Star Trek Seven of Nine (a.k.a. borg) technology is one step closer to becoming a reality. But unlike the Borg collective that has cybernetic enhancement to achieve perfection, this new technology would be used to help replace brain tissue for those who have suffered from a stroke or other conditions.
Scientists at Tel Aviv University have outfitted a lab rat with a cyborg cerebellum. New Scientist has more:
Now Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and his colleagues have created a synthetic cerebellum which can receive sensory inputs from the brainstem -- a region that acts as a conduit for neuronal information from the rest of the body. Their device can interpret these inputs, and send a signal to a different region of the brainstem that prompts motor neurons to execute the appropriate movement.
"It's proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyse it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain," says Mintz, who presented the work this month at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge, UK.
The scientists disabled the brain of the rat before hooking up their synthetic enhancement. Using a Pavolvian technique to teach the rat the sound of a puff of air being blown into its eye, the scientists saw that when the device wasn't connected, the rat didn't learn to react to the sound. When it was connected, the rat responded with a blink when it heard the sound of a puff of air.
Before this technology ever reaches a human's head, scientists will continue testing on rats to see if they are able to learn a sequence of events using the synthetic cerebellum, which is more difficult:
This is very demanding because of the decrease of [neural] signal quality due to artifacts caused by movement," says Robert Prueckl of Guger Technologies in Graz, Austria, who is working with Mintz. He thinks this can be achieved, though, by developing improved software to tune out noise and better techniques for implanting the electrodes. Ultimately, the goal is to build chips that can replicate complex areas of the brain.
The scientists estimate that other brain parts like the hippocampus and the visual cortex will be created and ready for human use by the end of the century: