Scientists Create Rat Cyborg With Artificial Cerebellum
2011 10 18


An artificial cerebellum has restored lost brain function in rats, bringing the prospect of cyborg-style brain implants a step closer to reality

AN ARTIFICIAL cerebellum has restored lost brain function in rats, bringing the prospect of cyborg-style brain implants a step closer to reality. Such implants could eventually be used to replace areas of brain tissue damaged by stroke and other conditions, or even to enhance healthy brain function and restore learning processes that decline with age.

Cochlear implants and prosthetic limbs have already proved that it is possible to wire electrical devices into the brain and make sense of them, but such devices involve only one-way communication, either from the device to the brain or vice versa.

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.

One of the functions of the cerebellum is to help coordinate and time movements. This, and the fact that it has a relatively straightforward neuronal architecture, make it a good region of the brain to synthesise. "We know its anatomy and some of its behaviours almost perfectly," says Mintz. The team analysed brainstem signals feeding into a real cerebellum and the output it generated in response. They then used this information to generate a synthetic version on a chip that sits outside the skull and is wired into the brain using electrodes.

To test the chip, they anaesthetised a rat and disabled its cerebellum before hooking up their synthetic version. They then tried to teach the anaesthetised animal a conditioned motor reflex - a blink - by combining an auditory tone with a puff of air on the eye, until the animal blinked on hearing the tone alone. They first tried this without the chip connected, and found the rat was unable to learn the motor reflex. But once the artificial cerebellum was connected, the rat behaved as a normal animal would, learning to connect the sound with the need to blink.

"This demonstrates how far we have come towards creating circuitry that could one day replace damaged brain areas and even enhance the power of the healthy brain," says Francesco Sepulveda of the University of Essex in Colchester, UK, who was not involved in the research. "The circuitry mimics functionality that is very basic. Nonetheless, this is an exciting step towards enormous possibilities."

The next step is to model larger areas of the cerebellum that can learn a sequence of movements and test the chip in a conscious animal - a much greater challenge. "This is very demanding because of the decrease of [neural] signal quality due to artefacts 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.

Such implants will be vastly more complex, but Sepulveda says the challenges aren’t insurmountable. "It will likely take us several decades to get there, but my bet is that specific, well-organised brain parts such as the hippocampus or the visual cortex will have synthetic correlates before the end of the century."


Related Articles
12,000 Drones, Lethal Cyborg Insects, See-Shoot Robots -- How Machines Are Taking Over War
Cyborg cat walks on bionic feet
Military Soldier Cyborgs - Digital destiny, or Prophetic Holocaust?
Japans cyborg research enters the skull
One Brain, Hundreds of Eyes: Darpa Plots Manhunt Master Controller
DARPA: Hacking Nature to Create Weapons of the Gods

Latest News from our Front Page

Sand Pirates: ISIS Are America’s 21st Century Terrorist Privateers
2014 11 01
What is ISIS? If you believe govt and corporate propaganda, you still think that ISIS is a grassroots Islamic ideological movement ¨C and with no connection to intelligence agencies like America¡¯s CIA, Britain¡¯s MI6, Turkish (NATO) intelligence, Saudi intelligence, Israeli intelligence, or Pakistan¡¯s ISI. The reality of ISIS is something altogether different¡­ On closer inspection, these marauding paramilitary ISIS gangs are nothing ...
Ancient Stone Circles in Mideast Baffle Archaeologists
2014 11 01
Huge stone circles in the Middle East have been imaged from above, revealing details of structures that have been shrouded in mystery for decades. The Big Circle called J1 is about 390 meters (1,280 feet) in diameter, with an open area created by bulldozing in its interior. Credit: David L. Kennedy, copyright is retained by the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology ...
Sweden Recognizes Palestinian State; Israel Upset
2014 10 31
Sweden on Thursday became the biggest Western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, prompting a strong protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm. The move by Sweden’s new left-leaning government reflects growing international impatience with Israel’s nearly half-century control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. It also comes during increased ...
Fed-Backed Study: How to Brainwash Public into Fearing “Climate Change” Like Ebola
2014 10 31
$84K study seeks ways to make public fear "climate change and overpopulation" The National Science Foundation is funding a study to determine how to brainwash the public into fearing “climate change and overpopulation” as if they were Ebola. The NSF awarded an $84,000 grant to researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo yesterday to figure out how to make ...
Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice
2014 10 31
As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That’s no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot ...
More News »