NECC 2008 - If we don't like NECC Unplugged, we can change it
I'm worried these type of get out the tools and play sessions where we are all learning and teaching will be forced out of the Blogger's Cafe. They are unplanned, unscripted, great discussions around tools, ideas, and just plain old good fun.
I believe that there is a place for NECC Unplugged and people being able to have quick shares. Bur I do believe that the scheduled nature of this venture, while being created for all of the right reasons, is keeping those who may be late to the party, the ability to share.
I guess I am advocating for a rallying call to arms, a reclaiming of the Blogger's cafe space. Like Travis, Crockett, and Bowie, and the other Texans, many whose statues are in the hallway right outside of the Blogger's Cafe, I am willing to defend the turf from the invasion and instrusion in order to allow for those, who like me, just want a place for informal learning and reflection. Anyone want to join?
- Many of us enjoyed the conversations on Saturday, even with the boom mikes and camera crews.
- I'm glad that Jeff and others 'voted with their feet' and found spaces and times where their conference needs could be met. I know that I've had a blast interacting with Jeff, Vinnie, and others in our informal settings.
- I thought the Blogger's Cafe today was fabulous. I don't know what NECC Unplugged is going to do that atmosphere, but we can always decide as a group to dump it or move it if need be. I liked your [Jeff's] note that we could've taken better control of Edubloggercon but didn't. If we need it, we have a second chance on Monday and/or Tuesday! [left as a comment on Jeff's blog]
In other words, if NECC Unplugged isn't working for us, we don't have to see it to its conclusion. We can adapt on the fly. Isn't that one of our strengths as a group?
One final note: A lot of people in the Blogger's Cafe today weren't interacting with anyone. They were typing away or simply resting and watching. I'm guessing that many weren't even bloggers but were simply conference attendees who found an open seat. We have to be cognizant of this too. Although Vinnie and Jeff don't fall into this camp, there may be folks who prefer the more structured approach of NECC Unplugged instead of a more free-for-all conversation.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
Can you make solar power work when the sun goes down? You can, and Dubai is about to run a city that way.
- A new concentrated solar plant is under construction in Dubai.
- When it opens next year, it will be the largest plant of its kind on Earth.
- Concentrated solar power solves the problem of how to store electricity in ways that solar pannels cannot.
Believe it or not, for a few decades, giving people "milk transfusions" was all the rage.
- Prior to the discovery of blood types in 1901, giving people blood transfusions was a risky procedure.
- In order to get around the need to transfuse others with blood, some doctors resorted to using a blood substitute: Milk.
- It went pretty much how you would expect it to.
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