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Posts tagged “neuroengineering

The slow progress

It’s been a very long day, but somehow not a lot got done. Ever have one of those days? The kind where you’re working from sunup to sundown and somehow nothing got accomplished. I guess there was forward progress, but it feels too slow and right now, I really can’t afford to go slow. If I’m lucky, tomorrow will be better, if not, well then I’m not sure.

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Big idea progress!

This is a little late, but for the past few weeks I’ve been taking my time working on some of the “big idea” dataset we collected a while ago. The first of many, I hope. There’s been a lot of work, but it doesn’t feel like much because it’s all behind the scenes stuff. Kind of like you can build a home, but until it’s finished it never really looks more complete. Well at the beginning of the week I finally had some answers, while there are still a lot of questions, so far so good.

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Effects of transcutaneous spinal stimulation on spatiotemporal cortical activation patterns

The list of clusters of activation we found in the brain due to transcutaneous spinal stimulation (TSS)

It’s official! My latest paper, what I’ve been calling “last paper” is now typeset and I can share my fancy videos better. I’m excited that this is finally here and since I gave a good overview of the paper (here) today I’ll discuss a bit more about why this paper was important and why the dataset was such a pain, both of those I had to shorten due to the length of the post.

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Effects of transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation on the brain

Experimental setup (explained in detail below)

Transcutaneous spinal stimulation (TSS) is a relatively new approach to neuromodulation. We can activate networks in the spinal cord by injecting a small amount of current through the skin, which evokes a response in the muscles (muscle contraction). Depending on the person the electrical stimulus (the zappy time) feels either like a massage or it can be uncomfortable, not exactly painful, just not something you would go out of your way for. But the spinal cord is a two way street, so what does TSS do in the brain?

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A big result

night scene showing young boy with a little moon in his hands sitting on meadow done digitally
night scene showing young boy with a little moon in his hands sitting on meadow done digitally

I’m stepping away from my planned sharing of the notes from my lecture to bring breaking news! For those who don’t understand what’s going on, a while ago I had an idea, a “big idea” that I’m convinced will be the thing I’m known for… if it works. And our first attempt was not great. In fact, we got absolutely nothing. The second and third attempts however we were ready and it looked like we had something. The question is what did we have?

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The next big experiment

Well things are moving fast around here, like I predicted they would this year. Of course, things are currently going better than I had hoped, but that could change. Last week was a busy one and next week will be no different, but next week is a particularly big week, because I’m going to be doing another experiment for a somewhat different project. Yep, another “big idea” experiment is coming.

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The first dissertation experiment

One of my favorite photos I took years ago of my labmate gelling a participant for an experiment. The syringe holds a conductive gel, the needle is blunt tip so it doesn’t hurt or puncture the skin. The gel bridges the air gap between the scalp and cap because hair gets in the way.

It had to happen eventually! But not today, this Friday however will mark the first of several experiments I will be undertaking in the (currently) slow march to my PhD. In an effort to help people understand that experiments aren’t just something that happens at the scheduled time, let’s take a look behind the scenes at what I need to do between now and Friday to get ready. It’s going to be a looong week.

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The return of last paper

If you love something set it free, if it comes back it was meant to be. What a bunch of garbage. Well maybe just in this case. I’ve slowly gotten out from under the weight of not one, but four different first author journal papers I’ve been working on. Three of the four are published (with one going live any day now… I think?! That should’ve happened a week ago…), but one paper, last paper, has been a struggle all its own and now it’s back with a vengeance.

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An ounce of preparation

What a week. It’s only Wednesday and it feels like it’s just never going to end. There are three major events coming up this week, meaning I will be working this weekend unfortunately, but at least I made it through the day. Tomorrow will be a major event for me, dare I say bigger than my proposal defense just two days away.

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The return of big idea

I had hoped to discuss robot paper today, but something more exciting has happened so today we’re talking about the “big idea’ I had a while back. It feels like it’s been forever since I had the idea, but things were moving slowly lately so we’ve had to wait. I’m happy to say the wait is finally over! If all goes well, by the end of the week I’ll have the first dataset from big idea and I am very excited!

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The proposal defense date

Single business person untangling giant rope

Okay not going to lie I had a minor freakout the past few days. One of my committee members wasn’t responding to my emails so I could not schedule my proposal defense. Last night out of the blue, reality smacked me in the face and it occurred to me that next week was the first week I was trying to schedule and time was running out. People are busy and I didn’t want any of the PI’s to have a conflict. But it all worked out…

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New and old projects

It’s finally my chance to put my own spin on the stuff coming out of the hospital lab and I’m incredibly excited about what is coming. Unfortunately I can’t talk about it! However, I’m hopeful that this year will be an excellent year for me with regards to the research I’m doing. Things are slowly falling into place and while we’re still at the beginning, things are looking bright.

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Dissertation proposal prep

Well I’ve done it, sort of. I’ve submitted my revised proposal to school-PI and I’m hoping to hear back soon regarding his feedback. In the meantime I’m going to have to start working on the sides for my proposal. I think this is an important step, so today I’m going to discuss the dissertation proposal and what goes into it. Because somehow I can’t find a post where I talked about this… oops.

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Committing to the story

For the past few days I’ve been talking about telling a story with your data. Because at the end of the day as a researcher that’s what we do. We do an experiment and, assuming it goes well, we have a story to tell about the result we found and what it means to the people reading the paper. Ideally any good story will have great visuals to add to the story and to help the reader. Which is where I’m still stuck…

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On the shoulders of giants

Tomorrow I’m doing something for the first time, ever. I got an email yesterday with the good news and while we don’t have all the equipment we need for the project, we can still get some good data and an early look at what the data will look like. I’m so excited I’m shaking, I barely slept last night, and my mind is swimming with the possibilities. This is what it’s like doing research on the edge.

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The PhD dissertation proposal

Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person
Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person

Well we’ve finally arrived, for real this time, to my proposal timeframe. There are a lot of things that need to happen between now and when I defend my proposal, but thankfully most of those things are started or almost finished. The one thing that isn’t started… well that would be my actual proposal. Be not afraid! I’m going to have the draft done today, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

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Back in the OR!

Well we finally got approval to head back to the OR. We were having some issues with our sample size, as in we hit the max for our protocol, but after a little bit of work we’re going back! The good news is that this doesn’t just affect the project I’m working on, this means I can move forward with the other project I’ve been dying to start.

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Return of the “technique”

splatter color brain
splatter color brain

With all the excitement around here with the progress made towards making “big idea” a reality, you may think that I’ve forgotten about other projects and things I’m working on. That isn’t the case and I have other exciting updates regarding something I’ve been calling my “super secret technique” not the most descriptive name, but that’s sort of the point. It’s not “big idea,” but is sure isn’t a tiny idea either.

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The big pitch

Today was the day we pitched a proposal to two of the doctors that can help make my “big idea” a reality. It did not go anything like I planned, some of what happened was funny, some of it was horrific, but mostly it went how it needed to go. Things never go as you plan them, but this was just completely off the rails.

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A big meeting

Well I’m excited, tired but excited. It’s been a long week and that is partly because I have a meeting tomorrow to discuss a project that will be a big help in my PhD, but also a really cool project in general. We also have a second big meeting next week with some guests coming to see the research side of the hospital, so yeah busy!

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Old student, new tricks

With a little luck, I’m a year away from graduating. It’s been one hell of a journey and I really hope I hit this goal. Still, I keep thinking what’s next and the truth is the future looks a lot like the present. It’s not just because I’m now working at a research hospital, that helps, but what I mean is that the difference between being a student and being a researcher isn’t all that different. You have to learn new skills.

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The IRB response

That was fast. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything back from the IRB so quickly, but here we are and I have a bit of work to do. Technically we didn’t get the IRB reviewed yet, it’s only been “pre-reviewed,” but pre-review helps speed things up when the IRB meet next (in about a month) to look over the application. Since we were asked to make some modifications, this should help bring our IRB application up to standard before the IRB actually review it.

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Real-time seizure state tracking

Since I shared one of the papers I was super proud of, I figure I can share the other one as well. Like the last paper (here) I’ll explain the concept and why this paper was important. I’ll also talk about why I think it was cool and where the idea came from. Mostly this post is for people who are interested in the work, but may not be familiar with the technical aspects so I’ll try to avoid technical terms or I will provide an explanation when needed.

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OR experiments, the aftermath

The good news is we have data! Lots of data, more data than you could shake a stick at, although I don’t know why you would shake a stick at anything… That’s beside the point(ed stick) though! Yesterday was not one, but two OR experiments and I have to say surgeon-PI must be in way better shape than he appears because both hospital-PI and I are exhausted!

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Fun with collaborators!

So much has been going on that I can’t even keep up with it. I was debating about what news to share, but I think we’ll talk about something I’ve had in the works for awhile now. Actually I just checked my email exchanges, this has been in the works for over a year and today we finally crossed the threshold from hypothetical to real world data collection!

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Another OR experiment… maybe

I got a random email yesterday from hospital-PI that I didn’t understand and I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on, but it looks like experiment number five may be happening as early as Monday! It will be an early morning and a long day, but it will be worth it, assuming it happens. Like everything in my life at the moment, we’re not 100% sure that we will be able to attend.

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The BIG result

Art by: Rebecca Wright

Today I had my meeting with school-PI and I have to say it went both better and worse than I was hoping for. The good news is I’m still a member of his lab and he seemed surprisingly okay with me switching projects for my dissertation, not that the project would change much, just the funding source. Of course that doesn’t mean it was all sunshine and rainbows, because that would be too easy.

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The BIG meeting

I am a simple man. I keep my life as simple as possible because some days I can barely get out of bed. Breakfast and lunch have been the same things for years and I’m okay with that, in fact dare I say, I look forward to it? I keep my hair cut short so I don’t have to even think about it and besides the things I need like money to live, I don’t go out of my way to complicate things. Aside from my education and the things related, I have very little that I NEED to do, so I can focus on surviving the day. It’s a good system.

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The last experiment

Goodbyes are hard, even if you don’t really know someone outside of work. Today we’re saying goodbye to a few of our participants as they finish one of our longer experiments. It feels like only yesterday, but it’s been several months now so it’s time to wrap things up. The good news is this will create a bit of an opening in my routine, but that’s probably going to be filled in pretty quickly.

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DIY Research

When I say arts and crafts projects, I really do mean there is art involved.

Working in a big fancy hospital research lab means I get access to all sorts of very expensive, very cool equipment that I wouldn’t be able to use normally. Things that I take great pains not to break because, well… it’s not cheap. If we need something, we order it and the process is surprisingly fast considering the amount of paperwork that goes into placing an order. However, on occasion there are no ready pieces of equipment that I can just use for an experiment or we don’t know that the big expensive piece of equipment that we’re looking at is the thing we actually need. So what other options do we have? Spoiler, it’s arts and crafts time.

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The confusing road to my dissertation

I’m very lost at the moment about what the next step would be in my degree. I mean I know what the next step is, my dissertation proposal, the problem is that there’s now a rather large wrench thrown into the mix and I’m not sure what to do. Honestly it would be so much easier to just give up on my degree and go work like I’m doing now, it really would, but after three full years in the program and a decade of schooling to get to that point, I don’t want to stop short. Which means once again I’m faced with an impossible choice and no matter what I decide I feel like someone is going to get hurt.

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Smile for the camera

Today is photo day! What is photo day you may ask? Well it’s the day we take pictures. Okay, probably a little brief, today is the day that we’re meeting with the lab and school public relations team to release a joint statement about our new award. It’s the first award for our new collaborator (surgical-PI, who I still need to find a better pseudonym for) since he just started his new lab at the hospital at the beginning of the year. While it’s not a major award (dollar amount), we tend to celebrate these things anyway, so we’re taking pictures together, surgical-PI is getting a tour of the school lab, and we’re going to get interviewed about the details of the project.

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Outreach while recovering (or why I should stop volunteering for stuff)

Basically what I look like at the moment… you know, give or take.

I got bullied into it. Okay, maybe I felt guilty. I don’t know! Whatever the reason a few weeks ago my school-PI emailed several of us asking if we would be willing to do a virtual outreach event today. Somehow, despite just having surgery, I am the one doing it. Since this blog is just as much for me as it is for all of you, this is a cautionary tail and a reminder to myself to just say no sometimes.

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Third paper updates

Yes, we’re switching focus from my mental health to other things today. Mostly because I feel like I’m just repeating myself in different ways, so instead we can talk about the forward progress I’ve made in my writings. This will be journal paper number three and if my Co-PI is right, we’ll be submitting it early next week!

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The week ahead

There’s a lot happening this week, it SHOULD be the last week I’m technically jobless. Right now I’m not getting paid by anyone, not by the school, not by the hospital, basically I’m living off the last paycheck I got at the beginning of the month and the next one may not be here until close to the end of next month. If something happens and my start date gets pushed back, well that would mean that I would have no money for anything. That would be bad.

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The transition to clinical research

Today should be interesting… it’s my onboarding appointment, which is one of the last steps I need to complete to be hired at the hospital. There’s a lot going on in life at the moment, some of which is personal so I won’t be sharing that here, but let’s just say everything has been incredibly stressful. Oh and since I need to get the appointment done this week if I want to start on time, this was the last day I can get it done.

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PhD proposal prep

Well I’ve finally made it to the next milestone in my PhD. I’m now at the point where I can do my proposal defense. It shouldn’t be too bad, but there’s a lot involved between now and then that needs to happen including coming to some sort of an agreement between my two PI’s about what exactly the project will consist of. Since I had no idea what getting a PhD entailed when I started, I’m assuming at least some of you have no idea what’s going on so let’s go over how we got here and what I’m getting ready to do.

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Success! Journal paper 1 of 4

Psst, hey you! I got good news! I’ve officially had my first journal paper accepted for publication! I’m literally crying I’m so happy right now. My inbox has been flooded by emails from my collaborators congratulating everyone on this. It’s been a long, hard, and often painful journey, but I’ve finally, FINALLY, gotten something finished once and for all. Since this is the end of the story, let’s tell it from the beginning, one last time, so you know how we got here.

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The plastic spinal cord

Amazing spinal cord slice artwork by Greg Dunn

You can’t teach an old spinal cord new tricks, or something like that. Up until recently (like the last ten or fifteen years), we had thought that the spinal cord was a fixed thing. It was the information highway of the body and its primary role was to receive, sort, and send information from the brain to the body and vice versa. That’s (thankfully) not the case. The truth, or at least something closer to the truth, is that the spinal cord is a lot like the brain. It can learn, think, and even act independently of the brain.

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The art in science

One of the easiest ways to turn even the most advanced scientific paper into something accessible is through carefully crafted figure design. Figures are a way to tell a story, but to also capture the readers imagination. The difference between a scientific figure and a drawing from a story is really just the difference in the information you are conveying. However, as is the case with most things in the world, a “good” figure is in the eye of the beholder.

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Non-invasive study of the brain

Art by the incredible Greg Dunn (I REALLY!!! wish I could afford his work!)

Non-invasive research is difficult, especially when you’re working with something as complicated as the brain. Imagine being at a pro sports game outside the stadium and trying to figure out what’s going on inside just by listening. I’m constantly in awe that we can record activity from the brain without breaking the skin, it’s like magic. However, it’s still difficult and not without controversy.

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Controlled chaos

Life has been pretty messy lately. Not just because of the pandemic, but that is definitely not helping anything right now. I’ve got papers due, I’m making a job change, and the wildest part is that my Co-PI may be leaving so I’m not even sure the job I’m changing to will still be there after the end of the year. That doesn’t include the outside factors, car issues, home issues, health issues. Those are all there too, but mostly right now I’m concerned about work related stuff and I realized that for the past few months it’s just been controlled chaos.

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An unfortunate typoo

Yes, the title was on purpose. No, I’m not thrilled at the moment. Sometimes you just need things to go smoothly, but life has other plans and yesterday I hit one hell of a stumbling block. The good news is I’ve caught it, but the bad news is there is now about 104833423x more work for me to do to fix the issue. No matter how careful you are, something is always going to get missed, yesterday was just a reminder that you can miss things even when you’re paying close attention. I may go as far as to say, especially when you’re paying close attention.

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The hunt for knowledge

Sometimes science is like digital archeology. Thanks to the internet I have the sum of our collective knowledge at the tips of my fingers. I just need to ask the right question and I can find the answer. Unfortunately, the right question isn’t always the question you come up with. The right question may not be worded the exact way you think it should. The right question may not even be the right question at all, it’s just the first in a long list of questions you need to work through. In a digital world, we’re still stuck looking for ways to get the answers to questions the system may not understand. I’m on a hunt and so far I’ve been fairly lucky.

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The complexity of biology

Why couldn’t things be simple? Maybe you would take a measurement and have the correct value every time. Or you would perform an experiment and get the same result no matter what. The human body is an amazing feat of engineering by evolution. It’s layer upon layer of stuff that all work together to do the thing that needs to happen. The fact that it works at all is amazing, it’s like throwing a bunch of computers into a room, shaking it, and out comes a fully working robot that’s more advanced than anything you’ve seen.

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The big presentation

It has been a day friends. Yesterday I got an email from my main-PI asking me about a funding proposal I’ve been working on and when I responded I asked if we were having our lab meeting this week since the last two have been cancelled. He said yes and he mentioned that today would be the day I presented the work I’ve been doing with my project. Thankfully I was ready for it, but it was pretty stressful and there are some changes that need to be made. Overall the lab seemed pretty impressed by the presentation and the work I’ve been doing.

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The value of planning your code

It’s no secret I need to write code, a lot of code. A mind numbingly large amount of code. Researching in a brain-machine interface lab is more about programming than it is about scifi brain hacking or anything the latest techno-thriller movies would have you believe. Anyone can do it, but it takes a certain amount of practice and a whole heck of a lot of time. Over time your skills develop and things get to be easier, but it’s not a linear progression (is anything really?) so things can be frustrating. These days planning saves me tons of time and effort, so today I want to pass that bit of knowledge on to you.

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Sometimes the progress is slow

Today has been incredibly busy, but incredibly frustrating. So far next to nothing has been accomplished towards the work I have to do, but I did help a few people out and we discovered some interesting issues with some software the lab uses. Okay not issues exactly, it just doesn’t work the way we thought it did. In any case, there has been a lot of running around and doing things, just nothing productive for myself. Some days are like that though, hopefully I will have better luck tomorrow or maybe even later tonight.

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More competing projects

Were does the time go?! I have no time left to get my projects done and yet there’s still a lot that needs to happen. Today is one of my semi-famous lists of stuff I need to get done in an outrageously short amount of time. Didn’t we just do this a month or so ago? I think so, but here we are counting down yet again to the newest set of deadlines and as with all my deadlines they clumped together and fall at what amounts to the same time. Don’t believe me? Well let’s take a closer look.

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A unique figure design

Over the past few weeks I’ve been hard a work making a new visualization for some of the data I’d recently processed. This again is for the project I won an award for (here), and while I’m not trying to brag, I’m super proud of how it came together. It was the first time I tried to do something like this and not only did my main-PI give me his approval it sounds like a lot of people from the lab were impressed with this as well. Unfortunately, I can’t quite give away what I did or how I did it, but I can share some of this.

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