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Weizmann League Update February 2019

What if we told you that there is a recently discovered “switch” in the human body that is “flicked” when there is nerve damage? And what if, when flicked, that switch could promote nerve regeneration? You’d probably say: “that sounds pretty good to me!”

Now what if we told you that instead of inventing an algorithm that amplifies the pseudo-scientific ‘listicles’ you get in your inbox, the Weizmann Institute just developed an algorithm that can save your life?

Well… we just did.

Weizmann Institute computer scientist, Prof. Yaron Lipman, teamed up with an NYU cardiologist to create an automated echocardiogram translator that helps the operator produce the images and then accurately interpret the results for doctors.

An echo what? Glad you asked: An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound that tests the action of the heart using ultrasound waves to produce a visual display. It’s used for the diagnosis or monitoring of heart disease! In fact, it’s the most reliable test of human heart function out there and can be used to make quick diagnoses that save lives. Here is a demonstration of an echocardiogram.

Here’s why this system that Weizmann helped develop is such a big deal: ultrasounds require highly-trained experts to produce the images and interpret their results, which takes lots of time and effort. That means that ultrasounds can’t be used in emergency situations.

Weizmann to the rescue!

Using the power of artificial intelligence, Weizmann’s echocardiogram system competed against physicians using 114 test patients and generated results that were as close as the physicians whom it was competing against.

How the $%^& did they do that?

Simple: Weizmann researchers developed neural networks, which is a form of artificial intelligence that mimics the human brain, allowing machines to absorb information much like humans…except way, way, way, way faster! Okay, maybe not so simple in practice but if you want to learn how neural networks work in a quick minute, watch this video.

And for more information on this life-saving, robot-using, science-based technology, and on the first place prize that the Weizmann computer scientist team won at Echovation Challenge of the American Society of Echocardiography, click here!

The Case for Laziness… Presented by Idle Bacterium

Weizmann researchers have been hard at work developing a dangerous concept: Laziness is good.

Okay, maybe procrastinating on that business proposal until the day before your meeting with a potential client isn’t the smartest idea, but lazy bacteria are showing scientists that there is a case for SOME laziness.

In simple terms, the roles of bacteria is to break food down to allow cells to use the materials to build, grow and divide. Just like humans who need to balance work and play, cells need to balance their time between processing food (catabolic activities) and producing proteins (ribosomal activities).

Breaking down…the concept: In an environment with lots of food and nutrients cells can concentrate on growing while cells in environments with little food will use their energy to find food rather than growing.

Side note: Who knew that the smallest parts of our body need to balance time just like us?!

When Weizmann research student Yael Korem-Kohanim looked closer, she found that bacterium were not operating at full speed 100% of the time. Instead, those little troublemakers were sometimes wasting resources and, well, being lazy!

We don’t know about you but we want our bacteria playing hard all the time!

Well it turns out, that isn’t the optimal situation.

After further experimentation, Weizmann scientists confirmed their hypothesis that bacteria like to chill out and conserve some of their resources so that if their environment changes, they will be able to adapt quickly.

Yael sums it up perfectly with this analogy: “If your calendar is full of back-to-back meetings, you won’t have time to sit and talk with someone who shows up with an interesting proposal. If you are a bit lazy, you will have that time.”

Now you can use science to explain why you’re lazy sometimes…you’re welcome!

For more details on this exciting discovery, visit Weizmann Wonder Wander.

This Weizmann Neuroscientist is Discovering how to Control Loneliness

Okay, it might be impossible to eliminate loneliness completely unless you have the resources and the patience to maintain a devoted entourage of hangers on, but Weizmann’s Dr. Ofer Yizhar’s work in optogenetics is yielding some pretty unbelievable possibilities.

First things first: what exactly is optogenetics? Here is our totally simple, non-science-y definition for you laymen and women out there:

Optogenetics is a biological technique that selectively monitors or controls nerve cell activity using light. For a brief explainer on how this technique works, check out this video from MIT and try to prevent your mind from being blown!

Now, back to the story…

In June, Ofer won the Adelis Prize for Brain Research, which highlighted his proposal for a project where optogenetics is used to understand the brain’s techniques to mediate the emotional and cognitive effects of loneliness.

You might be thinking to yourself: “this all sounds great but there are bigger problems in the world than loneliness.” You might be right, but after reading this article from the New York Times, you’ll learn of the serious biological effects loneliness can have on the human body.

Luckily, Ofer and his team have generated some really exciting early results.

They showed how the exposure of specific brain cells to laser light can reduce the acquisition of traumatic memories and decrease fear in mice. This is especially excellent news for people who suffer from disorders such as PTSD. Currently, the applications of optogenetics are still being explored and so far Ofer’s work has contributed to our understanding of individuals with autism.

To subscribe or learn more contact Marina Shepaksov – [email protected]

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