— One of the great challenges for neuroscientists is to understand the code the brain uses to send information along neurons. Researchers at Brown University on Rhode Island have now come up with a device that may help to tackle the mystery.
The machine works by measuring the signals produced by primary motor cortex the part of the brain responsible for hand-eye co-ordination. A computer then attempts to reproduce this signal, which is used to stimulate the movement in a primate limb.
By minimising the difference between the original signal and the artificial one and by comparing the difference in the effects these two signals have on limb movement, the researchers hope to decrypt the neuronal code used by the brain to control muscle movement. The researchers say same signal-processing techniques could eventually be used to control artificial limbs, wheelchairs and even speech synthesisers.
Read the full brain decoder patent application.
When it comes to tissue grafts, culturing a patient's own cells greatly reduces the chances of rejection. Most cultures are random collections of cells but research shows that tissues are significantly healthier when grown as part of a network in which they make organised connections with each other.
Now the Tokyo Medical and Dental University says it has a way of encouraging cells to grow in specific patterns on a biodegradable substrate. Once implanted, the substrate need not be removed as is gradually broken down by the body, leaving the cultured cells in place.
The substrate has a photosensitive layer which, when exposed to light in the desired pattern, forms a bio-adhesive surface that cells can stick to. This layer also encourages the cells to grow in the desired pattern. The researchers say the technique can be used to create skin and blood vessels which should have a lower chance of rejection following implantation.
Read the full smarter grafts patent application.
Doctors have experimented for several decades with biodegradable materials that deliver drugs to specific parts of the body. As the substance breaks down, any drugs mixed into the matrix leak into the body over a period of hours, days or months. However, getting the material into the body without surgery can be tricky.
Robert Langer, one of the world's leading biotechnologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, US, and Abraham Domb at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in Israel, have come up with a potential fix.
The pair has developed a biodegradable polymer paste made of polyhydroxyalkanoic acid polyesters that become a semisolid mass when heated to body temperature. The paste is easy to prepare and can be injected into almost any site in the body where it then becomes semisolid. This can then be used to deliver almost any drug from sedatives to antiviral agents as it gradually breaks down.
Read the full semi-solid pills patent application.
For more than 30 years, New Scientist has trawled through the world's weird and wonderful patent applications, uncovering the most exciting, bizarre or even terrifying new ideas. Read previous Invention columns, including:
Auto-snug clothing, the 'suits you' cellphone, YouTube watermarks, hot lap prevention, edible RFID, covert iris scanner, personal TV censor, diamond-coated gadgets, computo-cooked perfection, Cellphone sunscreen, skateboard meets Segway, Taser gets tougher, razor light, wing-mirror cameras, body-wired headphones, rocket-repelling parachutes, tooth decay probe, laser healing, throwable game controllers, Microwave oven gun, Smart-card DVDs, Smart night scope, laser microphone, triple-standard DVD, ultimate body armour, Long-range stunner, tongue-o-vision, jellyfish injections, Flesh-burn sensor, fire-escape tubes, VoIP mangling, in-flight rearming, sense that fat, Designer speakers, throw-away parachutes, password-protected bullets, spinning touchdown, palmtop Feng Shui, Origami gadgets, mile-high showers, Hydrogen fuel balls, human cannonballs, the riot slimer, the bomb jammer, Apple's all-seeing screen, the TV-advert enforcer, the wing-sprouting drone, the drink-driver arm scanner, laser spark plugs, remote-controlled implants,the "I've been shot" gun, the snore zapper, the guitar phone, explosive-eating fungus, viper vision, exploding ink, the moody media player, the spy-diver killer, preventing in-flight interference, the inkjet-printer pen, sonic watermarks, the McDownload, hot-air plane, landmine arrows, soldiers obeying odours, coffee beer, wall-beating bugging, eyeball electronics, phone jolts, personal crash alarm, talking tooth, shark shocker, midnight call-foiler, burning bullets, a music lover's dream, magic wand for gamers, the phantom car, phone-bomb hijacking, shocking airport scans, old tyres to printer ink and eye-tracking displays.