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Defining the ‘senses’

An Internet search for ‘senses’ reveals that the current biophysical benchmark consists of five senses: touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. This basic group of five is sometimes extended to include balance, temperature and proprioception. However this traditional biophysical model has been challenged and extended and today there is really no absolute definition!

It is widely accepted that the earliest systematic consideration of the nature of the senses is found in Aristotle’s De Anima, Book II, ch. 7-11. This text might be described as a type of rumination on the constituent factors of the soul of various living entities in combination with an early concept of biology and, in the case of humans, intellect. Descartes subsequently challenged the notion of relying on personal senses to validate human perceptions, whilst successive thinkers have subsequently destabilised Descartes dualistic outlook,  preferring to use the term ‘vital force’, rater than soul.

The notion of the ‘vital force’ was central to my doctoral thesis research into concepts of ‘humanness’ and experimental links to the nineteenth century developments in galvanics. In particular, the development of electricity led to the invention of machines that could supposedly define the human body and all its component parts.

the kymograph was on such scientific machine developed to measure electrical impulses

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Australian Institute for Innovative Materials(AIIM)

This week included something outside the Dottori lab when Mirella and I visited the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials  (AIIM) at the Innovation Campus: https://www.uow.edu.au/research-and-innovation/our-research/research-institutes-and-facilities/australian-institute-for-innovative-materials/about-us/

This exciting opportunity all began with a chance meeting between myself and the Executive Director: Professor Will Price, which involved a conversation about the possibilities of incorporating 3D components into my future artworks. Will subsequently set up an exploratory visit to the 3D workshop with the Associate Dean of Research (AIIM), Professor Peter Innis.

Equipped with high end machines of various types this facility is arguably the most advanced of its kind in Australia.

A large printer in action

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Incucyte Technology

During my laboratory orientation at the very beginning of this project Linda Deitch made a point of drawing our attention to the two new Incucyte machines. These high-end machines are capable of real-time live-cell imaging and analysis inside the laboratory incubator. This means there is no need to open the incubator door & remove cells to check on their development. Once the Incucyte has been programmed, the images of the changing cultures are transmitted directly to the computer for analysis.

Image from the early part of the Incucyte sequence: image captured by Sara Miellet.
11 hours later in the Incucyte sequence: image captured by Sara Miellet

These images reveal the sensory neurons developing in the ‘plate’, they are not imaged as 3D organoids in this instance.

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An Alternative Outcome to Sensory Neurons….

The Dottori laboratory not only cultures sensory neurons but also cortical neurons, that provide models for Alzheimers and Dementia research. The images below show 4 crucial stages in the process when culturing stem cells to generate cortical neurons:

The first stage on the production of cortical neurons

The beginning of this process involves the isolation of pluripotent  stem cells and their cultivation in the laboratory incubator.

These cells during the neural induction stage

 

Continue reading An Alternative Outcome to Sensory Neurons….

neurons and messaging

My distant memories of school biology lessons were revived when Mirella drew an impromptu diagram  of basics of neuronal functioning in our body. This impromptu sketch helped her to explain to me that neurons communicate via chemical and electrical synapses, in a process known as synaptic transmission. They are thus categorised as electrically excitable cells housed in the human nervous system, whose function it is to process and transmit information.

Mirella’s spontaneous explanatory diagram of the structure of a neuron

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Thoughts about art and the ‘body machine’

As my laboratory observations and my discussions with Mirella continue my thoughts begin to turn to how I might recontextualise this complex scientific data to create interactive artworks in the future….??

Temporal Intervals, 2003: A quasi-scientific installation I created @ the Brisbane Powerhouse exploring traces & remote Internet data transfer using antiquated scientific equipment (image, John Linkins)
Temporal Intervals, 2003: A quasi-scientific installation I created @ the Brisbane Powerhouse exploring traces & remote Internet data transfer using antiquated scientific equipment (image, John Linkins)

The neuronal responses remind me of my doctoral research project when I became interested in the so called ‘vital force’ possessed by the human body which could be regarded as an internal machine-like power known as ‘animal electricity’. I was particularly interested in the historical development of experiments that sought to identify and even locate this vital force.

This early research depended on the introduction of what were then cutting edge machines in the area of galvanics. Luigi Galvani (1737 – 1798) was an Italian physician, physicist, biologist and philosopher, who is credited with being the first to discover ‘animal electricity’ when he passed an electric current through frog’s legs, causing them to twitch. Initially known as ‘galvanism’, this is a forerunner of the contemporary scientific technique of electrophysiology .

Luigi Galvani - David Ames Wells, The science of common things: a familiar explanation of the first principles of physical science. For schools, families, and young students. Publisher Ivison, Phinney, Blakeman, 1859, 323 pages (page 290)
Luigi Galvani – David Ames Wells, The science of common things: a familiar explanation of the first principles of physical science. For schools, families, and young students. Publisher Ivison, Phinney, Blakeman, 1859, 323 pages (page 290)

Subsequently, Carlo Matteucci (1811-1868) expanded on this research creating a ‘rheoscopic frog’, leading to the discovery,  in approximately 1865, of a nerve’s action potentials by Julius Bernstein and Emil du Bois-Reymond. Currently, bio-electricity continues to be central to neurological experiments and is measured by techniques such as calcium imaging and electrophysiology.

Continue reading Thoughts about art and the ‘body machine’

Continuations

I was able to spend some time with Research Assistant: Sara Miellet, during which she explained more about the processes required to successfully  culture organoids. As mentioned in my last post, organoids are small, three-dimensional structures derived from stem cells. They are useful to researchers because they mimic features of various selected organs in the human body.

Organoid developing, image Sara Miellet, Dottori lab
Organoid developing, image Sara Miellet, Dottori lab

The Dottori laboratory is interested in modelling brain development by generating neural stem cells, derived from human stem cells, in vitro in the form of organoids for research purposes. The cells in an oganoid have been shown to have the remarkable ability to self-organise into complex structures.

The image above shows an example of cellular self-organisation in a developing neuronal organoid. These structures are called neural rosettes because they closely resemble the formation of the neural tube in a developing human embryo. This neural tube subsequently evolves in to the embryonic brain and spinal cord. Continue reading Continuations

Learning about ‘organoids’

The Tissue culture Lab is a designated space where, as the name implies, cells are cultured for distribution to researchers. It contains centrifuges, various types of incubators, microscopes, computers and a fume cupboard, to name but a few of the required items.

Mitchell & I donned our gowns and put on rubber gloves. During this session we frequently disinfected our gloves by spraying with alcohol.  A single virus can wipe out a whole set of cultures so obviously we erred on the side of caution!

Mitchell examines specimens under the microscope
Mitchell examines specimens under the microscope (image Trish Adams)

 

a tray of organoids removed from an incubatorIn this tray of organoid samples, removed briefly from an incubator, you can just see some cream colored circular organoids developing in the top right hand tray. (Image Trish Adams)

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The ‘Dottori lab team’ and their research

Now that the Biosafety requirements have been fulfilled I am able to enter the lab and begin to explore the research going on there.  I attended a weekly meeting where the lab members gave updates on their research projects and immediately realised how much I have to learn!

My main  focus for this Synapse project is the sensory responses of  neurons using specific progenitor cells in the form of 3D in vitro cultured cellular organisms known as ‘organoids’ :

Composite image from the Dottori Lab
(Dottori Lab, ref. Mattei et al, Frontiers in Cell and Dev Bio.)

Bulding a brain in a DishStem cell derived 3D organoids simulate neuronal brain activity (Dottori Lab, ref. Alshawaf et al, 2018, Scientific Reports)

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Why Art and Science and the Spirit of ‘What If’….??!!

For me, entering a new laboratory, with all that entails, once again highlights the shifting relationship between art and science and the motivation driving artists to engage in this field. The question ‘Why Art and Science’ is central to the interdisciplinary debate and my research in this area  is constantly being updated – most recently in relation to my collaboration with Mirella, presented in 2018 at SPECTRA – https://spectra.org.au/ .

Embracing the spirit of ‘what if’, my practical laboratory work frequently involves adopting the role of a ‘human guinea pig’ and experimenting on my own cells – a methodology that contravenes the so-called objectivity of accepted laboratory practices and puts me at the centre of the process. My aim is to  generate empathy between the interactive artwork, derived from the scientific data, and the viewer/participant.

Adams decants her washed and spun adult stem cells for laboratory culture @ 2002, the ‘machina carnis’ project – https://www.trishadams.tv/machina-carnis

Adams decants her washed and spun adult stem cells for culture

Continue reading Why Art and Science and the Spirit of ‘What If’….??!!