Washington: Indian-American researcher Sreekanth Chalasani, from Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California has developed a new way to selectively activate brain, heart, muscle and other cells using ultrasonic sound waves.
Dubbed as sonogenetics, the new technique has some similarities to the burgeoning use of light to activate brain cells in order to better understand the brain.
“Light-based techniques are great for some uses. But this is a new, additional tool to manipulate neurons and other cells in the body,” informed Sreekanth Chalasani, assistant professor in Salk’s molecular neurobiology laboratory.
The new method – which uses the same type of waves used in medical sonograms – may have advantages over the light-based approach – known as optogenetics – particularly when it comes to adapting the technology to human therapeutics.
In optogenetics, researchers add light-sensitive channel proteins to neurons they wish to study.
By shining a focused laser on the cells, they can selectively open these channels, either activating or silencing the target neurons.
Chalasani and his group decided to see if they could develop an approach that instead relied on ultrasound waves for the activation.
“In contrast to light, low-frequency ultrasound can travel through the body without any scattering,” he noted.
“This could be a big advantage when you want to stimulate a region deep in the brain without affecting other regions,” adds Stuart Ibsen, post-doctoral fellow in the Chalasani lab.
“The real prize will be to see whether this could work in a mammalian brain,” Chalasani pointed out.
His group has already begun testing the approach in mice. “When we make the leap into therapies for humans, I think we have a better shot with noninvasive sonogenetics approaches than with optogenetics,” he emphasised in a paper appeared in the journal Nature Communications.
Chalasani obtained his PhD from University of Pennsylvania. He then did his post-doctoral research in the laboratory of Dr Cori Bargmann at the Rockefeller University in New York.
Eight-year-old Bella Maloney woke up next to her little brother in a queen-size bed at a Best Western hotel and for breakfast ate a bagel and cream cheese that her mother brought up from the lobby.
And then she was off to school for the first time in nearly a month.
For Bella, brother Vance and thousands of other youngsters in Northern California who lost their homes or their classrooms in last month’s deadly wildfire, life crept a little closer to normal Monday when school finally resumed in most of Butte County.
“They’re ready to get back,” Bella’s mother, Erica Hail, said of her children. “I think they’re sick of Mom and Dad.” At school, “they get to have time alone in their own space and their own grade and they get to just be by themselves.”
Schools in the county had been closed since Nov. 8, when the blaze swept through the town of Paradise and surrounding areas, destroying nearly 14,000 homes and killing at least 88 people in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century. About two dozen people remain unaccounted for, down from a staggering high of 1,300 a few weeks ago.
About 31,000 students in all have been away from school since the disaster. On Monday, nearly all of them went back, though some of them attended class in other buildings because their schools were damaged or destroyed, or inaccessible inside evacuation zones.
Bella was shy and not very talkative but agreed she was excited to be going back. She wanted to see her friends.
The small, tidy hotel room with two queen beds has been home to the family of five for some two weeks. Since they lost nearly everything to the fire, there was little to clutter up the space. The Hails are booked there until February.
“Bella, what time is it?” Hail asked her daughter, waking her up in their hotel room.
“Seven dot dot three five,” came the 8-year-old’s sing-song reply. 7:35. It was time to brush her teeth, comb her hair and hit the road for a nearly hourlong drive to school in the family SUV.
A few minutes later, at seven-dot-dot-four-seven, they were out the door.
Some families driven out by the inferno have left the state or are staying with friends or relatives too far away for the children to go back to school in Butte County.
The Hails — whose five-bedroom, two-bath home in Paradise was destroyed — are staying in Yuba City, a long drive from their new school in Durham.
It was shortly before the 9 a.m. start of the school day when they pulled up to Durham Elementary School, where Bella is in third grade and Vance is in half-day kindergarten.
Across the county, nearly all of the teachers are returning to provide a familiar and comforting face to the children.
“It’s important that the kids are able to stay together and have some sort of normalcy in the crazy devastation that we’re having now,” said Jodi Seaholm, whose daughter Mallory is a third-grader.
Mallory underwent radiation in October to treat a recurrence of brain cancer and showed no fear, Seaholm said, but “this situation with her house burning down has absolutely devastated her.”
Counselors brought in from around the country were in nearly every classroom Monday to help children who were distressed by their escape through a burning town and the loss of their homes, Paradise school Superintendent Michelle John said at a celebratory news conference. Many of the teachers lost their homes as well.
“Our kids are traumatized,” John said. “Their families are traumatized.”
Most of Paradise High School survived but is inaccessible.
The district doesn’t have space yet for intermediate and high school students whose classrooms were rendered unusable, so for the 13 days before the holiday break begins, they will learn through independent study. They will have access to online assignments and a drop-in center at a mall in Chico where they can get help from teachers or see classmates.
Schoolwork will probably be secondary to dealing with trauma and reconnecting with friends, said Paradise High Principal Loren Lighthall.
“They don’t have their church, they don’t have their school, they don’t have their work, they don’t have their friends. They don’t have any of that stuff, and we’re asking them to write five-paragraph essays?” Lighthall said. “It’s just unreasonable at this point. We’re going to do it, but we’re going to be super flexible with what we require.” (VOA)