Toss in some cloned neurons into a gaping hole in your spinal cord, and what do you get? It’s very likely you might just find yourself walking again in no time at all.
This is at least what scientists at the University Of South Florida Health Sciences Center are anticipating. Instead of plugging in a device that relies on silicon chip-interfaced brain cells to replace damaged nervous communication links, Prof. Samuel Saporta and his group directly transplant neurons grown from a special type of cancer cell. These neurons connect up with the existing network on their own without any outside control.
This is a very critical concept that we must understand in more detail, not only for the above application, but also for making neuron devices. If we want to be able to control the activity of an implanted device, we must be able to design the neurons in such a way that they will properly communicate with the recipient’s existing neural network.
Neuron are capable of connecting up to other neurons in functional ways on their own, which an example of “self-organization” (to throw in a buzz-word). Before neurotechnologies will every be widely useful, we must understand the self-organizational properties of neurons–as has been indirectly witnessed by Saporta’s team–in order to guide the proper development of neural prosthetic devices.