Unique Brain Surgeries and Electricity from Moss: HSE Scholars Present Their Discoveries at ONF Action Forum
At an exhibition held during the Russian Popular Front (ONF) Action Forum in Moscow, December 18-19, HSE neuro-linguists presented a method to preserve human speech after brain surgeries, and urbanists showcased sources of energy made of ceramics and moss.
Preserving human speech
The HSE Neurolinguistics Laboratory presented its developments that reduce the chances of speech disorders emerging following brain surgery. In brain surgery, the laboratory staff helps surgeons identify functional speech areas in the brain that shouldn’t be removed, as that would harm speech after the surgery.
After the surgeon has carried out a craniotomy under general anesthesia, the patient wakes up, and the neuro-linguist conducts special speech tests on them. At the same time, the surgeon uses electricity to stimulate (‘switch off’) various parts of the brain in turns, and if the patient makes mistakes in the speech task, it means that that area is involved in speech, and the surgeon avoids removing it (the brain doesn’t have nerve endings, so local anesthesia is enough for these operations). Then, the surgery continues, and if the surgeon follows the neuro-linguist’s recommendations, the patient’s speech is preserved.
But not all doctors perform these tests during surgeries. And those who do, often ask the patient to count to 10 or name the days of the week, which is insufficient, since in real life speech is a much more complicated process, and different parts of the brain are responsible for its various aspects, explained Olga Dragoy, head of the laboratory. It’s important not only to develop the test contents properly, taking into account the nuances of the specific surgery involved and the presence, or absence, of any speech disorders in the patient’s medical records, but also to carry out these tests properly. Most of the surgeries that HSE neuro-linguists are involved in are carried out at the Pirogov Centre in Moscow.
Over the last two years, laboratory staff have taken part in about 100 surgeries, and not only in Moscow, but also in other cities such as Novosibirsk and Nizhny Novgorod. They also teach their methods to other doctors. Recently, the laboratory team received a Russian Government grant, and Olga Dragoy received the Golden HSE award in the Achievement in Research category.
The HSE Laboratory for Experimental Urban Design (Shukhov Lab) presented a prototype of vertical greenery for urban façades at the exhibition. The project was developed by Elena Mitrofanova and Ivan Mitrofanov from the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism. Their international partners were biochemists from the University of Cambridge and the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia.
The prototype is a modular system of ceramic containers filled with moss and wire components (the ceramics are digitally manufactured at the laboratory). These modules can be mounted on surfaces of any size. Since moss is a rhizoid (i.e. it has root-like structures), and is able to generate electricity under certain conditions, this green façade can generate power. One module generates about 0.3 – 0.5 volts, so by combining various types of connection, different voltage/current ratios can be achieved.
A temperature and humidity sensor ran using the power generated by a 10-module system at the exhibition. The more elements a system contains, the more powerful it is, and can a lamp, laptop, or, in the future, even a Segway, noted Ivan Mitrofanov, Head of Unit at the HSE Laboratory for Experimental Urban Design.
This development is unique thanks to its environmental friendliness. You can dispose of this ‘green battery’ anywhere, and it poses no risk to the environment. This means that prototypes can be used together with fire detectors – for example they could be distributed by helicopter over forests and if fire breaks out they can transmit an alarm signal by phone.
Plans include trialing the prototype on an urban structure, where moss-generated electricity will power sensors collecting data on the environmental status of that location.
Last year, a team of Advanced Urban Design students from the Graduate School of Urbanism and Strelka Institute embarked on a research expedition to Johannesburg, where they studied problems associated with food security, poverty and inequality.
The HSE Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism has made a documentary on renovation in Paris. In it, government officials, architects and residents of the Paris suburbs discuss social and urban projects changing the city. The film was shown on December 21 at Shukhov Lab.
As part of the HSE April Conference, Olga Dragoy, Head of HSE Neurolinguistics Laboratory, presented some of the cutting-edge methods of preventing speech disorders in Russian-speaking patients with brain pathology, including the first Russian-language intraoperative naming test developed by the laboratory. All test materials and instructions are available for free and can be used in clinical practice.
For the last 70 years, it was largely believed that spatial processing disorders, including those seen in language, occurred when the temporal-parietal-occipital (TPO) junction of the brain’s left hemisphere was damaged. But according to researchers from the HSE Neurolinguistics Laboratory, it is the damages to the axonal fibers connected to this area of the brain that are most important.
Staff members at the HSE Neurolinguistics Laboratory have developed an information booklet for families of people with aphasia - speech disorders caused by brain lesions.
What happens in a person’s head when they hear speech or say something themselves? How does trauma and disease impact a person’s speech capabilities, and can we really help people who have certain medical conditions? Questions like these concern the life of language in the human brain, and this is exactly what researchers in the HSE Neurolinguistics Laboratory are currently studying.
On November 11, the HSE hosted an open lecture by Mayor of Milan Giuliano Pisapia. He talked about the upcoming international exhibition Expo 2015, which will take place in Milan from May-October next year, and about the transformations underway in Milan as an urban environment. He extended an invitation to HSE to take part in Expo Milano 2015, saying that Milan was 'ready to offer a forum for interesting projects' proposed by leading universities.