Subscribe to our newsletter

Shelly Fan

Shelly Xuelai Fan is a neuroscientist-turned-science writer. She completed her PhD in neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where she developed novel treatments for neurodegeneration. While studying biological brains, she became fascinated with AI and all things biotech. Following graduation, she moved to UCSF to study blood-based factors that rejuvenate aged brains. She is the co-founder of Vantastic Media, a media venture that explores science stories through text and video, and runs the award-winning blog NeuroFantastic.com. Her first book, "Will AI Replace Us?" (Thames & Hudson) will be out April 2019.

Follow Shelly:

From This Author


These Scientists Just Completed a 3D ‘Google Earth’ for the Brain

Human brain maps are a dime a dozen these days. Maps that detail neurons in a certain region. Maps that draw out functional connections between those cells. Maps that dive deeper into gene expression....

Towards ‘Eternal Sunshine’? New Links Found Between Memory and Emotion

Nearly a decade ago, I almost drowned. As an amateur scuba diver, I recklessly joined a group of experts for a deep—much deeper than I was qualified for—dive at night. Already exhausted from swimming my...

A Newly-Discovered Tiny CRISPR Protein Packs a Giant Punch For Human Gene Editing

The CRISPR family just grew bigger. The newcomer? A tiny DNA-chomping Cas protein, tucked away inside giant viruses. That’s the recent finding from Dr. Jennifer Doudna’s lab, one of the original discoverers of CRISPR, at...

Couch Potato No More: How the Benefits of Exercise Transfer to the Brain

Brain aging is reversible. How? Why? And how much can we rejuvenate an already aged brain? Those were the one conviction and three questions that guided me throughout my post-doctoral work at the University of...

How Fake Viruses Can Help Us Make the Best Possible Vaccines

Roughly 15 years ago, in a seeming prank, a pair of smiley faces graced the cover of Nature, one of the world’s preeminent science journals. Flash forward to today, and those smiley faces may...

A Highway to Smell: How Scientists Used Light to Incept Smell in Mice

I was on a panel a few weeks ago and realized I forgot to turn off the oven. Utterly mortified, I told my Zoom attendees that I had to save my lasagna that was...

Scientists Used Dopamine to Seamlessly Merge Artificial and Biological Neurons

In just half a decade, neuromorphic devices—or brain-inspired computing—already seem quaint. The current darling? Artificial-biological hybrid computing, uniting both man-made computer chips and biological neurons seamlessly into semi-living circuits. It sounds crazy, but a new...

Amazingly Detailed Map Reveals How the Brain Changes With Aging

If a brain is our Earth, then we, as inhabitants, are individual brain cells. Just as our human relationships and connections can nudge, push, or dramatically shift societal values and consequences, the connections between neurons...

Scientists 3D Printed Ears Inside Living Mice Using Light

Tissue engineering just got wilder and weirder. Using nothing but light and bioink, scientists were able to directly print a human ear-like structure under the skin of mice. The team used a healthy ear as...

How a Crowdsourcing Challenge Turbocharged Brain Research During Lockdown

“I had a dream my paintbrush split while I was picking up brain slices. Nightmare scenario, right? Then I woke up and thought: I really miss the lab,” a neuroscientist friend of mine recently...

How Scientists Influenced Monkeys’ Decisions Using Ultrasound in Their Brains

A few years ago, in a pitch black room at Stanford University, a monkey sat silently in his custom-made chair, utterly bewildered. It wasn’t because of the head brace, which held his head completely still....

Scientists Are Cloning the Coronavirus Like Crazy. Here’s Why—and the Risks

Most biomedical researchers are busy finding ways to squash the new coronavirus. Meanwhile, synthetic biologists are busy cloning it in droves. In late February a team from the University of Bern, led by Dr. Volker...

To Find a Coronavirus Vaccine Faster—Should We Deliberately Infect Thousands of People?

“First, do no harm” is a core principle for all physicians. Yet with the new coronavirus wreaking havoc across the globe, the medical community is now asking: What if “first, do harm” is the...

Biological to Artificial and Back: How a Core AI Algorithm May Work in the Brain

Blame is the main game when it comes to learning. I know that sounds bizarre, but hear me out. Neural circuits of thousands, if not more, neurons control every single one of your thoughts, reasonings,...

How Will Coronavirus End? It Depends on Our Immunity. Three Possible Outcomes

We’re all so ready for this to be over. With the curve finally flattening in the US, the ramping up of anti-viral and vaccine trials against SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes Covid-19—and the launch of antibody...

Contact Tracing Is the Next Step in the Covid-19 Battle—But How Will It Work in Western Countries?

One death in Steven Soderbergh’s terrifyingly prescient masterpiece, Contagion, stayed with me: Kate Winslet’s Dr. Erin Mears, an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer who chased down people with a terrifying viral infection in an effort...

Coronavirus Drug Development in 5 (Turbo-Charged) Steps

One of the scariest things about the new coronavirus is that there aren’t any validated treatments. Plenty of ideas are in the works: a decades-long anti-malaria pill, blood components from people who’ve recovered, broad...

Blood Is the Next Critical Tool In the Coronavirus Fight. Here’s Why

I’ve been sick for the past week. The symptoms match up with coronavirus infection. But like many people in the US, because they’re relatively mild I’m unable to get a test. Testing rates have finally...

Existing Drugs May Work Against Covid-19. AI Is Screening Thousands to Find Out

You’ve heard of chloroquine by now. Originally developed by German scientists in the 1930s, the anti-malaria drug is based on a natural compound present in the bark of certain South African trees. For nearly...

A Coronavirus Vaccine Could Be the First That Outwits Nature

It’s been grim news all around for COVID-19. Italy’s skyrocketing death toll has now risen above China’s. Countries are shutting borders. Massive cities in the US have ordered “shelter-in-place” to reduce viral transmission, severely...

DeepMind’s Protein Folding AI Is Going After Coronavirus

In late December last year, Dr. Li Wenliang began warning officials about a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, but was silenced by the police before tragically succumbing to the disease two months later. Meanwhile,...

Scientists Linked Artificial and Biological Neurons in a Network—and Amazingly, It Worked

Scientists have linked up two silicon-based artificial neurons with a biological one across multiple countries into a fully-functional network. Using standard internet protocols, they established a chain of communication whereby an artificial neuron controls...

Gene Therapy Is Successfully Treating a Common Form of Inherited Blindness

K.L. always knew he might be completely blind before reaching adulthood. Even as a child he realized something was wrong with his eyes. Although he could see enough to navigate the world in daytime, as...

How to Battle an Epidemic? Digitize Its DNA and Share It With the World

A nightmarish scene was burnt into my memory nearly two decades ago: Changainjie, Beijing’s normally chaotic “fifth avenue,” desolate without a sign of life. Schools shut, subways empty, people terrified to leave their homes....

Scientists Jump-Started Consciousness in Monkeys by Pinpointing This Brain Region

In 1991, a devastating car crash left 32-year-old Munira Abdulla with severe brain injuries and in a deep coma. Doctors thought she had no chance of recovery. Yet her story blew up when, miraculously,...

Neuromodulation Is the Secret Sauce for This Adaptive, Fast-Learning AI

As obstinate and frustrating as we are sometimes, humans in general are pretty flexible when it comes to learning—especially compared to AI. Our ability to adapt is deeply rooted within our brain’s chemical base code....

Verily’s Bold New Project Aims to Predict Depression Using Your Phone

Depression is a shifting, amorphous beast that silently haunts millions. It’s also difficult to pinpoint. Psychiatry has formulated well-tested questionnaires to diagnose depression. But these tests require patients to reach out and only provide snapshots...

Decoding the Brain Goes Global With the International Brain Initiative

Few times in history has mankind ever united to solve a single goal. Even the ultimate moonshot in history—putting a man on the moon—was driven by international competition rather than unification. So it’s perhaps fitting...

The Brain Predicts Reward Like an AI, Says New DeepMind Research

The idea of reinforcement learning—or learning based on reward—has been around for so long it’s easy to forget we don’t really know how it works. If DeepMind’s new bombshell paper in Nature is any indication,...

Scientists Discovered ‘Mini-Computers’ in Human Neurons—and That’s Great News for AI

With just their input cables, human neurons can perform difficult logic calculations previously only seen in entire neural networks. To restate: human neurons are far more powerful devices than originally thought. And if deep...

The Top Biotech Trends We’ll Be Watching in 2020

Last year left us with this piece of bombshell news: He Jiankui, the mastermind behind the CRISPR babies scandal, has been sentenced to three years in prison for violating Chinese laws on “scientific research...

These Breakthroughs Made the 2010s the Decade of the Brain

I rarely use the words transformative or breakthrough for neuroscience findings. The brain is complex, noisy, chaotic, and often unpredictable. One intriguing result under one condition may soon fail for a majority of others....

This Year’s 4 Most Mind-Boggling Stories About the Brain

2019 was nuts for neuroscience. I said this last year too, but that’s the nature of accelerating technologies: the advances just keep coming. There’re the theoretical showdowns: a mano a mano battle of where consciousness...

Gene Therapy for Sickle-Cell Anemia Looks Promising—but It’s Riddled With Controversy

Gene therapy is fighting to enter mainstream medicine. With sickle cell disease, the fight is heating up. Roughly two years ago, the FDA made the historic decision to approve the first gene therapy in the...

How Far Are We from (Accurately and Safely) Editing Human Embryos?

We can already edit genes in human embryos. We can even do it in a way to pass the edits down generations, fundamentally changing a family’s genetic makeup. Doing it well, however, is far more...

How a New Smart Skin Patch Uses Vibrations to Track Your Health

Wearables are so common these days we rarely give them second thought. Yet packed into FitBits and Apple Watches are multiple tiny, sensitive sensors that monitor your steps, heart rate, sleep and—with your input—even...

Designer Babies? Simulation Shows They Won’t Happen Anytime Soon

Roughly a year ago, the creation of CRISPRed twins reignited fierce debate and trepidation about our oncoming era of designer babies. The experiment, designed to protect the babies against HIV, failed miserably. But He...

How Scientists Grew Perfect New Lungs in Mouse Embryos

Unless you or a loved one are a smoker, lung health probably never got on your radar. But the recent spike in deadly vaping-related lung diseases—some requiring lung transplants—make it clear: as a society,...

How Much Can We Delay Aging? A Gene Therapy Trial Is About to Find Out

Aging is reversible. It’s still a somewhat controversial idea in humans. Yet recent attempts at delaying—or even reversing—diseases that pop up with age in animals clearly show that health doesn’t necessarily decline with age. The...

Everything You Need to Know About Superstar CRISPR Prime Editing

All right, let’s do this one last time. My name is CRISPR. I was made from a bacterial defense system, and for years I’ve been the one and only gene editing wunderkind. I’m pretty...

The Origin of Consciousness in the Brain Is About to Be Tested

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: two theories of consciousness are about to face off in the scientific fight of the century. Backed by top neuroscientist theorists of today, including Christof Koch, head of...

CRISPR Just Created a Hornless Bull, and It’s a Step Forward for Gene-Edited Food

There’s a practice in farming not often talked about. To prevent accidental harm to human handlers and other cattle, bulls generally have their horn-producing cells surgically removed before the horns permanently attach to their...

This Strange Rule Is What Makes the Human Brain So Powerful

Run a supercomputer every second of every day, and eventually its storage will fill up, its speed decrease, and its components burn out. Yet our brains run with astonishing efficacy nearly every moment of our...

Scientists Found New Antibiotic Molecules—Right In the Human Microbiome

The human microbiome is the dark matter of biology: we know it’s there and critically balances health from disease. We can broadly examine microbe members with advanced DNA sequencing methods and infer their species...

How Old Is Your Brain? This AI Can Tell You

Delaying “brain age” may sound like the latest quick-fix gimmick on a late-night infomercial, but the science underlying the concept is very real. Rather than reflecting the average functional state of your chronological age, brain...

Deep Learning Networks Can’t Generalize—But They’re Learning From the Brain

“Bias” in AI is often treated as a dirty word. But to Dr. Andreas Tolias at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, bias may also be the solution to smarter, more human-like...

DNA Nanomachines Are Opening Medicine to the World of Physics

When I imagine the inner workings of a robot, I think hard, cold mechanics running on physics: shafts, wheels, gears. Human bodies, in contrast, are more of a contained molecular soup operating on the...

Moore’s Law Is Dying. This Brain-Inspired Analogue Chip Is a Glimpse of What’s Next

“Dark silicon” sounds like a magical artifact out of a fantasy novel. In reality, it’s one branch of a three-headed beast that foretells the end of advances in computation. Ok—that might be too dramatic. But...

This Light-based Nervous System Helps Robots ‘Feel’

Last night, way past midnight, I stumbled onto my porch blindly grasping for my keys after a hellish day of international travel. Lights were low, I was half-asleep, yet my hand grabbed the keychain,...

How a Centuries-Old Sculpting Method Is Helping 3D Print Organs With Blood Vessels

Blood vessels are the lifeline of any organ. The dense web of channels, spread across tissues like a spider web, allow oxygen and nutrients to reach the deepest cores of our hearts, brains, and lungs....

Singularity University, Singularity Hub, Singularity Summit, SU Labs, Singularity Labs, Exponential Medicine, Exponential Finance and all associated logos and design elements are trademarks and/or service marks of Singularity Education Group.

© 2020 Singularity Education Group. All Rights Reserved.

Singularity University is not a degree granting institution.