Brain implants promise a lot of things, from combatting mental degradation caused by age and disease, to boosting the output of some already healthy gray matter. Far fetched as it sounds, researchers and Israel just took a step toward that glorious cyborg-filled future with the successful installation of a synthetic cerebellum in a rat.
The study, being led by Tel Aviv University's Matti Mintz, involves a brain implant that can not only receive signals, but can translate them and spit commands back in a compatible form. One lucky lab rat that was suffering from a loss of brain function received the upgrade and, voila, restored. The implant is a synthetic cerebellum, which sits at the rear base of the skull and controls muscular function, for one.
(Of course, it was Mintz and his team that took that function away by anesthetizing the rat and disabling its cerebellum, but that's just a pesky little detail now isn't it.)
"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," Mintz told New Scientist.
He was echoed by Francesco Sepulveda of the University of Essex, who was not involved in the research but is familiar with the development of cybernetic brainy bits: "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. The circuitry mimics functionality that is very basic. Nonetheless, this is an exciting step towards enormous possibilities."
The best part? The research could jump the species barrier and find a happy home in human craniums. In a research brief presented at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge in the U.K., Mintz wrote that "the cerebellum is a good choice for testing the feasibility of the closed-loop rehabilitation methodology. In particular, the cerebellum is well conserved across the mammalian kingdom and is comprised of recurrent microcircuits sharing similar anatomical and physiological architecture."
Tomorrow's headline: DVICE staff "volunteer" to be first human test subjects for synthetic cerebellums.
Amazing image via this weird website