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Scientists Restore Lost Brain Function In Rat With Synthetic Device

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the but-will-he-ever-play-the-guitar-again dept.

Biotech 75

V!NCENT writes with news that researchers at Tel Aviv University have replaced a synaptic microcircuit inside a rat's cerebellum with a fully synthetic version, while maintaining proper functioning. The targeted area of the rat's brain involved its ability to blink its eyes in response to particular stimuli. "To test the chip, they anesthetized a rat and disabled its cerebellum before hooking up their synthetic version. They then tried to teach the anesthetized 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." Study author Matti Mintz said of the work, "It's proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain."

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Obligatory (1, Funny)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 2 years ago | (#37533192)

I know kung fu.

Re:Obligatory (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533316)

No, it isn't obligatory. Stop crapping up threads with this BS already.

Re:Obligatory (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 2 years ago | (#37534038)

It's actually meant to stir conversation. If you can "record information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain" then, conceivably, you could borrow someone's knowledge and transplant it to someone else. What they've done here is sort of a step over a crack compared to jumping the Grand Canyon, but the concept is there.

Why am I replying to a Coward?

Re:Obligatory (1)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 2 years ago | (#37537496)

I think kung fu would be a combination of muscle memory and cognitive memory. So I imagine it's not as easy to simulate the firing synapses required for it.

Is there a neuroscientist here who can elaborate on this?

Re:Obligatory (1)

YouDieAtTheEnd (2471718) | more than 2 years ago | (#37539142)

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.

They are actually targeting the region of the brain responsible for motor learning (physical movement as a response to external stimuli) which is colloquially called 'muscle memory'. So yes, this rat does know Kung Fu.

Re:Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37539892)

I am a neuroscientist, so here:
1) The cerebellar circuit has the simplest structure and the best-understood function of any brain region (excluding the 'dumber' regions such as retina/visual pathways).
2) Having said that, we still know jack shit about how or why it works (yet still much more than we know about the rest of the brain)
3) The description of this research is intriguing, but as someone who actually works in this general area, I have major issues and doubts (but I did not see the actual work, just the popular description of it).
4) The group will presumably present their results at SfN in Washington DC in November. This should give more people a chance to examine the work.

I could use one (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533284)

I have an AVM in my left cerebellum. Could use a workaround.

Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533306)

The same thing we do every night, Pinkie [youtube.com]. Try to take over the world!

"Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"
"I think so, Brain, but it's hard to concentrate when this bloody machine keeps puffing air into my eye. NARF!"

I for one... (1)

meustrus (1588597) | more than 2 years ago | (#37533336)

I for one welcome our new cybernetic rat overlords!

Re:I for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533446)

Welcoming or not, we are going to kill you all for cutting into our brains, blowing in our eyes and bending our will so that we blink at your command. Die vermin.

Re:I for one... (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 2 years ago | (#37533560)

Rats, I haven't done enough for your cause, but consider this: The enemy of your enemy is your friend. We are also know to splice up cat brains and I haven't done enough for their cause either.

Re:I for one... (1)

sempir (1916194) | more than 2 years ago | (#37536560)

What's so clever about this, my Father could get me to blink just by slapping me up the back of my head!

Are you pondering what I am pondering? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533538)

Pinky: Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?
Brain: Same thing we do every night. Try to take over the world.

Now the singularity starts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533442)

This is the beginning of the singularity. Hopefully this mean we will be ready for hard takeoff if it comes.

Why? (5, Funny)

catbutt (469582) | more than 2 years ago | (#37533452)

I mean, rat's are cheap. If its brain functions are going bad, get a new rat. This is what is wrong with science, they have no clue as to real world problems.


Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533526)

if anybody knows about rats, it's catbutt.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533786)

I think you may need an artificial cerebellum.
*blink* *blink*

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37534942)

See the Neal Stephenson book Interface.

Re:Why? (1)

zevans (101778) | more than 2 years ago | (#37538908)

Or several short stories in Greg Egan's "Axiomatic" or his novel "Quarantine." Or indeed pretty much any cyberpunk.

politicians instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37537026)

The obvious market for these is politicians. They are damn expensive for the society and if you can restore brain functions even to one of them the savings could be massive...

Proof by sheer willpower (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533468)

It couldn't possibly be the result of the brain adapting and rerouting pathways over time to compensate. No, it *must* be our device. This is totally proof-of-concept. We can has our funding nao??

Upgrade your cerebellum today (1)

jbov (2202938) | more than 2 years ago | (#37533518)

Please provide instructions for overclocking mine for superhero style motor reflexes.

Now to put it to good use. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533556)

So, any chance of restoring the lost brain function of tea partiers?

Re:Now to put it to good use. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533606)

After extensive research (spared no expense)...

It has been determined that unfortunately, there wasn't any there to be replaced....

Re:Now to put it to good use. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37536112)

At least they have an excuse, they never had a brain, the liberals have a brain, and they use it but the "common sense" lobe in their brains has atrophied to the point of vanishing.

at last.. (-1, Troll)

Caledfwlch (1434813) | more than 2 years ago | (#37533608)

there's hope for fiscal conservatives!

Re:at last.. (2)

imamac (1083405) | more than 2 years ago | (#37533986)

Because living within your means shows a clear lack of brain function...

Re:at last.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37536120)

Hey dummy any preschooler is smart enough to know that if a country is having economic problems then all you have to do is print a bunch of money and hand it out.

You teabaggers are all the same, dumber than a preschooler!

Gov. William A. Cozzano (unspec) already has one! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37533896)

See "Interface", by 'Stephen Bury'. Great SF novel about the first remote-controlled president of the United States of America.

Re:Gov. William A. Cozzano (unspec) already has on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37534250)

Steven Bury = Neal Stephenson


Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37534456)

How many of you blinked consciously while reading this?

Stunned Silence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37534556)

This article has been posted on Slashdot for a little over two hours now, and only has about thirty comments.

I can interpret these facts in a few different ways:

a. There is a technical difficulty preventing users from posting.
b. It's dinner time in America, and everyone is busy eating.
c. Slashdot is dead, and no one posts here anymore.
d. The article is simply not interesting.
e. Utter shock, because this is it, people.

I'm going to go with choice "e". Not because it is Euler's Number [wikipedia.org], but because all but all but "b" are somewhat disproven, open handed, and because "b" is fairly irrelevant on the internet. ...and now it's time to Godwin this shit. Look, everyone. The Russians saved Hitler's brain. We know this [wikipedia.org]. Apropos that Israelis were responsible for enabling this technology, but now I think it's safe to say that it's only a matter of time before someone absconds with it, and ressurects Der Fuhrer, and we are afflicted by an unstoppable, unkillable cybernetic antichrist.

Good God. What hath Science wrought?!

Re:Stunned Silence (1)

GrimmParoD (2468306) | more than 2 years ago | (#37536042)

I don't think most people realized how close we were to the end of things about which we collectively dreamed. The way of the U.S. world was for generations to be raised on neigh unreachable goals and then left to whither in muted resentment while the next generation was sold their 'bill of goods.'

Those who understand what is going on are hopefully taking this time to figure out whether they were ever interested in Life, or were just here for the security of being standard bearers in a society trained to never actually get anywhere.

Your post is beautiful, BTW. 'Stunned Silence.' I love it.

Re:Stunned Silence (2)

narcc (412956) | more than 2 years ago | (#37536546)

How about

f. This is about as exciting as a pacemaker.

There are two dominant kinds of uninformed posts here: those suggesting that we've somehow read a chunk of brain like a hard disk, and those rambling on about the "singularity".

If anything, the lack of comments suggests that slashdot has not yet been completely overrun by the terminally uninformed.

Darwinia? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37534668)

I like the fact that Dr. Sepulveda was doing this reasearch; maybe that's what the Darwinians are, spare rat cerebellums...

If it works on humans (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#37534844)

If it works on humans, maybe we can restore the brain function of those of us still dumb enough to waste time on Slashdot.

Re:If it works on humans (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#37535210)

I actually have mod points right now, but I can't find the one to mark you "+1 Recursive".

Re:If it works on humans (2)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#37535754)

I actually have mod points right now, but I can't find the one to mark you "+1 Recursive".

Find the choice marked "+1 Recursive" and then start looking from there.

Re:If it works on humans (1)

jamiesan (715069) | more than 2 years ago | (#37539018)

I actually have mod points right now, but I can't find the one to mark you "+1 Recursive".

Find the choice marked "+1 Recursive" and then start looking from there.

And when you find it, STOP LOOKING!

We don't want an infinite loop.

Re:If it works on humans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37535474)

If it works on humans, maybe we can restore the brain function of those of us still dumb enough to waste time on Slashdot.

Like you then.

Re:If it works on humans (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#37535702)

If it works on humans, maybe we can restore the brain function of those of us still dumb enough to waste time on Slashdot.

Like you then.


the obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37535916)

more jew bullshit.
You got Einstein plagiarized the wrong theory, now this.

HHGTTG Reference! (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 2 years ago | (#37536138)

"No, no," said Frankie, "it's the brain we want to buy."


"Well, who would miss it?" inquired Benjy.

"I thought you said you could just read his brain electronically," protested Ford.

"Oh yes," said Frankie, "but we'd have to get it out first. It's got to be prepared."

"Treated," said Benjy.


"Thank you," shouted Arthur, tipping up his chair and backing away from the table in horror.

"It could always be replaced," said Benjy reasonably, "if you think it's important.

"Yes, an electronic brain," said Frankie, "a simple one would suffice."

"A simple one!" wailed Arthur.

"Yeah," said Zaphod with a sudden evil grin, "you'd just have to program it to say What? and I don't understand and Where's the tea? Who'd know the difference?"

"What?" cried Arthur, backing away still farther.

"See what I mean?" said Zaphod, and howled with pain because of something that Trillian did at that moment.

"I'd notice the difference," said Arthur.

"No, you wouldn't," said Frankie mouse, "you'd be programmed not to."

One step closer to "Ghost in the Shell" (1)

CptNerd (455084) | more than 2 years ago | (#37536462)

If bits of the brain can be mapped and replaced at the lowest level (eventually) you'd end up with being able to communicate with a brain at the lowest level by not removing the old bits, but leaving the new bits alongside them, monitoring and sending information with them. A Shirow-style "cyberbrain" from "Ghost in the Shell".

Since my Dad and his father had Alzheimers or dementia, and my Mom was prone to strokes, I'm hoping to live long to use (and have enough neurons left to appreciate using) something like this technology.

Re:One step closer to "Ghost in the Shell" (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 2 years ago | (#37536932)

Define alive after some part of your brain has been replaced by a computer chip... In this particular case it's a small instinctive piece of brain with predictable behavior that got replaced. In the worst cases you'd lose some fear dissorder, because fear lives there.

But given that this is just a chip; it's not your brain. Essentialy you replace your brain with all it's distinctions and quirks with a processor that just acts like as it is (some part of) a brain, but it's not.

Way too scary to actualy think about this... You'd probably look as if you'd be human again, but the question is if you'd even know it yourself...

Re:One step closer to "Ghost in the Shell" (1)

CptNerd (455084) | more than 2 years ago | (#37538634)

The main question is, are "you" the gooey bits inside your head, or are "you" the patterns that are formed and are constantly forming in those gooey bits? That's the question Shirow asks in "Ghost in the Shell" all the time. His characters believe that the person is the "ghost", that pattern which doesn't arise by accident just because the substrate can handle the pattern.

Also, in "GitS", the brain cells aren't replaced, they're augmented by processors, one for each cell, that communicate to the cell and also each other and the outside world. The article describes the ability to crudely duplicate one function and communicate with the rest of the brain, which is one step along the way toward a "cyberbrain", just like being able to purify silicon is one step toward an Android tablet. There are a whole lot more things that have to be done, if they even can be.

But if we end up being able to completely replace a brain cell, would it really matter if the cell is made of silicon or a stem cell? After a stroke or Alzheimers, the original is gone, so are you really "you" after a stroke?

Re:One step closer to "Ghost in the Shell" (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 2 years ago | (#37538894)

If we can replace a cell with something that acts just like a healthy brain cell, then yes, I would still be me.

However; replacing an entire brain region with a chip that acts the same and is compatible with the brain, but is not your brain, then... no.

I don't care if my brain works with biological cells or Lego, as long as it still IS my brain.

First thing the rat said (2)

kikito (971480) | more than 2 years ago | (#37536776)

"I never asked for this".

Re:First thing the rat said (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37537084)

After which he proceeded to punch a hooker...

Secret brain implants in humans are more advanced (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37536952)

The cool thing about the human brain implants is that it lets your controllers actually read your thoughts. It's kind of like how an Android smartphone backs up your contacts to Gmail, except in this case it's backing your neurological data like thoughts and sensory data to the government.

If you would like to be a beta tester go to http://www.petermcwilliams.info/neurotechnological-mind-control

Promising news (1)

Coisiche (2000870) | more than 2 years ago | (#37537336)

I've been ataxic for 5 years because of a damaged cerebellum and every day I wish I wasn't. Things like this present the only possibility that I could ever have unimpaired movement again but this is just a small experiment that's unlikely to be practically realized within my lifetime. So good news for people that end up with damaged cerebellums in the future.

Re:Promising news (1)

rgbatduke (1231380) | more than 2 years ago | (#37537420)

Damn skippy. This post isn't about trying to take over the world, it's about providing cybernetic replacements or augmentations that can eventually allow real people with stroke damage etc to recover essential function. It may be a race -- now that Our Government is actually pushing stem cell research big time, it seems not unlikely that in a decade or three they'll be able to actually regrow damaged brain tissue in situ -- there are already some whopping success stories with growing or repairing missing pieces of the more mundane and peripheral sort, but I expect autologous regrown organs within the decade (perhaps starting with replacement livers or hearts).

On the cybernetic neurological side in addition to possibly repair cerebellar damage, there has already been success at e.g. restoring sight (so far of a very limited quality) to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Again, inside a decade I suspect that there will be artificial eyes with at least tolerable/useful resolution. This isn't about "the Singularity" -- it is about real world, enormously useful advances in medical technology that can and will reduce the human suffering in the world.


Obvious question (1)

spaceman375 (780812) | more than 2 years ago | (#37537566)

Every day replace some brain cells in a human. Take five or six years, and replace every cell he/she has. At what point does this become artificial intelligence? Would the consciousness of said person survive the transition? If you succeeded, would an exact copy of the result also be conscious? I don't think I'd volunteer, but I'm sure someone would.

Re:Obvious question (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#37537644)

Would the person be conscious or would they just faithfully emulate it by claiming that they are? How could we tell the difference? Is there a difference?

Re:Obvious question (1)

rbarreira (836272) | more than 2 years ago | (#37539012)

Is there a difference?

If someone acts indistinguishably from a human, I don't think there's any difference.

Re:Obvious question (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#37544080)

The problem is, if it doesn't work, the one being that could distinguish it is dead.

If we do figure it out, it will probably have to be through cases where disease and accident make the decision for us. There will likely be considerable controversy.

Re:Obvious question (1)

YouDieAtTheEnd (2471718) | more than 2 years ago | (#37540142)

A 'Chinese Room' built inside a human skull.

Since that question is impossible to answer and skates around the original intent of the question which was proposing something more akin to the 'Ship of Theseus' I think I'll take a stab at it, although the answer is relatively obvious.

First, let me ask: are you the same person you were when you were 5? Do you even remember being 5? Can you tell me the reasoning behind decisions you made back then or give me an example of your thoughts and emotions throughout an average day at that age? Most people only have a hazy recollection of the early period of their life and the generally accepted reason is that the human brain does not fully finish developing until the early twenties. You are most likely a drastically different person now then when you were 5, 10 or even 17, you make different choices, feel differently about life, family and friends and have different goals and priorities. So were you the same person at that age? Generally, you would say yes but you've developed or 'grown up' since then. The fact is, we are in a constant state of change with regard to the brain, sometimes on a large physical scale with the maturation of different regions of the brain over time and sometimes on a minute level with the formation of new connections between individual neurons and the creation of new pathways of neural activity throughout the brain.

Do these changes change the way we behave? Yes, most certainly. Do these changes fundamentally alter who we are? That's a tricky one! As for how we feel about the matter, we would like to believe so and we deny that it happens. Someone can 'turn over a new leaf', right? They can 'grow up' or 'see the light' or 'make a new start'? But you are still you from day to day and year to year. You don't die every time you go to sleep and are remade anew when you wake in the morning. You still exist as a person even if you hold fundamentally different convictions and beliefs than you did in the past. Then who is this 'you' anyway? How can we, like Theseus' ship, replace each tiny part of your body over the years and still call you the same person? Maybe you are just the parts that don't change. Just a big bag of semi-permanent neurons wiring themselves up in different ways to make you dance and speak.

If we are truly just the deterministic result of our biological circuitry, then we have nothing to worry about when replacing parts of it. If it functions in exactly the same manner as the previous stuff, then we continue on as usual without even noticing a change. However, if there is something a little more subtle than neuro-chemical signals going on in there we might be looking at the potential for something else. To dig up and beat a long dead horse, if our consciousness is actually moreso the software running on top of the hardware rather than just an incredibly complex collection of pre-wired circuits, we now have the potential that our consciousness can change at a fundamental level. We are no longer shackled to the circuits we were born with but have the possibility of changing every detail of ourselves with sufficient knowledge.

As for how it all works, I believe we're somewhere in the middle. A mixture of physical neural circuits that respond to stimuli in a pre-determined manner, neural activity that mimics the behaviour of a set circuit but is subject to change over time, and more dynamic activity that feeds back on itself enough that it can make changes on the fly and display more emergent behavior.

TL;DR - parts of us are permanent but it doesn't matter if they're replace as long as they work the same, other parts change gradually anyways and so if they are changed over time it doesn't make you not 'you', the bits left over that make us act so uniquely human probably can't be replaced with hardware (or even current software for that matter) simply because we don't really know what they are or how they work. You might accidentally kill those parts by replacing them with circuitry or they might be able to translate themselves into a digital form, in either case the result would be apparent. It might eat and sleep and walk like a person but if the self didn't make it, it wouldn't be the same.

Re:Obvious question (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#37544868)

It is all related to the Ship of Theseus. My questions are really the questions Plutarch asks.

In all of this, I'm reminded of Phineas Gage. At first, doctors were amazed that all that damage made no difference at all. Later accounts were not so sure. Descriptions post injury ranged from "little changed "to "not the same man". All of that confounded by a compensation at the neurological level (and potentially a decompensation later in life) and a social compensation.

Likewise, the history of the prefrontal lobotomy may be instructive. There we have everything from practitioners who seemed to honestly believe the procedure was practically harmless and vastly improved the condition of everyone who had one (very nearly going so far as to recommend the procedure for healthy people) to the other end where people report feeling as if their soul had been cut out of them (including people who did not have a mental illness before the procedure).

I can only guess, but it seems likely that prosthetic brain sections might have even further obscured the differences (if any) and raised even more questions, but I'm not sure we'd find any answers. I'm not honestly sure how we can get any of those answers since the problem is not entirely within the realm of science.

Re:Obvious question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37571800)

IMO that wouldn't be artificial intelligence at any point, the intelligence is natural, just transplanted to an artificial brain. If the artificial brain mimicked the organic brain perfectly then yes, the consciousness would survive the transition and an exact copy would also be conscious.

Consciousness may not be well understood, but I don't think they is anything supernatural about it, so we should be able to create it in an artificial brain, or copy a persons consciousness into an artificial brain.

What can I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37540752)

I gotta have one of these for my so called brain

Hey, that's a pretty cool rat you got there ... (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#37543700)

... how much did it cost you?

Well, the rat only cost $9.95. It's the after-market mod-kit that was a killer at $5,999,999.95.

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