Month: February 2003

Reading Brain Signals (UPDATED)

Now Serving Brains on a Chip!

Infineon Technologies, a tech company in Munich, Germany, recently announced that it has developed a silicon device that is capable of recording electrical signals from brain slices. They call it the “Neuro-Chip” and it contains over 16,000 electrodes, spaced every 8 microns, and records the cells’ activity 2,000 times per second.

The basic design of recording the electrical activity of a neuron sitting on a silicon wafer has certainly been done before, primarily in the world of academia at many institutions [University of Illinois, Urbana-ChampaignCornell UniversityUniversity of Michigan, and others]. However, this is one of the first examples of a research company claiming significant progress toward a commercializable project for scientists to purchase and use in their research. This is certainly an exciting development!

There is an important idea to keep in mind with how useful the information pumped out of this little neurodevice will be. Infineon’s chip has tons of electrodes spread out over the silicon surface recording the electrical activity en masse. The recording capability is presumably quite sensitive and capable of pulling out a great deal of information.

Scientists will have to dig in deep, though, to figure out exactly how to relate this sort of collective information to how the neuron network actually functions. It will likely be found that even more specific electrical recordings from each individual neuron is required to gain any insight into how the neurons work together.

[Read an article from Australian Broadcasting Corporation News Online]

[Read an article from Electronic Business Online]

[Visit the company website]

Stimulate that Brain Pain Away

The pounding, the throbbing, the sensitive scalp, the agony! What if you could push a button and zap it all away?

Extreme headaches (and we’re talking about those very rare extreme cases) are first attacked with drugs and more drugs. But, if the pulsating brain tissue isn’t tamed, then some doctors are trying to directly stimulate nerves in the brain with a little, directed electrical shock.

Our body senses pain when certain nerves become active and send pulses of electricity to our brain to tell it something is wrong in the nerve’s neck of the woods. If we aren’t able to repair the problem causing the “pain receptor” nerves to be quiet, then another approach is to block or mask its electrical activity.

Implanting an electrode near an over-active nerve and passing electricity to directly stimulate the nerve has been seen to block the pain messages sent to the brain. The fact that this method has had some initial experimental success is very interesting because you might first think that this stimulation would enhance the pain signals. Somehow the additional electrical activity around the nerve acts to confuse the signals to the brain, and makes that throbbing feeling vanish.

Read a related Neuron News article ]

Read the article from Yahoo! News/AP Health ]

Read the news release from Rush Medical Center ]

Cultured Neurons Given a Body

Can a clump of loose neurons extracted from a rat reconnect and grow their own brain? Steve Potter, professor of biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is trying to do just that with his research to integrate cultured neurons into a functioning robot device.

If provided with the correct environment to survive, neurons remain quite active little creatures and tend to find ways to reconnect with other neurons. The neurons will begin talking to one another, and their communication links will even evolve based on input from their external environment.

Prof. Potter’s group has developed a small robot that takes the electrical signals from a network of living brain cells and translates them into some form of physical motion for the bot. Sensors located all over the robot then provide electrical feedback to the neuron network after, say, the robot runs into the wall.

The network’s activity is carefully watched, and some level of biological development has been observed. This is certainly a very exciting and interesting advancement in making functional connections between living neurons and computers.

Read the article on MSNBC ]

Learn more about Prof. Potter’s work ]

Channeling Nerve Growth

Don’t loose your nerves. You might not get them back.

It’s an well know “fact” that once a brain cell dies, it won’t grow back. Scientists are continuing to discover that this is not always the case, as has been previously discussed here in Neuron News. More developments from a United States government lab is continuing to show that damaged nerve cells might be coaxed into rejuvenation.

Surya Mallapragada, an Ames Laboratory associate in Materials Chemistry, has developed micro channels in degradable polymers that can guide growing axons to fill in gaps of important nervous system wiring caused by some sort of damage.

There has been some success with nerves in rats, but they are still learning about how this approach will work in the central nervous system comprised of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve.

Read the article from the Ames Laboratory ]

Last updated April 5, 2020