Medicine and Psychedelics

As mental health continues to decline, what will happen when medicine and virtual worlds come together in the Metaverse? The world is becoming more connected as cryptocurrency, blockchain, nonfungible token projects, the Metaverse and other online communities gain popularity.

However, we’re also seeing rates of depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness skyrocket. This development is certainly not causal, but it is something to consider as younger generations become more involved in virtual spaces. The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a national mental health crisis. Mental Health America reported that 47.1 million people in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition..

Would you consider logging onto your computer to meet with your cryptographically certified doctor or therapist? How about receiving a prescription delivered to your door? Many young people actually feel more comfortable in a virtual setting, surrounded by peers and represented by their chosen avatar.

So how does this dream become reality? It all starts with innovation and nature. Researchers and doctors have been exploring the medicinal world of fungi and their power to heal and regenerate. Fungi have been core to this planet’s wellbeing for billions of years, and we’re just beginning to understand the psychoactive effects that certain fungi have on the human psyche.

President Richard Nixon put a halt to all research on psychedelics in 1970 when he deemed renowned psychologist and writer Timothy Leary the most dangerous man in America. He began the war on drugs and convinced society that these psychoactively medicinal fungi were the devil’s work. Scientific research into the benefits of psychedelics was set back twenty years before researchers could start back up and resume their studies. Now, psychedelics are making headlines, and the efficacy of the treatments is showing possibly the best results known to science.

Through psychedelic therapies, such as those being professionally performed in research being conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics, the Center for Psychedelic Medicine in NYU Langone’s Department of Psychiatry, the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, and other institutions, patients are learning how to process their trauma instead of suppressing it. With minimal doses of psychedelic medicine, recovery rates trend upwards and patients continue to get better on their own.



AI Makes Gigantic Leap And Heralds A Revolution In Biology

An artificial intelligence (AI) network developed by Google AI offshoot DeepMind has made a gargantuan leap in solving one of biology’s grandest challengesdetermining a protein’s 3D shape from its amino-acid sequence.

DeepMind’s program, called AlphaFold, outperformed around 100 other teams in a biennial protein-structure prediction challenge called CASP, short for Critical Assessment of Structure Prediction. The results were announced on 30 November, at the start of the conference — held virtually this year — that takes stock of the exercise.

A protein’s function is determined by its 3D shape

This is a big deal,” says John Moult, a computational biologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, who co-founded CASP in 1994 to improve computational methods for accurately predicting protein structures. “In some sense the problem is solved.

The ability to accurately predict protein structures from their amino-acid sequence would be a huge boon to life sciences and medicine. It would vastly accelerate efforts to understand the building blocks of cells and enable quicker and more advanced drug discovery.

AlphaFold came top of the table at the last CASP — in 2018, the first year that London-based DeepMind participated. But, this year, the outfit’s deep-learning network was head-and-shoulders above other teams and, say scientists, performed so mind-bogglingly well that it could herald a revolution in biology.

It’s a game changer,” says Andrei Lupas, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, who assessed the performance of different teams in CASP. AlphaFold has already helped him find the structure of a protein that has vexed his lab for a decade, and he expects it will alter how he works and the questions he tackles. “This will change medicine. It will change research. It will change bioengineering. It will change everything,” Lupas adds.


How To Shrink Objects To The Nanoscale

MIT researchers have invented a way to fabricate nanoscale 3-D objects of nearly any shape. They can also pattern the objects with a variety of useful materials, including metals, quantum dots, and DNA.

MIT engineers have devised a way to create 3-D nanoscale objects by patterning a larger structure with a laser and then shrinking it. This image shows a complex structure prior to shrinking.

It’s a way of putting nearly any kind of material into a 3-D pattern with nanoscale precision,” says Edward Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology and an associate professor of biological engineering and of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. Using the new technique, the researchers can create any shape and structure they want by patterning a polymer scaffold with a laser. After attaching other useful materials to the scaffold, they shrink it, generating structures one thousandth the volume of the original.

These tiny structures could have applications in many fields, from optics to medicine to robotics, the researchers say. The technique uses equipment that many biology and materials science labs already have, making it widely accessible for researchers who want to try it. Boyden, who is also a member of MIT’s Media Lab, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, is one of the senior authors of the paper, which appears in the Dec. 13 issue of Science. The other senior author is Adam Marblestone, a Media Lab research affiliate, and the paper’s lead authors are graduate students Daniel Oran and Samuel Rodriques.

As they did for expansion microscopy, the researchers used a very absorbent material made of polyacrylate, commonly found in diapers, as the scaffold for their nanofabrication process. The scaffold is bathed in a solution that contains molecules of fluorescein, which attach to the scaffold when they are activated by laser light.

Using two-photon microscopy, which allows for precise targeting of points deep within a structure, the researchers attach fluorescein molecules to specific locations within the gel. The fluorescein molecules act as anchors that can bind to other types of molecules that the researchers add.

You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors,” Boyden says. “It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle.” “It’s a bit like film photography — a latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light. Then, you can develop that latent image into a real image by attaching another material, silver, afterwards. In this way implosion fabrication can create all sorts of structures, including gradients, unconnected structures, and multimaterial patterns,” Oran explains.