NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Friday, March 22, 2013

NEWS: Brain-to-Brain [Full link to blog for email clients.]

The headline read: "Brain-to-brain interfaces have arrived, and they are absolutely mindblowing!" ( - note original link has been redirected)

Why yes, yes it is mindblowing!

About 15 years ago, Drs. Miguel Nicolelis (Duke Univ.) and John Chapin (S.U.N.Y. Brooklyn) were at Hahnemann Univ. / Allegheny College of Medicine and introduced "RoboRat" - a rat that responded to brain stimulation by moving in a direction specified by the pattern of stimulation. A rat could carry a wireless camera and be guided through the rubble of a building damaged by fire, earthquake or explosion - effectively becoming a biological robot for rescue exploration.

Then they showed us that recording patterns from the premotor area of the cortex - site of movement planning - could be used to remote-control an arm that provided water to the rat.  Initially the arm would move whenever the rat pressed a lever for reward, but soon the rats learned to move the arm with the pattern of brain cell activity associated with intent to press the lever, and never have to make the physical motion at all!

Soon after Dr. Nicolelis moved to Duke, he demonstrated that recording neurons in motor and premotor areas of monkeys would allow those same monkeys to do the same thing as the rats.  In this case, a robotic arm mimicked the monkey's own arm movement until the monkey (and the neuron pattern detectors) learned to move the robot without moving it's own arm.  To make the study even more fantastic - Dr. Nicolelis demonstrated that signals from a monkey at Duke could move a robotic Arm at M.I.T. simply by sending signals over the internet.

Well, they've done it again, but in this case, instead of controlling a robot, signals from a trained rat were recorded, and used to stimulate premotor and motor cortex neurons in an untrained rat.  With one animal in the US, at Duke, and the other in Brazil - the first published brain-to-brain information transfer has paved the way for more complex brain-to-computer interfaces (BCIs), restoration of function in a damaged brain, or even acceleration of learning by receiving signals recorded from already-trained subjects.

Please note, I don't want to turn loose the "Mind Control" brigade.  What was transferred was not a "thought", nor was it a "memory" (more on that later).  It was a simple response choice, signalling the rat to select a lever on the right or left.  The "recipient" rat got about 60-70% correct responses - that's a long way from "mind control."  Still, it is a very positive result considering that putting information back into the brain is a major issue for providing touch feedback for artificial limbs!  

By the way, please note that there is a caveat in that this is the first published brain-to-brain transfer.  Then-Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Jay Schnitzer mentioned in a December 2012 broadcast ( - about 5:15 into the video) about one of DARPA's projects that has also transferred "memories" from one rodent to another.  Note - this is a different program than Dr. Nicolelis' demonstration - unfortunately those results have not yet been published.  

So - great strides and exciting News in the brain science front.  Stay tuned for more humor, news and The Lab Rat's Guide to the Brain!

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