned a 46-year-old woman admitted to United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong. She is the daughter-in-law of a 70-year-old woman infected on Thursday after visiting the Fook Wai Ching She Buddhist worship hall. The infection was the 15th related to the North Point venue.


“She developed sore throat today and her deep throat saliva specimen was tested positive for Covid-19 virus,” the center said in a statement. It said the woman was in a stable condition. She had not travelled during the virus’s incubation period, and did not visit the worship hall. Her husband and son, who live with her, were also under quarantine.

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Doctors used CRISPR to edit genes of cells inside a patient’s eye, hoping to restore vision to a person blinded by a rare genetic disorder. A similar strategy might work for some brain diseases.


For the first time, scientists have used the gene-editing technique CRISPR to try to edit a gene while the DNA is still inside a person’s body. The groundbreaking procedure involved injecting the microscopic gene-editing tool into the eye of a patient blinded by a rare genetic disorder, in hopes of enabling the volunteer to see. They hope to know within weeks whether the approach is working and, if so, to know within two or three months how much vision will be restored.



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Coronavirus can kill, but experts are still puzzling over how deadly the disease it causes truly is. Seoul’s aggressive screening regime might hold the answer.


Within a month of confirming its first case of Covid-19 on January 20, South Korea had tested nearly 8,000 people suspected of infection with the new coronavirus that causes the disease. A little over a week later, that number had soared to 82,000 as health officials mobilized to carry out as many 10,000 tests each day Neighboring Japan on the other hand, tested only a fraction of that number, with fewer than 2,000 people checked on any given day since the beginning of its outbreak in late January. So far, more than 6,000 cases have been confirmed in South Korea and over 1,000 in Japan, if you include the  Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in the Port of Yokohoma.
In the United States, where the number of confirmed cases has surpassed 100, health authorities had as recently as this week tested fewer than 500 people in total, hindered by legal and technical barriers to mass screening.
Which is where South Korea’s massive testing effort can come in, providing a valuable reference point for public health experts around the world who are starved of hard data – offering potentially the most comprehensive picture yet of the threat posed by Covid-19 to the general public.

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Astronomers have validated their first exoplanet with the Habitable Zone Planet Finder instrument on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world’s largest telescopes, located at The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory.


About twice the size of Earth and possibly 12 times as massive, the planet could be similar to Neptune, but in miniature. Called G 9-40b, it orbits a small star called a red dwarf about 100 light-years from Earth. It completes a full orbit every six Earth days.



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Dr. Hun-Gi Jung and his research team at the Center for Energy Storage Research of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST, President Lee Byung Gwon) have announced the development of silicon anode materials that can increase battery capacity four-fold in comparison to graphite anode materials and enable rapid charging to more than 80% capacity in only five minutes. When applied to batteries for electric vehicles, the new materials are expected to more than double their driving range.


The batteries currently installed in mass-produced electric vehicles use graphite anode materials, but their low capacity contributes to electric vehicles’ having a shorter driving range than vehicles with internal combustion engines. Consequently, silicon, with an energy storage capacity 10-times greater than graphite, has drawn attention as a next-generation anode material for the development of long-range electric vehicles. However, silicon materials have not yet been commercialized because their volume expands rapidly and storage capacity decreases significantly during charge and discharge cycles, which limits commercialization. A number of methods have been suggested for enhancing the stability of silicon as an anode material, but the cost and complexity of these methods have prevented silicon from replacing graphite.



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The FT has enlisted the help of readers, researchers and entrepreneurs to find 50 new ideas that will shape the world in the future.



Read all 50 ideas

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ESA’s Solar Orbiter is now on its way to the sun, beginning a nearly two-year journey.


A new sungazing spacecraft has launched on a mission to chart the sun’s unexplored polar regions and to understand how our star creates and controls the vast bubble of plasma that envelops the solar system.


At 11:03 pm ET on February 9, 2020, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The spacecraft now begins a nearly two-year convoluted journey — getting two gravity assists from Venus and one from Earth — to an orbit that will repeatedly take it a bit closer to the sun than Mercury gets.



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