Brain Chip to Restore Functioning from Damage


The ReNaChip project is developing electronic biomimetic technology that could serve to replace damaged or missing brain tissue. This is basically neuromorphic engineering that seeks to mimic how neurons function. In the future this may be useful for people who have had injuries due to stroke or other illnesses. There are numerous obstacles to getting this tech off the ground. Having the microchip interface properly with the surrounding neural tissue is one issue that could be difficult to circumvent. It is also unclear if some of the models used actually represent specific regions of the mind accurately enough for this to work properly.
This page gives an overview of this undertaking;

The objective of this project is to develop a full biohybrid rehabilitation and substitution methodology; replacing the aged cerebellar brain circuit with a biomimetic chip bidirectionally interfaced to the inputs and outputs of the system. Information processing will interface with the cerebellum to actuate a normal, real-time functional behavioral recovery, providing a proof-of-concept test for the functional rehabilitation of more complex neuronal systems.

More information can be found at this page.

Experiments are carried out with two different types of stimuli; a tone which serves a conditioned stimulus producing no naïve response and an aversive puff to the eye (unconditioned stimulus) resulting in a naïve eyeblink response. The tone always precedes the airpuff in the course of the experiment.

A recent article about it is here.

The project aims include making a computer model of a well-defined brain pathway as proof of concept for the replacement of more complex brain circuits. Implementation of this model in a microchip will be used to create a biohybrid in which a lost behavior is restored

This abstract discusses about interfacing with neuronal cells.

One of the major goals of the ReNaChip research program was to develop implantable electrodes with a very small size sensing pads. In this talk we will describe the process related issues of such electrodes and their principle of operation.

The researcher Ed Boyden has recently called for the creation of an "exocortex" to augment human abilities. It seems conceivable that a device implanted on top of the head could be used to increase intelligence or other traits. The exocortex would have to communicate with actual brain cells in some fashion. Perhaps this could be done using optogenetics or ultrasound pulses. Neither are approved for human disorders yet. Optogenetics would be more invasive but it is also much more selective in its ability to activate neuron subpopulations. I've been somewhat skeptical about whether it would actually get an FDA nod any time soon, however. Ultrasonic neuromodulation does not currently have the same targeting accuracy, but it would not require a person's skull to be breached. A sophisticated exocortex could potentially allow a two way communication between the external apparatus and the mind. The contraption could essentially scale up the amount of neurons in your brain by an artificial means. Most likely it would be used to improved the disabled first, with other applications being more speculative possibilities.

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