Disability News Weekly Roundup – Monday, January 19 – Friday, January 23

Study finds postsecondary programs boost outcomes (Disability Scoop)
A new study suggests that individuals with intellectual disabilities who attend postsecondary programs are finding greater success in the job market than those who do not pursue further education. For the study, researchers interviewed administrators and surveyed 34 graduates from two postsecondary programs, one providing supports to enable students to participate in typical college classes and the other one offering a specialized program for students with disabilities. Roughly 9 in 10 of those who graduated from a postsecondary program reported that they had been employed in the past two years, compared with slightly half in a group who did not seek additional education after high school.

Treatment restores sociability in autism mouse model (Science Daily)
Researchers at UCLA have treated mice with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with the neuropeptide oxytocin, a molecule used by neurons to communicate with each other, and have found that it restores normal social behavior. The findings also suggest that giving oxytocin as early as possible in the animal’s life leads to more lasting effects in adults and adolescents. Because the mice with ASD share similar symptoms and behaviors with people on the autism spectrum, the study results may lead to a promising way to test new therapies that may one day help people with autism.

Brain study explores gift of perfect pitch (The Hearing Review)
Neuroscientists in Switzerland researching the neuronal basis of perfect pitch have discovered that this rare gift may be due to a functional link between the brain’s auditory cortex and the frontal lobe. According to the scientists, while most people can distinguish between musical notes only in relation to other notes, those who have perfect pitch (estimated as less than one percent of the population) can accurately identify notes without relying on any reference tones. The researchers hope their study leads to the development of training measures that could improve the auditory skills of older adults as well as those with various hearing impairments.

Major discovery on spinal cord injury reveals unknown immune response (Science Daily)
In a discovery that could dramatically affect the treatment of brain and spinal cord injuries, researchers at the University of Virginia have identified a previously unknown, beneficial immune response that occurs after injury to the central nervous system. By harnessing this response, doctors may be able to develop new and better treatments for brain and spinal cord injuries, develop tools to predict how patients will respond to treatment, and better treat degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Mouthpiece could let the deaf “hear” through their tongues (Gizmag)
A group of researchers at Colorado State University have developed a less-costly alternative to cochlear implants. The device is an electric retainer that transmits spoken words to the user by buzzing their tongue. The technology works in a fashion similar to cochlear implants in that it uses a microphone-equipped earpiece to pick up sounds which are then converted into electrical signals. Those signals are then converted by Bluetooth to the device, which the user holds in his or her mouth. When the tongue is pressed up against the device, a series of electrodes in it respond to the received signals by selectively stimulating nerves in different parts of the tongue.

Portable stimulator being tested on Parkinson’s patients (Science Daily)
Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden have shown that noisy electric stimulation of the balance organs can be used to change the activity in the brain, thereby balancing the effects of dopamine shortage, an effect of Parkinson’s disease, resulting in improved motor skills and balance. While initially tested on rats, the researchers have now tested the same method on ten Swedish Parkinson’s patients. The scientists reported that the effect on balance was particularly apparent when the patients were non-medicated. In a follow-up study, the researchers will now have the patients wear a stimulator that is small enough to carried in a pocket.

Microsoft researchers get wrapped up in smart scarf (MIT Technology Review)
Microsoft researchers have created a scarf that can be commanded to heat up and vibrate via a smartphone app, part of an exploration of how the accessory could eventually work with emerging biometric- and emotion-sensing devices. It could, perhaps, soothe you if a sensor on your body determines you are distressed, a function that could be particularly useful for people who have disorders such as autism and have trouble managing their feelings. The researchers chose a scarf in part because it can be a discreet way to house technology.

Care-O-bot gets an upgrade, now flirtier and available with optional second arm (Gizmag)
The Fraunhofer Institute has released an update to Care-O-bot, the affordable service robot designed to work as a mobile personal and medical assistant. Care-O-bot 4 consists of six independent and configurable modules, from the rolling base that can work by itself as an autonomous transportation unit, to either one of two robotic arms with seven degrees of freedom, an embedded laser pointer, and cameras that measure real-time distance from the robot’s surroundings. Care-O-bot 4 can also detect the current mood in its surroundings and respond by communicating the appropriate emotions, as facial expressions, through a touchscreen. The article includes a video demonstrating the robot.

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