This development seems to be incredible (hat tip to John Hawks):
"Scientists partially restored the vision in blinded hamsters by plugging gaps in their injured brains with a synthetic substance that allowed brain cells to reconnect with one another, a new study reports."
"If it can be applied to humans, the microscopic material could one day help restore sensory and motor function to patients suffering from strokes and injuries of the brain or spinal cord. It could also help mend cuts made in the brain during surgery."
"the substance contains nano-sized particles that self-assemble into a fibrous mesh. The mesh mimics the body's natural connective tissue when placed in contact with living cells.
The mesh allows existing neurons whose axons have been severed by injury or stroke to reconnect. Axons are branchlike projections that link neurons to one other, allowing them to communicate. When many axons are bundled together, they form a nerve."
The study is detailed in this week's online version of the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I can't seem to find the link but you can find some MIT details here.
This kind of research indicates the potential that is there for leveraging advanced technologies to enhance the quality of life as well as our capacities during all those extra years that modern medical care systems seem to be making available.
BTW a small, buy one get one for free, extra. Rutledge Ellis-Behnke isn't only interested in restoring sight to the blind, he is also working on a 'hobby': the paperless classroom. In looking for his website I came across this fascinating video link about this material:
This project is the systematic replacement of paper by tablets for the students as well as the replacement of the chalkboard for the professor. We are attempting to understand the limiting factors associated with the use of this technology on a daily basis. To this end we are recording reliability, usability and the increase in learning that is derived from the use of Tablet PC’s. We are also attempting to measure the fundamental shift required to eliminate paper and to create instantaneous access to the information for the students. This will serve to increase the speed of learning.
You can find details of his talk by scrolling down this page. The video is really worth the effort. What he has done is, in effect, a piece of ethnography. The details are fascinating, especially the behavioural changes he finds between the tablet and the laptop.