Bionics

Sticking things into Your Brain Really Hurts

The future of neurotechnology–or, the successful integration of the human brain with fabricated computing devices–is awfully dependent on poking sharp objects into the brain. This is quite invasive, and the human body certainly does not like foreign objects sticking into its soft tissue.

A polymer group at the University of Michigan is currently working on solutions to making neuro-probes a little softer to our neural mush in our head. By developing specialized polymer coatings for neural implants, they hope to minimize the neuronal damage cause by the implant. Even if localized scar tissue is inevitable, they are working on ways to electrically communicate across the scar layer to allow the implant to continue its electrical function.

“Growing Neural Implants” :: MIT Technology Review :: July 16, 2008 :: [ READ ]

New Implated Micodevice for Wireless Neuron Control

An interesting new technology emerging from the research lab of Dr. Larry Cauller at University of Texas at Dallas might lead to new patient-guided treatments for direct control in pain management.

The work is now being further funded for commercial development through the start-upMicroTransponder, Inc. The device concept is an implanted wireless receiver that can stimulate nerve tissue in order to block pain signals before reaching the brain. This could be a major boon for people with chronic pain issues, which does affect a large percentage of people in the United States.

The group is still fine-tuning the technology and has a way to go for FDA approval, but they are certainly in an interesting position to master a major development for pain relief. How the body and brain responds to this direct internal stimulation might also lead to further understanding of neuron communication and function. It might also result in some interesting–if not undesirable–effects on how the body responds when it doesn’t feel pain when, maybe, it should be feeling pain.

“Tiny Technology Packs a Pain-Relieving Wallop” :: UT Dallas News Center :: June 26, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Turn on the Lights for Retinitis Pigmentosa Blindness

If you suffer from a specific form blindness called “retinitis pigmentosa” [ learn more, and more], which affects night and peripheral visions, then researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California have a deal for you!

Dr. James Weiland and his team have devised a successful electrical implant that stimulates healthy nerve cells in the retina of the eye in a calculated way to give the patient the sensation that light. The research device was designed to solve the specific vision problem of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative condition that causes a person to gradually loose eye sight over time.

A video camera is directly connected to a 16 electrode chip that is interfaced directly into the retina. A special mini-computer analyzes the images from the camera, churns out some calculations, and controls a specific pattern of electrical stimulation to the neurons in the retina.

This implementation of a “bionic eye” does not actually reproduce the image of the surroundings onto the patient’s retina, but fills in some of the dark gaps of vision by stimulating nerve cells to fool the brain into believing there is actual light coming from a specific location.

Read the article from EE Times ]

[ Visit the academic website heading up this research. ]

The Little Mouse told me, “I, Robot”

NOTE: This is an update on a previous Neuron News article.

The Potter research group in the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology is making grand strides with their work in building a “simple” moving robot that is controlled by living brain cells.

The group has successfully demonstrated the direct connection of rat neurons to a robotic device, which is then controlled by the electrical activity of the neurons. The robot used in this important study was built by K-Team S.A., a Swiss company that manufactures mobile minirobots for use in advanced education and research.

Brain cells extracted from a rat brain are dropped into a glass dish that is covered with metal electrodes. The cells settle in an uncontrolled way onto the contacts, and are kept alive (not a simple task!) so that the resulting electrical activity from the living cells may be detected and transmitted to the wiring of the robot.

A primary goal of this work is to figure out how these networks result in some physical activity, which then might lead to more clear understandings about how our brain works when we think, remember, and move our bodies.

The result? “It’s alive! Alive!” Although, you’ll have to believe the still picture on the linked website article, as no movies seem to be available at the time of this posting. This development seems quite exciting. On the other hand, the wife of this editor certainly doesnot like mice, and she might not appreciate minirobots controlled by mice brains. Well, with some advancements in science there inevitably come some downsides.

Read the article from EurekAlert! ]

05.14.2003 UPDATE:
Read the article from The New York Times ]

06.11.2003 UPDATE:
Read an article from e4Engineering.com ]

Learn more about Prof. Potter’s work ]

Upgrade Yourself to Greatness

Slate Magazine presents a special series on “Building a Better You”

The ultimate extension of neurotechnology promises to offer power interfaces between brain and computer providing enhancements to your body, which has already evolved into an amazing machine in and of itself.

Scientists, engineers, and even the US Department of Defence are working toward many goals to improve our body’s mechanical characteristics (run down to the local market for a gallon of milk and be back before the commercial break is over) and mental abilities (oh, e=mc^2 is so trivial). These technological developments are already showing successful applications, and many more will appear in the next several decades, if not much sooner.

Read Slate Magazine’s review of the current state of scientific progress in the business of upgrading your body–literally–to make you into a “better you”.

Building a Better You
a special series from Slate Magazine

Read the introduction ]

Read about improving your eyes for SuperVision ]

(This series is still being written by Slate Magazine, so more links will be updated right here as they become available.)

UPDATE: Blind Man Sees Stars

(This is an update on a previous article in Neuron News on the first successful visual prosthetic device.)It’s still primitive, but the work coming from the Dobelle Institute is providing critical proof-of-principle results that prosthetic devices integrated directly with our brain can replace lost function.

This article is written in a loose “story-telling” way, which lends itself not only to an enjoyable read, but you are able to quickly see into the excitement and difficulty of this sort of technological progress. Read through this article, and discover how a “plugged in” blind man can see again.

Well, the blind man still can’t really see exactly like people with “normal” vision. Instead, Dobelle’s patients have their brain retrain itself to interpret special stimuli generated from a computer chip based on information from a video camera. This stimuli is directly input into the patient’s brain via a series of connected wires.

The ability of the brain to quickly adapt to new inputs so that it can successfully function in its environment is one of the most amazing and most poorly understood features of our brain. Think that this “re-trainable feature” is crazy? Well, you can actually experience it yourself, as did the author in this article. You can read about how his own brain re-learned in a very short amount of time how to interpret new visual stimuli.

In the lab of Mark Humayun at the University of Southern California (see http://visionscience.usc.edu for more information), the author was given a special pair of computer-controlled glasses that distorted his vision. Through the special glasses the author could initially only see bright blobs of light. But, as the neurons in his brain began to work on these new inputs, his brain re-learned how to see!

Our brains are made up of dynamic squishy material. It is capable of many powerful and adaptable abilities, many of which we may never be able to personally experience. Trying on these glasses from Humayun’s lab would be an incredible experience, and I hope to have the opportunity to try them on myself someday!

[Read the article from Wired Magazine]

Last updated October 26, 2021