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Víctor Morales [745]

Lic. Víctor Morales

• Trainer en Programación Neurolingüística - Primer Instituto Sudamericano de Programación Neurolingüística - Bs. As. - 2000
• Consultor Psicológico - Escuela Argentina de Psicología Social - 2004
• Licenciado en Psicología por la Universidad de la Marina Mercante - 2012
• Curso de post-grado "Psiconeuroinmunoendocrinología y Stress" por la Universidad Favaloro – 2012
• Docente Universitario

Deterioro cognitivo: Vínculos entre la depresión en los pacientes diabéticos y la demencia

por Robert Preidt

Los investigadores afirman que la diabetes tipo 2 junto con la depresión se asocia con unos declives mentales más grandes.

Los pacientes de diabetes tipo 2 que sufren de depresión también tienen un declive mental más significativo que los que no sufren de depresión, halla un estudio reciente.

La diabetes y la depresión son comunes en las personas mayores, y hasta el 20 por ciento de los adultos con diabetes tipo 2 tienen depresión mayor, según la información de respaldo del estudio. Además, ambos trastornos parecen asociarse con un mayor riesgo de demencia.

"Tanto la depresión como la diabetes se han identificado como factores de riesgo de la demencia en general y de la enfermedad de Alzheimer en particular", anotó el Dr. Marc Gordon, un experto no vinculado con el nuevo estudio.

Investigadores liderados por el Dr. Mark Sullivan, de la Universidad de Washington en Seattle, rastrearon los resultados de casi 3,000 personas que sufrían de diabetes tipo 2 y que tenían un riesgo alto de enfermedad cardiaca. Se evaluaron las habilidades de pensamiento y memoria (o "cognitivas") y los niveles de depresión de los pacientes al inicio del estudio, y se siguió a los participantes durante 40 meses.

Los pacientes con depresión mostraron unos declives mentales más marcados durante el transcurso del estudio. El efecto de la depresión sobre el riesgo de declive mental no se vio afectado por factores como la enfermedad cardiaca, la edad, los tratamientos para controlar la presión arterial, los niveles de colesterol o de insulina, ni por los tratamientos intensivos frente a los estándares para reducir la glucemia, escribieron los investigadores.

El estudio aparece en la edición en línea del 14 de agosto de la revista JAMA Psychiatry.

Aunque el estudio halló que la depresión en los pacientes de diabetes tipo 2 se asociaba con el riesgo de demencia, no pudo probar causalidad. Sin embargo, "dado que la demencia es una de las complicaciones de más rápido crecimiento y más temida de la diabetes, nuestros hallazgos podrían ser importantes para la salud pública", concluyeron Sullivan y colegas.

Gordon, jefe de neurología del Hospital Zucker Hillside en Glen Oaks, Nueva York, se mostró de acuerdo en que el vínculo entre la depresión y el declive mental entre los pacientes diabéticos "aún no está claro".

"Es posible que la depresión sea una manifestación temprana del proceso subyacente de una enfermedad que podría al final resultar en el declive cognitivo", planteó. "Aún está por verse si este efecto es distinto de lo que se observaría en una población no diabética, o si el tratamiento con antidepresivos alteraría el riesgo de declive cognitivo".

Otra experta anotó que el estudio tiene implicaciones potencialmente amplias.

"Estudios anteriores han sugerido que uno de cada cinco [pacientes] diabéticos mayores podría sufrir de depresión", anotó la Dra. Gisele Wolf-Klein, directora de educación geriátrica del Sistema de Salud North Shore-LIJ, en New Hyde Park, Nueva York. Dijo que el "llamativo hallazgo" del grupo de Sullivan "necesitará más estudios para ver si el tratamiento de la depresión puede reducir el riesgo de declive cognitivo en los pacientes de diabetes".

La Dra. Gayatri Devi es neuróloga del Hospital Lenox Hill, en la ciudad de Nueva York, especializada en el diagnóstico y el tratamiento tempranos de los trastornos de la memoria relacionados con el envejecimiento. Apuntó que siempre ha sido difícil aclarar la causalidad cuando se trata de los vínculos entre la depresión y el declive mental.

"La pregunta con frecuencia es si la depresión es el resultado de la autoconsciencia del paciente de que hay algo que está 'desequilibrado' cognitivamente, o si la depresión provoca independientemente el declive cognitivo", comentó Devi.

FUENTES: Marc L. Gordon, M.D., chief of neurology, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, N.Y. and researcher, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Manhasset, N.Y.; Gisele Wolf-Klein, M.D., director of geriatric education, North Shore-LIJ Health System, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; Gayatri Devi, M.D., neurologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; JAMA Psychiatry, news release, Aug. 14, 2013

Diabetes, depresión y alzhéimer están unidasUn estudio revela que desarrollo de las dos primeras favorece la posterior aparición de demencias

La depresión y la diabetes mellitus tipo 2 fueron cada una asociada con un mayor riesgo de demencia y el riesgo era aún mayor entre las personas con diagnóstico de depresión y diabetes en comparación con las personas que no tenían ningún trastorno, según un artículo publicado en la edición digital de 'Archives of General Psychiatry'. La diabetes y la depresión mayor son comunes en la población occidental y hasta el 20 por ciento de las personas con diabetes mellitus tipo 2 también padece depresión.

El doctor Dimitry Davydow, de la Escuela de Medicina de la Universidad de Washington, en Seattle, Estados Unidos, y coautores examinaron el riesgo de demencia entre las personas con depresión, diabetes tipo 2 o ambas patologías en comparación con los individuos con ninguna de ellas en un grupo de más de 2,4 millones de ciudadanos de Dinamarca, que eran mayores de 50 años y no sufrían demencia entre 2007 y 2013.

En general, el 19,4 por ciento de los individuos tenía un diagnóstico de depresión (477.133 personas), el 9,1 por ciento padecía diabetes 2 (223.174 individuos) y el 3,9 por ciento (95.691 sujetos) presentaba diagnóstico de diabetes y depresión. La edad promedio al momento del diagnóstico inicial de diabetes tipo 2 fue de 63,1 años y la edad media al inicio del diagnóstico de depresión fue 58,5 años.

Los autores encontraron que durante el periodo de estudio, el 2,4 por ciento de las personas (59.663) desarrolló demencia y la edad media del diagnóstico fue de casi 81 años. De esos individuos que presentaron demencia, 15.729 personas (26,4 por ciento) tenían depresión por sí sola y 6.466 (10,8 por ciento) padecían sólo diabetes tipo 2, mientras que 4.022 (6,7 por ciento) tenían ambos trastornos.

Los resultados del trabajo indican que la diabetes tipo 2 sola se asoció con un 20 por ciento más de riesgo para la demencia y la depresión por sí sola se vinculó con un riesgo un 83 por ciento mayor, mientras que la depresión y la diabetes tipo 2 se relacionó con un 117 por ciento más de riesgo. El riesgo para la demencia parecía ser aún mayor entre los participantes del estudio menores de 65 años.

"En vista de la carga social cada vez mayor de enfermedades crónicas, se necesita más investigación para aclarar los mecanismos fisiopatológicos que se vinculan a la depresión, DM [diabetes mellitus tipo 2] y los resultados adversos como la demencia y desarrollar intervenciones dirigidas a prevenir estas temidas complicaciones", concluye el estudio.

 Palabra(s) clave: depresiónpacientes diabéticosdemencia

Viral Virtuosos

New understanding of noncoding RNAs may solve a long-standing puzzle about how viruses orchestrate lifelong infections.

By Christopher S. Sullivan

When it comes to viruses, those that transiently infect their hosts and cause the most damage get a lot of attention. Hollywood makes movies about Ebola, or about fictional viruses that resemble souped-up versions of the 1918 pandemic flu. Another viral world—one much closer to home—rarely enters the collective consciousness: the human virome.

A diverse, abundant, and underappreciated viral community exists on and within us, from our skin to our eyes, blood, brain, and other organs—even within our own genomes.1 Unlike marauding Ebola-like viruses, these viruses establish a balanced coexistence that can persist for a host’s entire lifetime. This coexistence involves careful control of the viral life cycle: whereas Ebola virus infection is flashy, persistent infection is elegant. (See illustration.)

Among other challenges, persistent viruses must effectively subvert the host immune response. To accomplish this, these viruses control both the timing and amount of viral replication. Such nuanced infectious cycles involve carefully choreographed viral gene expression that can foster completely different lifestyles depending on host cell type, cell-signaling events, or other factors. One important class of regulators that helps to mediate these lifestyle switches is the noncoding regulatory RNAs (ncRNAs), which today stand at the center of an ongoing mini-revolution in our understanding of gene-expression control.

Previously thought of as a simple decoder of genetic information—serving as an intermediate between DNA and protein—RNA is now known to engage in a bevy of other important biochemical activities. Despite differences in ncRNA sequence, size, and function, a theme is emerging: diverse biological processes rely on ncRNAs to balance the timing and magnitude of gene expression.2 In eukaryotes, microRNAs (miRNAs) represent the best-characterized ncRNAs. About 22 nucleotides in length, these small RNAs bind to and repress target messenger RNA (mRNA) transcripts, allowing for fine-tuning of gene expression. The human genome encodes hundreds of different miRNAs to regulate numerous biological functions, and recent research is revealing how the viruses of the human body use these miRNAs, as well as their own, to establish and maintain long-term persistent infections.

MicroRNAs can be thought of as tools that viruses use to manipulate key aspects of our biology and immune response in order to hitchhike with us throughout our evolutionary history.

Persistent viruses may play roles both in defending their hosts—they have been speculated to “tune” our immune response, priming it to better combat more harmful microbes—and in directly causing serious disease in humans. This double-edged sword of viral persistence makes the phenomenon all the more important to understand. Elucidating how miRNAs and other ncRNAs function could spawn new therapies, while yielding insights about the evolutionary forces that dictate parasitism, mutualism, and other multiorganismal relationships.

Stealth tools

MiRNAs function as components of a widely conserved set of eukaryotic gene-silencing machinery involved in the process of RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi occurs when RNA of a particular structure is processed into a smaller RNA molecule that directs sequence-specific silencing of gene expression. (See “Molecular Snipers,” The Scientist, September 2014.) While the interaction of any single miRNA with a target frequently results in only subtle modulation of gene expression, a single miRNA can regulate hundreds of different target mRNAs. Conversely, multiple miRNAs can regulate a single transcript. The sum of numerous miRNA-target interactions can have profound effects.

In most eukaryotes, RNAi defends the host against mobile genetic elements such as endogenous transposons, and in some organisms, such as plants and insects, against viruses. In these organisms, foreign viral RNA is recognized and destroyed by a series of host machineries. Whether or not RNAi also serves as a meaningful antiviral response in mammals remains a controversial and unresolved issue.3,4 What is clear, however, is that multicellular eukaryotes, including mammals, generate endogenous miRNAs that enter the RNAi machinery to silence specific mRNAs, thus providing an additional layer of control for gene expression.

Over the last decade, my lab and several others have uncovered virus-encoded miRNAs from diverse viruses.5,6 This provides an interesting twist—host machinery that serves as an antiviral response in many organisms has been usurped by viruses for their own benefit. By binding to and silencing viral transcripts, for example, or by targeting host genes important for viral gene expression, viral miRNAs can optimize the location and timing of virus replication to fly under the radar of the host immune response. Some viruses also utilize miRNAs to directly regulate host defenses. Herpesviruses use viral miRNAs to block cell suicide,7 for example, while retroviruses and anelloviruses, a family of small single-stranded DNA viruses, rely on viral miRNAs to block the signaling activity of secreted antiviral cytokines.8,9 Meanwhile, members of the herpesvirus and adenovirus families use viral miRNAs and other types of ncRNAs, respectively, to block components of the innate immune response.5,10

One advantage of miRNAs as mediators of gene expression is their tiny genomic footprint. Since virus genome size is constrained by the requirement to fit within the protein shell, or capsid, miRNAs afford the virus the ability to regulate numerous genes with minimal genomic burden. Additionally, the immune response of jawed vertebrates is especially adept at detecting foreign proteinaceous cues of pathogen infection but not foreign miRNAs, so viral miRNA is largely invisible to the adaptive immune system. This allows the virus to regulate viral and host gene expression without alerting the host immune response to its presence. Thus, miRNAs and other ncRNAs can be thought of as tools that viruses use to manipulate key aspects of our biology and immune response in order to hitchhike with us throughout our evolutionary history.

SHORT- VERSUS LONG-TERM INFECTION: While many viruses simply infect, replicate, lyse cells, and spread, others take up long-term residence in their host, sometimes living within the organism’s cells for a lifetime. This type of infection, known as persistent infection, requires a delicate balance of viral processes to avoid alerting the host immune system to the viruses’ presence.
See full infographic: JPG | PDF

The enemy within

The list of viruses that encode miRNAs and other ncRNAs includes members of the herpesvirus, polyomavirus, anellovirus, adenovirus, and retrovirus families. (See "Striking a Balance.") These viruses possess diverse physical structures and genome chemistries. Despite those differences, the viruses invariably share the ability to take up long-term residence in a host.

Although the majority of such persistent viral infections are subclinical, serious disease can arise. For example, in patients who are immunosuppressed due to HIV-AIDS or on a regimen of immunosuppressive drug therapies, persistent viruses can result in life-threatening disease, including cancer, neurological defects, organ-transplant rejection, birth defects, and encephalitis. Additionally, more benign conditions such as cold sores, genital lesions, respiratory illness, and eye infections are associated with persistent viral infections in immunocompetent hosts.

In addition to the immune status of the host, regulation of viral gene expression can influence whether persistent viruses cause illness. These disease states can be viewed as conditions resulting from a disturbance to viral homeostasis, the maintenance of balanced gene expression for long-term virus production and fitness. Elucidating the role of ncRNAs, both of viral and host origin, has created considerable excitement, in part for their likely importance in understanding persistent infection and associated pathologies. For example, recent work in the herpesvirus family implicates both host and viral miRNAs in controlling the cues and signaling pathways involved in induction of lytic infection (high virus productive state resulting in cell death), and therefore, also in the diseases associated with lytic infection, such as cold sores or Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The coexistence of virus and host involves careful control of the viral life cycle: whereas Ebola virus infection is flashy, persistent infection is elegant.

Avian influenza virus, type A strain H5N1 | © NIBSC/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/CORBIS

Ebola virus | CDC/FREDERICK A. MURPHY

In their latent, or “cryptic,” state, some herpesviruses express only viral ncRNAs, while they can express hundreds of proteins when they switch to a productive state. During latency, miRNAs filter transcriptional noise, likely dampening the frequency of virus production and preventing expression of immunostimulatory antigens. When the host cell is no longer a safe haven—as a result of coinfection with other pathogens or physical stressors, for example—viruses will often initiate reproduction. Robust production of pro-lytic transcription factors by both the virus and its host overrides the inhibitory miRNA activity, resulting in a cascade of gene expression culminating in new virus production and eventual cell death. In addition, the fact that host and viral miRNA activity can be globally decreased by stress and other signaling events such as pathogen coinfection may allow viruses to utilize ncRNAs as a “barometer” of the optimal conditions for the switch from persistent to productive infection.11 Although best documented in the herpesviruses, such phenomena likely occur in other types of persistent viruses, especially the polyomaviruses, whose miRNAs have been shown to directly inhibit viral lytic gene expression.

Some viruses do not encode their own ncRNAs, but rather take advantage of those produced by their host. Papillomaviruses, causative agents of several different human cancers, take up long-term residence and have atypical life cycles that require differentiation of host cells for viral reproduction. Specifically, papillomaviruses express less viral protein in the inner skin cells of the dermal layer, where adaptive immune surveillance is greater, than they express in the more differentiated outer cells of the epidermis. Such a life cycle presumably requires tight regulation of viral gene expression, yet to date, no papillomavirus miRNAs have been identified. At least one type of papillomavirus, the cervical cancer–associated HPV31, solves this problem by taking advantage of a host miRNA whose expression levels inversely correlate with skin differentiation status.12 By maintaining a docking site for this host miRNA, HPV31 derives all the advantages of a viral-encoded miRNA without the burden of encoding an miRNA gene in its own genome.

Viral microRNAs can optimize the location and timing of virus replication to fly under the radar of the host immune response.

Although there are only a few reported examples of this sort, undoubtedly other papillomaviruses and other types of persistent viruses use a similar strategy. Even some herpesviruses that encode their own miRNAs have evolved to also take advantage of host miRNAs to optimize viral gene expression.13,14 These findings illustrate the ability of viruses to repurpose host machinery and underscore the utility of miRNAs for balancing gene expression during persistent infections.

Making use of ncRNAs

In addition to increasing our understanding of virus biology and associated pathogenesis, studying ncRNAs offers other insights. Because many viruses use ncRNAs to evade host defenses, these small molecules represent a valuable set of probes for uncovering key components of the antiviral response. Additionally, by engineering unnatural miRNA docking sites into viruses, researchers are able to generate viruses and viral vectors that better target specific tissues or species. This has the potential to improve the safety of gene therapies, vaccines, and cancer-fighting oncolytic viruses, and has even been proposed as a way to reduce the chances of harmful viruses escaping from laboratories.15 Because some ncRNAs have unique properties that make them useful biomarkers, viral ncRNAs may also be valuable for early detection of virus-associated disease.

As our appreciation of bacterial microbiota grows, a logical next step is to determine how the human virome contributes to health and disease. In the future, holistic examination of the full spectrum of viral diversity, not just of the viruses that make us ill, may be factored into medical decisions. For example, an increase in the levels of a benign persistent virus was recently suggested as a useful indicator for monitoring therapeutic immune suppression.16 Additionally, beneficially altering host viral communities, so-called provirotics, could conceivably contribute to improved human health. Advancing this exciting notion will require enormous effort to catalog and exploit the human virome and to decipher the contributions of the humble but elegant persistent viruses—and the ncRNAs that regulate them.

Christopher S. Sullivan is an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

 STRIKING A BALANCE An important part of maintaining a persistent infection is the regulation of viral gene expression. A number of common mammalian viruses have been found to use noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs), such as microRNAs (miRNAs), to keep gene expression at an appropriate level so as not to be recognized and cleared by the host immune system, while still maintaining a viral genome able to produce new infectious virus.Herpesviruses: Causative agents of cold sores, genital lesions, and cancers, these large viruses have the best-defined alternative gene-expression programs associated with cryptic latent infection or productive lytic infection. These viruses use miRNAs to regulate viral gene expression and to block cell suicide and components of the innate immune response. In addition, some herpesviruses encode other types of ncRNAs, which are generally less well understood than the miRNAs, but appear to play an important role in regulating gene expression. Polyomaviruses: Like the herpesviruses, these viruses can establish long-term infections, and phylogenetically distant polyomaviruses have been identified that encode miRNAs, all with the ability to regulate viral gene expression. Polyomaviruses are associated with serious diseases such as cancer and rare forms of dementia, partly as a result of misregulated viral gene expression.Anelloviruses: One of the most abundant viruses infecting humans, with some 104 genome copies per milliliter of blood, anelloviruses are masters of living peacefully in the body, causing no known diseases. Many of these viruses encode their own miRNA, which can help them evade a host cytokine-mediated antiviral defense.Adenoviruses: Common respiratory pathogens, adenoviruses can, in some contexts, also establish persistent infection. Adenoviruses encode ncRNAs called virus-associated (VA) RNAs that directly bind to and block host antiviral defense proteins. VA RNAs can also be processed further into the smaller miRNAs, although the functional relevance of these viral miRNAs remains unknown.Retroviruses: Retroviruses are atypical in that they integrate into the host genome as part of their infectious cycle, enabling them to persist for long periods of time. Although no human retroviruses are widely accepted to encode their own miRNAs, it is likely that human retroviruses use host miRNAs to regulate viral gene expression. In addition, some nonhuman primate and bovine retroviruses encode abundant miRNAs that regulate host genes that control cell growth and immune functions.© LUCY READING-IKKANDAPapillomaviruses: Papillomaviruses are persistent viruses associated with warts and cancer. To date, no papillomaviral miRNAs have been described. However, the cancer-associated human papillomavirus 31 uses a host miRNA to regulate viral gene expression.

References

1. H. W. Virgin, “The virome in mammalian physiology and disease,” Cell, 157: 142-50, 2014.
2. M. S. Ebert, P. A. Sharp, “Roles for microRNAs in conferring robustness to biological processes,” Cell, 149:515-24, 2012.
3. B. R. Cullen et al., “Is RNA interference a physiologically relevant innate antiviral immune response in mammals?” Cell Host Microbe, 14:374-78, 2013.
4. J. M. Pare, C. S. Sullivan, “Distinct antiviral responses in pluripotent versus differentiated cells,”PLOS Pathog, 10:e1003865, 2014.
5. A. Grundhoff, C. S. Sullivan, “Virus-encoded microRNAs,” Virology, 411:325-43, 2011.
6. S. Pfeffer et al., “Identification of virus-encoded microRNAs,” Science, 304:734-36, 2004.
7. E. Y. Choy et al., “An Epstein-Barr virus-encoded microRNA targets PUMA to promote host cell survival,” J Exp Med, 205:2551-60, 2008.
8. R. P. Kincaid et al., “A human torque teno virus encodes a microRNA that inhibits interferon signaling,” PLOS Pathog, 9:e1003818, 2013.
9. R. P. Kincaid et al., “Noncanonical microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis gives rise to retroviral mimics of lymphoproliferative and immunosuppressive host miRNAs,” MBio, 5:e00074-14, 2014.
10. R. P. Kincaid, C. S. Sullivan, “Virus-encoded microRNAs: An overview and a look to the future,” PLOS Pathog, 8:e1003018, 2012.
11. J. E. Cox, C. S. Sullivan, “Balance and stealth: The role of noncoding RNAs in the regulation of virus gene expression,” Annu Rev Virol, 1:89-109, 2014.
12. V. Gunasekharan, L. A. Laimins, “Human papillomaviruses modulate microRNA 145 expression to directly control genome amplification,” J Virol, 87:6037-43, 2013.
13. C. M. O’Connor et al., “Host microRNA regulation of human cytomegalovirus immediate early protein translation promotes viral latency,” J Virol, 88:5524-32, 2014.
14. D. Pan et al., “A neuron-specific host microRNA targets herpes simplex virus-1 ICP0 expression and promotes latency,” Cell Host Microbe, 15:446-56, 2014.
15. R. A. Langlois et al., “MicroRNA-based strategy to mitigate the risk of gain-of-function influenza studies,” Nat Biotechnol, 31:844-47, 2013.
16. I. De Vlaminck et al., “Temporal response of the human virome to immunosuppression and antiviral therapy,” Cell, 155:1178-87, 2013.
 Palabra(s) clave: Viral Virtuosos

Virtual assistants are the testbeds for tomorrow’s personal robots

Virtual assistants are setting the bar for the kind of user experience people will expect from the social robots of tomorrow.

At the Apple party earlier this month, at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, CEO Tim Cook and other key execs took to the stage to announce their next-generation product offerings. Apple’s been setting trends in user interface (UI) and technical design for over two decades now and its latest products didn’t disappoint: Siri already inhabits our iPhones and responds to voice commands, but now she will soon be embedded in Apple’s TV remotes too, so that users can change channels, find weather forecasts and get sports scores simply asking for them.

Siri demonstrates just how far we’ve come from the early days of interfacing with computers, databases and other information systems. Whereas systems used to be able only to respond to constrained queries, such as a Google search, Siri is now intelligent enough to respond appropriately to fairly detailed, human-like, requests, such as “Show me the Modern Family episode with Edward Norton” or “Skip ahead seven minutes.” She can even respond to questions such as: “What did he say?” Siri will simply skip back 15 seconds to the previous line the actor said. It’s an innovative new interface for controlling TV and a host of other media, and it’s likely to change how we interface with computing even more significantly than the introduction of the GUI (which, if we remember, Apple also had a hand in rolling out).

In addition to Siri, there’s a swarm of other software robots descending from the clouds: Google’s Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, Nuance’s Nina, and the Amazon Echo, which plays music, reads books and can buy stuff listed on their site. All of them keep track of what you like, when, and are able to draw massive amounts of data from both your voice (gender, age, region and other vectors) as well as the words you use. Baidu announced Duer in the first week of September with the intention of providing a voice interface for the home and internet of things (IoT) services and healthcare support. The company also  plans to integrate it into self-driving cars.

And recently Facebook’s M was touted as a concierge service available through its messaging app. This is a smart play, as Facebook is manning the assistant with a crowd of  employees (called M trainers) to simultaneously answer requests and train the system to improve responses. It seems a short step for Facebook to place ads in M (much as they do in site content today), but the real revenue stream will be in collecting user data. For the time being, as with Baidu’s Duer, Facebook’s M is not voice-driven, but uses text as a feature within the Messenger app.

Our mobile devices are becoming natural language interface hubs for life management and, as a result, having a gravitational pull on an increasingly complex buzz of connected services and APIs.

There are many others: Samsung’s S Voice, LG’s VoiceMate, BlackBerry’s Assistant, Sirius, HTC’s Hidi, Silvia and Braina, to name a few.

We can also foretell the future by looking at less advanced natural language systems. Bots – essentially natural language oriented scripts – are a good indicator of where the robotics industry is at because bots are pervasive, useful, and simple to author. TwitterBots and FacebookBots crawl through these systems like bees in a hive, industriously providing retweets, reposts, summaries, aggregations, starting fights and flocking to followers. They can be bought, auctioned, sold, and deleted; you can buy 30,000 Twitter followers on eBay for as little as for $20, provided they’re all bots. Several years ago Facebook estimated that around five percent of all accounts are bogus – this would put the number of Facebook fakes at around 50 million – while other, now-antique estimates range as high as 27 percent (that’s about 200 million trash-trawling bots). They’re relevant because emergent technology arrives from the fringe. According to Gartner’s 2015 Hype Cycle chart, Intelligent Virtual Assistants still have a ways to go before they get good enough to go mainstream (likely, 5-10 years). But also according Gartner, roughly 38% of American consumers have recently used virtual assistant services. They predict that, by the end of 2016, around two-thirds of consumers will be using them daily. Other sources forecast that the global Virtual Assistant market will grow at a CAGR of 39.3% between 2015-2018, and the total market is projected to climb to more than$2.1bn by 2019. These numbers cluster around the trends in natural language interfaces.

These trends show no sign of altering their flight path. Our mobile devices are becoming natural language interface hubs for life management and, as a result, having a gravitational pull on an increasingly complex buzz of connected services and APIs. This means that things like search will change: we will no longer have to speak Googlese; paper and page metaphors will be supplanted by the more dynamic (and cognitively more addictive) character metaphor. And if trends in virtual assistants and intelligent helpers – software robots – continue, then knowledge-bases (such as Wolfram Alpha or IBM Watson) will continue to come peppered with a patina of natural language, allowing us to move through data faster, with less training, and in a more human manner.

This is the trend in software robots, and it is headed towards hardware, too.

Hardware is the new software

Software robots show us what hardware robots will be expected to do in the near future. First, natural language is the de-facto interface for a range of functions from social robotics to customer service and personal healthcare companions – not only because it increases the quantity of data collected, but also because it decreases the cost of collecting it. Not only because it replaces people, but because it amplifies them.

That said, the natural language interface, or voice UI, is only one of many that robots will be expected to provide. Virtual assistants can now perform a range of functions based on the online services that are commonly integrated. Since these services can now be integrated into any connected system, we can put together a laundry list of what hardware robots will be expected to do:

• Understand voice input (respond to commands, answer questions, etc.)
• Offer personal assistance (schedule appointments, set reminders, check stocks, etc.)
• Provide mobility assistance (give directions, predict traffic, find parking, etc.)
• Interface with connected devices (TVs, garage doors, lights, surveillance cameras, etc.)
• Allow you to buy stuff (and keep track of what you’ve already bought)
• Interface with social media (send photos, read tweets, etc.)
• Detect mood (read emotions, body language, save state, etc.)
• Build predictive models (track user behavior, save user state, etc.)

Robotics will increasingly adopt a voice UI, akin to what we see in today’s personal assistants, because task completion is simpler, faster, and more effective, menus go away and personality (the UX of NLP) is a lot of fun. These software robots are testbeds and proving grounds for what users expect from tomorrow’s hardware robots; they set a bar for user experience. Personal assistants, like their distant cousins from a hardware lineage, will soon be smart enough to reply to other robots that call us on the phone, and we will want to equip our Jibo, Nest or Alitalia system with it’s own resident assistant that will answer the phone when the robot from the cable company calls.

Whether you happen to be Siri or the gal working for customer service at the cable company, your job, your life, your car and your family is being invaded by the swarms of personal assistants changing tomorrow’s robotics industry today. We have a choice: either we design hardware robots as assistants and companions (to help us accomplish tasks and keep us company), or we design them like bots (to mull the garbage, aggregate the trash, and harass one another).

The future, it seems, contains both.

Mark Stephen Meadows  is President of BOTanic, a company that provides natural language interfaces for conversational avatars, robots, IoT appliances, and connected systems... read more

 Palabra(s) clave: Virtual assistants

Virtual reality: The emotion amplifier

By Patrick O’Luanaigh, nDreams

If you have used a virtual reality (VR) headset recently, you’ll understand the sense of presence that a combination of great software and hardware can make you feel. The feeling evoked – that you have been teleported to another world – is due to the fact that you’re not on the sofa looking at the world through a 40-inch rectangular window – you’re actually in the world. This major shift from 'viewer' to 'actor' brings with it many powerful advantages, along with and several new areas of responsibility.

Good VR acts like an emotion amplifier. This amplification is most easily demonstrated with horror – try playing a horror game in VR and it can be scarier (by an order of magnitude) than on a TV. Rather than empathising with a character who is being chased by a poltergeist, you are that character.

Rather than looking at a first-person view on a 2D monitor, safely surrounded by the real world, your first-person view is in 3D all around you, and you can no longer see the safety net of the real world. Plus, you have 3D audio all around you rather than 2D stereo speakers - it’s a very powerful combination.

Horror may be the easiest emotion to elicit, but there are a tonne of other emotions that can be amplified in the same way – for example, happiness, sadness, awe, curiosity, pride and even emotional attachments to other characters. All these are likely to be much stronger when executed well in VR. Moreover, this ability to create strong emotions also makes VR ideal for education and learning.
With the new power that we have as VR designers to create stronger emotions comes increased responsibility. Fears are a particularly important area to understand, as they can be much more apparent in VR than in traditional gaming. Furthermore, whilst fear can be a good thing if you’re making a horror game (which is clearly sold on that basis), it is something that generally should be avoided. If new players feel uncomfortable in VR, they are not likely to want to return.

Probably the worst scenario as a game designer is that players experience something in your VR game that freaks them out so badly, they rip the headset off and refuse to put it back on again. Moreover, because VR is an emotion amplifier, all sorts of negative emotions and fears can become apparent that even the player may not have known about before. Do you suffer from a fear of giant creatures over 30 foot tall? I suspect you don’t even know yet.

Fears are a particularly important area to understand, as they can be much more apparent in VR than in traditional gaming.

I ought to mention in passing Jed Ashworth, Sony’s senior game designer on Morpheus, who has been doing a lot of work in this area, and is a huge advocate for responsible design. Jed’s passion is making sure that players have fantastic VR experiences – and making sure that developers understand the responsibilities of VR design. Conversations with Jed have provided me with the impetus to look into this area more closely.
So what kind of negative emotions are likely to be the biggest issues? They are likely to match the most common phobias in the real world, which are:

1. Arachnophoia (fear of spiders)
2. Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
3. Acrophobia (fear of heights)
4. Agoraphobia (fear of crowded areas)
5. Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
6. Astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning)
7. Claustrophobia (fear of small spaces)
8. Mysophobia (fear of germs/dirt)
9. Aerophobia (fear of flying)
10. Trypophobia (fear of holes)

So what can you do about these in your VR game/experience? First of all, if your game contains anything that you think may freak some players out, you should display this when the game starts – treat your players with respect and let them know in advance. Maybe just a screen saying “This game contains moments of intense horror”, or something like that.
You can also give players a panic button. Find a button/control that can be used to instantly pause the game and take the player to a calmer place – maybe fade to white with some relaxing music to give players a break if they need it. Let players know where this is. Hopefully 90 per cent of players won’t need it, but the remaining ten per cent will be incredibly glad it’s there. Knowing it is there will also make their experience much more comfortable.

If your game contains anything that you think may freak some players out, you should display this when the game starts – treat your players with respect and let them know in advance.

You can also look at allowing players to skip sections of the game if they aren’t comfortable; or to brighten the level up; or to replace all the enemy characters with teddy bears for the rest of the current level (assuming the player isn’t arcotophobic!)
I understand that some of this advice sounds extreme. For many VR games, it will be unnecessary. Nevertheless, it’s important to realise the responsibilities of VR development and the effect of emotion amplification on players. Above all, make sure you user-test your game heavily (something you should be doing regardless, naturally!). Good user testing across a range of demographics should help identify any moments in your VR game that might need attention.
And finally, don’t forget that emotion amplification is an incredibly exciting thing. I’ve focused mainly on the negative side because it is something that game designers need to understand. But there are huge positives, and I’m looking forward to VR games which make me laugh, cry and maybe even feel love (amorous or otherwise) for another character.
In VR, anything is possible…

[nDreams is a UK developer that focuses on virtual worlds and virtual reality. You can find out more about the studio at www.ndreams.com]

Image credit: Until Dawn by Supermassive Games

 Palabra(s) clave: Virtual realityemotion amplifier

Virtual Reality: The time has come

The once-bitten, twice-shy Jack Schofield thought VR was pure hype. Here, he reveals why the virtual revolution could be just months away.

It’s been almost 30 years since Dr Jonathan D Waldern founded a tiny company called W Industries to develop a “virtual-reality” system – which included a head-mounted display (HMD), data gloves, a tracking system, and associated software. I still have vivid memories of trying a prototype. How could I refuse an invitation to experience the future?

Later, in 1993, the company – now called Virtuality – was floated on the London Stock Exchange. Its share value almost doubled on the first day, making Waldern a multimillionaire. By this time, the firm had marketable games such as Dactyl Nightmare, in which you battled a green dinosaur, and Grid Busters, a robot shoot-em-up. If you’re of a certain age, you may have played such games in Sydney’s Intensity, or the Embarcadero in San Francisco, or in similar arcade malls in the USA, England or Japan. If you’d been pre-sold VR by science fiction – such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer – you had to have a go.

But the technology never made it further than those early games. Virtual reality crashed and burned.

Before its time
The basic strategy had seemed sound: consumers would experience VR in malls and arcades, and this would encourage them to buy their own headsets. But the games business failed to deliver. Atari planned to release a Virtuality-based headset to go with its Jaguar games console, but pulled out. Sega promoted its US$200 Sega VR headset for the Mega Drive console at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 1993, but it was never launched. At CES in 1995, Nintendo launched a monochrome VR system called Virtual Boy. It soon wished it hadn’t, though: Virtual Boy flopped, and was cancelled the following year. Virtuality then did deals with Philips and Japan’s Takara to launch a US$299 Scuba headset, which was released in 1997 and apparently sold more than 55,000 units. Impressive for a system with a 320 x 240 resolution, but as an Amazon reviewer noted: “Today, it’s all too clear that Philips totally dropped the ball here and basically released a product that wasn’t ready for prime time.”

Did the first wave of VR arrive before its time? Yes. Is now the time? Maybe. The industry’s hopes are focused on December 2016. Starship’s Paul Hollywood, who has been developing VR and video-game software for decades, told me: “Christmas 2016 is going to be the first VR Christmas. You’ll have the headsets on sale and there’ll be a wave of content.”

Whether there’ll be a second VR Christmas remains to be seen, but billions of dollars are being invested in anticipation, such as the US$2 billion that Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg paid for Oculus VR last year. That’s a chunky sum of cash for a firm that started on Kickstarter and has yet to launch a consumer product, but it reflects VR’s status as the current golden child of technology. Last year, a Sophic Capital report, “Virtual Reality: A Virtual Goldmine for Investors”, suggested the VR market could be worth US$7 billion – US$2.3 billion in hardware and US$4.7 billion in software – by 2018. It also predicted headset sales would grow from 200,000 to “about 39 million over five years”.

Gartner research director Brian Blau has also predicted that “virtual worlds will have transitioned from the fringe to the mainstream” by 2018, and that more than 25 million HMDs will have been sold. This doesn’t include phone-based headsets or non-electronic models such as Google Cardboard. Blau doesn’t expect a rapid take-up because of a shortage of mainstream content, but he does expect that there will be more action in the next 18 months than in the past 18 years.

I confess to a feeling of déjà vu. Today, we have another garage-style startup that has made its founders rich, except it’s called Oculus VR rather than Virtuality. And we still think gamers will kickstart sales of HMDs, only this time our hopes are pinned on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony’s Project Morpheus, rather than console names Nintendo, Sega and Atari.

But there are two important differences this time. The first is that we have almost ubiquitous high-speed communications of the sort that didn’t exist in the dial-up world of the 1990s. Today, we can stream VR data from almost anywhere in the world, rather than getting it on a games cartridge or a CD-ROM. Real-time conferencing, 3D commerce and virtual tourism are real possibilities, even if we no longer want to set up virtual homesteads in Second Life.

The second major difference is that, thanks to more than 30 years of Moore’s law, we now have so much computer power that even a mobile phone can create a good VR experience.

Waldern’s first system was based on the Commodore Amiga, which had sophisticated graphics chips but limited resolution, to say the least: if your eyesight was that bad, you’d be legally blind. Today’s VR systems are a world apart. In terms of games, it’s somewhat like comparing id Software’s original Wolfenstein 3D (1992) with Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014).

There is, of course, another point to this comparison. In August 2013, id co-founder John Carmack, the father of first-person shooters, joined Oculus as chief technology officer. He’s worked on both the Oculus Rift and the related Samsung Gear VR, and to quote VR evangelist Dan Page from Opposable Games: “if John Carmack’s got something to do with it, it’s going to be good. The guy’s a wizard.”

More new systems could appear, but at present it looks like Christmas 2016 will be a straight fight between the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, with Morpheus picking up PS4 users. Oculus VR has Facebook money, but the HTC Vive could get a head start if it launches this year. Ordinary consumers could go for Samsung’s Gear VR as a relatively painless way to explore VR – the catch being that the cheapish headset requires an expensive Samsung phone.

Games and after
Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony Morpheus are all targeted at gamers, because gamers are the most visible market for VR. This is both a blessing and a curse for a technology that wants to take over, or replace, the world. “I expect VR to be huge hit with PC gamers, but that’s a niche,” said Page. “Reaching everyone who owns a high-powered PC isn’t going to be seen by some people as a mainstream success. And there are so many other uses for VR in engineering, medical applications, training, experiential marketing and all sorts of fields.”

It may also be harder than some expect to crack the gaming market. Many games are already interactive and in 3D, so the transition looks easy. “That may be naive,” said Gartner’s Blau. “You’re taking a keyboard and mouse and changing to some other kind of controller, and we don’t even know what that controller is yet. The UI was made for 2D, even though the game worlds are 3D, and that may not make the leap either. If it’s not a good experience, people aren’t going to buy: it doesn’t matter how good the hardware is.”
As Dan Page says, the problem isn’t creating a virtual-reality experience, it’s creating a good virtual-reality experience. That was something Virtuality and others learned in the early 1990s: you can blow people’s socks off with a short demo, but it’s much harder to develop a game they’ll want to play every day.

Unfortunately, even with all the technical improvements, VR still has limitations. One is the feeling of nausea or motion sickness caused by what AMD’s LiquidVR spokesperson calls “motion-to-photon latency”. This is caused by a delay between you moving your head and the scene updating. You may also feel disorientated if the scene changes rapidly but you haven’t moved your body. “A roller-coaster simulation can make you feel terrible because you’re sitting still,” said Starship’s Hollywood. “You need something like a cockpit to give you a reference point so you can have movement going on around you.”

These are the sorts of things VR game developers have to worry about: they don’t want to make too many people sick.

A wider audience
Developers in other areas are hoping gamers will popularise VR, and thus make headsets widely available. For example, Plextek Consulting’s Collette Johnson is working on a medical training system which has specified Oculus Rift for training soldiers on a virtual battlefield. “The gamers will drive [adoption],” she said. “We want them to drive it, because they’ll buy big numbers and normalise VR for a wider market.”

Hugo Pickford-Wardle, chief innovation officer at Matter, takes a similar view. He sees gamers as early adopters of cutting-edge technologies. When they buy headsets, “it makes VR available to the rest of the family, where people can use it as a Skype alternative or for shopping in a virtual mall,” he said. “It’s almost a trojan horse.”

In the short term, the Samsung Gear VR may turn out to be an effective trojan horse. “You can take it down to the pub, pass it around and show very high-resolution, very low-latency VR to people without having to lug a big PC around,” said Opposable Games’ Dan Page. “The 360-degree movie content is a really easy way to show people just how special VR can be.”

First class VR
Samsung is certainly trying to bring Gear VR experiences to a wider (and more upmarket) audience. For example, in a three-month trial with Qantas, Samsung is providing headsets in First Class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne airports and “in the First Class cabins on select A380 services”. Passengers will be able to watch movies on the headsets, and enjoy “VR experiences”. Expect more companies to try this sort of thing while it has PR value.

Samsung also used Gear VR headsets at the World Economic Forum in Davos to show “more than 130 global leaders and dignitaries” a UN-backed film directed by Chris Milk about a 12-year-old girl living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Milk showed clips from the film in a TED talk titled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine”. In that, he said: “We’re just [starting] to scratch the surface of the true power of virtual reality. It’s not a video-game peripheral. It connects humans to humans in a way I’ve never seen before.” You can view the talk here.

Milk fan Simon Sparks, co-founder of immersive video producers Yoovi, thinks that 360-degree VR movies could become really popular “because they can take you somewhere you never thought possible”, whether that’s on stage at a concert, the bottom of the ocean or the surface of the moon. “They’re filmed with rigs covered in GoPro cameras – they seem to be the weapon of choice – then stitched together,” he said. (On 28 April, GoPro bought Kolor, a French company whose software allows users to stitch together photos or videos to create immersive views.)

But as an AMD spokesperson reminded us, capturing an immersive audiovisual experience is just the start. To achieve “full presence” in another environment, we also need “touch and other stimuli such as temperature, kinaesthetic sense and balance”. But since VR headsets have yet to take off, it may be too soon to start thinking about VR body suits.

This Feature appeared in the August 2015 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

 Palabra(s) clave: Virtual Reality

Virtual Workplaces Will Liberate Talent, Dissolve Borders, and Rewrite the Source Code of Innovation

Innovation is the currency of the modern world. Naturally, we want to figure out how innovation happens and how to get more of it. The current recipe is to gather smart, passionate people together in a city, add a dash (or mound) of investor capital, and let the magic happen.

Why cities? Ideas thrive when they’re easily exchanged, combined, discarded, and built upon. If ideas live in people, then people need to be near one another to most efficiently swap ideas. Population is densest in cities, so in theory, ideas and innovation should be too.

This has produced incredible results. But it’s not without drawbacks and limitations.

Innovation hubs, like San Francisco, face rising rents, social unrest, and declining diversity as lower-income professionals flee to more affordable locales. Further, borders and immigration restrictions prevent talented people from traveling between countries, and therefore the cities that drive the information economy.

There’s a common thread here: The past few centuries (even millennia) have been about making the most of physical space to let innovation thrive. But we may be reaching physical and political limits. Thriving cities force tough trade-offs, and immigration policies won’t change overnight. Solving these problems could dramatically increase the global rate of innovation by letting the top people work on the most important problems, no matter where they live.

The digital workplace faces none of these problems. Space is unlimited. Physical location is less relevant. Traveling between areas takes seconds. Political borders are blurred. No passports or visas are needed. If it’s proximity ideas want, then this century’s equivalent of the city is online.

To date, however, we’ve been unable to replicate the intangible (yet obvious) value of face-to-face interaction. This is a prime hurdle to bringing work online—but it’s about to come down.

The Virtual Reality Office

The dream of a fully distributed team has been around for a long time, and many companies are successfully running remote teams today. Without fail, though, these teams have a common list of complaints. In distributed offices, it’s harder to get employees to maintain focus, and company culture inevitably takes a hit. Worst of all, it’s difficult to replicate the spontaneous interactions that are so critical to empowering high-performance teams.

Even with modern communication tools like Slack and Skype, we aren’t making distributed teams as socially and intellectually expressive as those in traditional offices. With all of the advances in communications technology in recent decades, at the end of the day, most great ideas come from a group of people working together in a room.

There’s nothing else that even comes close.

At least there wasn’t, until now. The virtual reality revolution is in the early stages of providing us with the tools necessary to create global collaborative networks that combine the flexibility of remote work with the traditional benefits of a real-life office.

So why is virtual reality different? After all, we can email, IM, or video chat with our coworkers from anywhere today. Has anything really changed?

It all boils down to one concept: presence.

Presence is what happens when your brain is convinced on a subconscious level that the virtual scene you are inhabiting is real. Presence is an extremely powerful sensation, and understanding presence is the key to understanding the current hype behind virtual reality.

With social presence, you really feel like you are in the same room as the other person. With social presence, you can finally communicate across distances with the ease and clarity of face-to-face communication.Nonverbal communication, gestures, and subtle facial expressions are all critical to communication but have been difficult to express digitally. With social presence, we can make digital communication as natural as the real world.

So how much is the power of social presence worth? At least \$2 billion, according to Mark Zuckerberg, who bought Oculus to help ensure that Facebook is competitive on the leading social platform of the future.

By harnessing the power of social presence, we’ll soon be able to create virtual reality offices and spaces where people can meet, talk, work, and debate just like they were together in real life. The ephemeral barriers to communication that exist for teleworking will melt into the background, and we’ll be able to seamlessly communicate with one another.

That’s only the beginning—it really gets exciting once we start incorporating elements such as 3D data visualization and digital simulations into our offices.

If virtual reality can nail social presence, we’ll open up the global talent pool, and what happens next may be as world-shaking as when humans settled in early cities.

The Global Talent Pool

“The main lesson … is that innovation is usually a group effort, involving collaboration between visionaries and engineers, and that creativity comes from drawing on many sources. Only in storybooks do inventions come like a thunderbolt, or a lightbulb popping out of the head of a lone individual in a basement or garret or garage.”—Walter Isaacson, The Innovators

As our world dives headfirst into a world of constant innovation and technological disruption, it is impossible to overstate the power of small, driven teams. Software is eating the world, and start-ups are building the best, most innovative software. Relatively small teams with big-time software, like Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook, are rewriting the source code of our daily lives.

We now live in a world where a team running on two pizzas can challenge a Fortune 500 company for market dominance.

A great paradox of the modern world is that while we can communicate better than ever before across great distances, the top teams are placing increasing importance on personal interaction. Simple transactional work can be done easily over email or videoconferencing, but true collaboration still requires getting a group of innovative thinkers together in a room.

And what’s more, the best companies and organizations all want to be in the same place, which is why companies are flocking to San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, DC. These innovation centers are crucial to the modern economy. It’s not an overstatement to say the modern technological revolution wouldn’t have happened without them.

But there’s a huge problem.

No matter how many smart and talented people you gather together in any particular place, you won’t have the vast majority of top performers there. That means that every company in the world is being massively hamstrung by not having access to the global talent pool. While we’re starting to unlock this problem with the “gig economy” and sites like Elance, coordination with remote team members can prove more difficult than the task that’s being worked on.

Now imagine that there’s a way to eliminate the physical distance between everyone in the world. A programmer from London, a graphic designer from Shanghai, and a user-experience engineer from Mexico City get ready for work and find themselves in the same office without having to commute. We would see an absolute explosion in innovation and productivity as the best people from around the world could form teams without regard for distance.

The virtual reality office will make the entire world one large innovation hub with no boundaries or spatial limitations.

Rewriting the Innovation Source Code

Our current innovation and managerial framework is a technology like any other, and it is about to be disrupted. And just in time. In many ways we’ve innovated ourselves into a corner: industrialization has caused global warming, biotech terrorism presents a new and chilling threat, and of course, the information economy promotes excessive gentrification and immigration stresses.

Perhaps soon we will be holding VR interviews with anonymized avatars, to prevent unconscious bias while hiring. Or we will create international war rooms to fight the next infectious disease outbreak. At the very least we’ll be wasting less time sitting in traffic.

The virtual reality office is not the silver bullet to solve all of these global issues, but it does offer us a new and unique opportunity to create tools in the fight for a greener, safer, and more equitable world. It not only can help us iron out the flaws in our current system, but can allow us to create new organizations that move at lightning speed due to their access to the global talent network.

The Internet brought us a new breed of organization that can harness digital tools to allow a small team to make extraordinary impacts on the world. With the rise of the virtual reality office, we could see another breakthrough on the same scale. Let’s make it happen.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Jason Ganz

• Jason Ganz is the CEO of Agora VR, a company dedicated to spreading big ideas in virtual reality. He's a tech optimist and startup junky who is thrilled to be living in the most exciting time in human history.You can get in touch with him at @jasnonaz and follow his work @agoraVR.

RELATED TOPICS:

 Palabra(s) clave: FUTURE OF VIRTUAL REALITYFUTURE OF WORKINNOVATIONMARK ZUCKERBERGOCULUSREMOTE WORKERSSKYPESLACKSOCIAL VRTHE INNOVATORSUSER INTERFACESVIRTUAL REALITYWALTER ISAACSON

Un parapléjico ya puede volver a caminar gracias a un trasplante celular

ABC.es

La técnica pionera se basa en el empleo de las células envolventes del bulbo olfatorio que fueron trasplantadas en la médula espinal del paciente

Un hombre de nacionalidad búlgara que estaba paralizado de pecho hacia abajo debido a una agresión ya puede volver a caminar con ayuda después de recibir tratamiento pionero. La técnica, que se describe en la revista «Cell Transplantation», se basa en el empleo de las células envolventes de bulbo olfatorio que fueron trasplantadas en la médula espinal del paciente para fabricar así «puente de nervios» entre las dos secciones de la columna vertebral dañada.

Desde hace tiempo se especula con que el trasplante de células envolventes de bulbo olfatorio (OECs), un tipo de célula que da soporte a las neuronas dentro del sistema olfativo, con capacidad de regenerarse y relativamente fáciles de obtener, podría mejorar la función neurológica de pacientes con parálisis, sin causar efectos secundarios significativos.

Pero por fin parece que la investigación ha dado un paso de gigante. «Creemos que este procedimiento es el paso que, a medida que se desarrolle en profundidad, dará lugar a un cambio histórico en el panorama actual para las personas discapacitadas por lesiones en la médula espinal que apenas tienen opciones de volver a caminar actualmente», subraya Geoffrey Raisman, profesor de la University College de Londres (Gran Bretaña), quien dirigió la investigación.

Darek Fidyka, de 38 años de edad, quedó paralizado tras sufrir heridas de arma blanca en la espalda en 2010. Tras 19 meses de tratamiento ha recuperado un poco de movimiento voluntario y alguna sensación en sus piernas. De hecho, Darek ha mejorado tanto que ya es capaz de conducir y vivir de manera más independiente. Además, ha recuperado las sensaciones de parte de la vejiga y del intestino y la función sexual.

Puente de nervios

El equipo de Raisman ha trabajado en colaboración con los cirujanos en el Hospital de la Universidad de Wroclaw (Polonia). En concreto, los cirujanos extrajeron uno de los bulbos olfatorios de Darek, responsables del sentido del olfato. Después de cultivar las células, y transcurridas dos semanas, trasplantaron las células envolventes de bulbo olfatorio y los fibroblastos nerviosos olfativos (ONF) en el área dañada. En concreto aplicaron cerca de 100 micro-inyecciones de OEC por encima y debajo de la lesión.

Los científicos creen que las células envolventes de bulbo olfatorio proporcionan una vía que permite que las fibras nerviosas crezcan, tanto por encima como por debajo de la lesión, vuelvan a conectar las conexiones nerviosas. Además, el hecho de emplear las propias células del paciente significa que no había peligro de rechazo, así que no hay necesidad de fármacos inmunosupresores utilizados en los trasplantes convencionales.

Junto con las células envolventes de bulbo olfatorio, los fibroblastos nerviosos olfativos se los responsables de conformar haces de fibras nerviosas que van desde la mucosa nasal hasta el bulbo olfatorio, donde se encuentra el sentido del olfato. Explican los investigadores que cuando las fibras nerviosas que llevan olfato se dañan, son reemplazadas por nuevas fibras nerviosas que vuelen a entrar en los bulbos olfatorios.

Raisman y su equipo creen que las células envolventes de bulbo olfatorio ayudan a este proceso al reabrir la superficie del bulbo para entren las nuevas fibras nerviosas y, de esta forma, gracias al trasplante de las células envolventes de bulbo olfatorio en la médula espinal dañada, hacer que las fibras nerviosas cortadas vuelvan a crecer. «Parece que ambos tipos de células, OECO y ONF, trabajan juntas, pero el mecanismo de su interacción todavía no está confuso», señala en un comunicado.