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Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New Year, New Name: Introducing Microsoft Research Connections

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    Connect and collaborate with the Microsoft Research Connections teamFebruary is a time when many of us seek ways to improve and change for the better while refining elements that already work. The spirit of evolution doesn't have to stop at the individual level, however. I'm pleased to announce that, starting today, our organization will go by a name that better reflects who we are: Microsoft Research Connections.

    While our name is changing, our commitment to our previously established charter remains strong. Microsoft Research Connections is dedicated to supporting those who dream the impossible—inventing a better world one idea at a time. We build partnerships with the world's leading computer scientists and researchers. In the computer science world, we collaborate with the academic community in critical fields that will shape the future of computing-including parallel programming, software engineering, and natural user interfaces.

    Microsoft Research Connections will continue to:

    • Collaborate with and support the inspiring work of the world's top academic researchers and institutions.
    • Establish partnerships and develop technologies that fuel data-intensive scientific research to help solve some of the most urgent global challenges.
    • Extend the Microsoft platform to the academic community so that the scientific community can use it to build and innovate.
    • Provide fellowships, grants, and awards to help foster the next generation of world-class scientists who are critical to the future of scientific discovery.

    We are committed to doing all this and more in the coming year. But now, our name truly reflects who we are, what we do, and where we are going in the future.

    Tony Hey, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Research Connections Division of Microsoft Research

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    Registration Now Open for Microsoft Biology Foundation Workshop

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    Microsoft Biology FoundationWe recently posted a preview of the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF) for development evaluation purposes. Now, we're following up with a special, free, one-day MBF workshop on March 11, 2011, in Redmond, Washington, hosted by the Microsoft Biology Initiative. The workshop includes a quick introduction to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, the Microsoft .NET Framework, C#, and the MBF Object Model. Plus, our hands-on lab will give you the opportunity to write a sample application that employs the file parsers, algorithms, and web connectors in MBF.

    We will also cover some MBF training modules throughout the day, including:

    • Module 1: Introduction to Visual Studio 2010 and C#. This comprehensive introduction to the Microsoft Visual Studio programming environment and Microsoft .NET will teach you how to create a project, how to get started with C#, and how to perform runtime debugging. Also, you will get hands-on lab experience by building applications in Visual Studio 2010.
    • Module 2: Introduction to the Microsoft Biology Foundation. This overview will introduce you to the MBF basics through discussions of its scenarios and architectures and includes a starter project. The starter project is a hands-on lab that will help you get the experience you need to work with sequences, parsers, formatters, and the transcription algorithm that is supplied in MBF.
    • Module 3: Working with Sequences. In this module, you'll learn more about the Sequence data type in MBF, including how to load sequences into memory and save them, the different sequence types available, how to use sequence metadata, and how data virtualization support enables support for large data sets in a hands-on lab setting.
    • Module 4: Parsers and Formatters. In Parsers and Formatters, you'll explore MBF's built-in sequence parsers, formatters, alphabets, and encoders. This module will also introduce the method of expanding MBF with custom alphabets, parsers, and formatters. The hands-on lab will walk you through the steps that are required to build a simple custom parser and formatter for a fabricated biology data format.
    • Module 5: Algorithms. In this module, you will examine the algorithms that are defined in MBF for sequence alignment, multi-sequence alignment, sequence fragment assembly, transcription, translation, and pattern matching against sequences; you'll also learn how to create custom algorithms. The hands-on lab will walk you through the steps that are required to build an application to run algorithms against sequences loaded with MBF and will teach you how to perform sequence alignment, assembly, and transformations.
    • Module 6: Web Services. This module will introduce Microsoft .NET web services, the web service architecture in MBF, the built-in web service support in MBF for BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool), and ClustalW. You will also learn how to call these services asynchronously and will watch a detailed example of how to build custom service wrappers. In the hands-on lab, you'll build an application that executes the BLAST algorithm by using web services against handlers for BLAST, pass sequences and sequence fragments to BLAST, change the BLAST parameters, and display the results from a BLAST run.

    We hope you will join us for this free one-day event. Whether your goal is to get trained on MBF or simply to evaluate MBF and its Microsoft .NET model, you can expect to get a tremendous return on your time investment.

    For complete details about the day, or to register, please see the MBF Workshop website. We look forward to meeting you on March 11 in Redmond.

    —Beatriz Diaz Acosta, Senior Research Program Manager, Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    SenseCam Documents Daily Life for Patients with Memory Loss

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    Human memory is all too fallible. We all misplace items or forget to run an errand occasionally; our memories of specific events can fade with time as well. But severe memory issues can have a devastating impact on quality of life for individuals with clinically diagnosed memory disorders that are related to acquired brain injury (for example, an accident) or neurodegenerative diseases (for example, Alzheimer's disease).

    There is no cure for memory loss. In the past, neuropsychologists had to rely on fairly primitive devices (such as photo albums, diaries, and electronic reminders) to help patients cope with memory conditions. Technology is rapidly evolving, however, and providing new opportunities to help patients.

    SenseCam - a memory-enhancing camera developed by Microsoft Research CambridgeA notable development in the field is the SenseCam, a memory-enhancing camera developed by Microsoft Researchers at the Cambridge campus and subsequently licensed to Vicon. Vicon sells the SenseCam as a medical device, the Vicon Revue, which has been named one of the 100 best innovations of 2010 by Popular Science. The SenseCam uses a wide-angle lens to document the patient's day—including places visited and people seen—creating visual "memories" through pictures. The camera, which is worn around the neck, takes a photograph:

    • Every 30 seconds
    • When movement is detected
    • When a lighting change is detected

    At the end of the day, the patient downloads the images to a computer. These images create visual reminders of events from throughout the day—essentially, they are digital memories. These SenseCam images appear to stimulate the episodic memory of patients who view them. Unlike staged (or posed) photographs, which tend to change the nature of the very moment being captured, SenseCam images are recorded passively, with no conscious effort or intervention. Combined with the relatively large number of images, this seems to have a powerful effect on recall. Numerous patients have benefitted from true autobiographical recall through this technology; typically, a handful of images stimulates the same feelings and emotions the wearer had when they occurred.

    Ultimately, we hope that SenseCam will have the potential to alleviate the onset of Alzheimer's disease in at-risk patients. Multiple studies around the globe, funded by Microsoft External Research, have helped us understand how SenseCam can help patients with a variety of memory-loss conditions. These studies include:

    1. Addenbrookes Hospital and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, United Kingdom
      Researchers at Addenbrookes used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to identify how SenseCam affects neurological activity in different areas of the brain. Participants used SenseCam in their daily lives. Researchers then asked them to answer questions about the images that were captured by SenseCam. By tracking brain activity through fMRI scans, researchers demonstrated that patients were recalling true memories—and not just reciting information from the SenseCam.
    2. Adam Zeman, Professor of Cognitive Neurology, Exeter University, United Kingdom
      Epilepsy is the most common chronic neurological condition; as many as 50 percent of epilepsy patients report significant memory problems. Professor Zeman, a leading cognitive neurology researcher, has tested SenseCam with transient epileptic amnesia (TEA) patients who have reported severe autobiographical memory problems as a result of temporal lobe epilepsy.
    3. Professor Phil Barnard, Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, United Kingdom
      Professor Phil Barnard, internationally renowned in the field of cognition, led a study to determine how SenseCam can help patients with Alzheimer's disease.
    4. Professor Ron Baecker, University of Toronto, and Professor Yaakov Stern, Columbia Medical School, United States
      This joint study evaluated the therapeutic value of SenseCam in patients who are in the early stages of dementia (Alzheimer's disease). It showed that patients' personal well-being, including enjoyment; sense of identity; memory of people, places, and events; and their conversations with family were enhanced through reminiscence by using SenseCam pictures and other imagery.
    5. Professor Roberto Cabeza, Duke University, United States, and Professor Martin Conway, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
      This research study focuses on healthy adults under the age of 30 and above the age of 70. All participants use written diaries, audio recording, and SenseCam to record daily activities. Subsequently, each subject will be stimulated with a selection of these records while they are in an fMRI scanner. The resulting fMRI images will allow researchers to measure the effect that viewing SenseCam image sequences has on participants' neural activity, and to compare these results between different age groups and between different forms of stimulation (for example, image sequences versus audio recordings versus written diaries). The study will reveal any differences between the effectiveness of SenseCam in the young versus older populations. It will also demonstrate whether SenseCam use has the ability to improve cognitive ability in the healthy population.

    The SenseCam was recently featured in TIME magazine and is currently on display at the Science Museum in London. For more information, see the Introduction to SenseCam.

     —Steve Hodges, Principal Hardware Engineer, Microsoft Research, and Kristin Tolle, Director, Natural User Interfaces Team, External Research division of Microsoft Research

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