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View Full Version : Remote control brains: a neuroscience revolution



ckb2001
07-19-2007, 07:18 PM
This is great technology. Understand first how complex a machine we're talking about in the brain. It has maybe 100 billion neurons, each making synapses with on average thousands of others. You can imagine how complex the circuitry can be, especially given the fact the strength of the synapses can change over time (what we call learning).

Well, most modern methods of looking at what the brain does are really crude. Your famous fMRI doesn't even look at the neurons themselves - it looks at accompanying blood flow, and it has poor temporal resolution. Furthermore, its spatial resolution is still so low that each area that "lights up" (is more active) consists of maybe hundreds or thousands of neurons, the exact circuitry of the neurons remaining unknown.

Well, neuroscience is developing technology now that controls individual neurons with light. For basic research, this allows one to selectively shut off individual neurons to see what their functions are. For technological purposes, we should see organisms with simple brains being under remote control, and we'll increasingly see the ability to reengineer the brain, say for medical purposes (initially). And of course selective stimulation of neurons to create specific sensations for say entertainment purposes becomes easier (instead of the more brute methods of transcortical magnetic stimulation).

Well, most of that lies far in the future, but it's worth noting the beginnings of such technology are in the works:
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/mg19526131.400-remote-control-brains-a-neuroscience-revolution.html

"In a laboratory in Germany, a tiny worm dances to flashes of light. A flash of yellow and it darts forward. A flash of blue and it jerks back. Yellow, forward, blue, back - right on cue every time. The worm is not a toy or a robot but a living creature. It has been engineered so that its nerves and muscles can be controlled with light.

One possibility is that the technology, coupled with a method of getting light into the human skull, could create a Brave New World of neuro-modification in which conditions such as depression or Parkinson's disease are treated not with sledgehammer drugs or electrodes, but with delicate pinpricks of light. In the long term it is even possible that such treatments could be modified to enhance normal brain function, for example improving memory or alertness."
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LouPhinFan
07-19-2007, 09:12 PM
Could this possibly help Alzheimer's?

ckb2001
07-19-2007, 09:28 PM
Could this possibly help Alzheimer's?

Obviously, it's all really too early to tell, but at first sight I'd doubt it. They are two different kinds of problems it seems. Alzheimer's is something to be dealt with at the molecular/genetic level (so something more fundamental than the "circuit" or systems level), not really something like this, based at least on the little we know today.

LouPhinFan
07-20-2007, 12:49 AM
Obviously, it's all really too early to tell, but at first sight I'd doubt it. They are two different kinds of problems it seems. Alzheimer's is something to be dealt with at the molecular/genetic level (so something more fundamental than the "circuit" or systems level), not really something like this, based at least on the little we know today.

That's what I was afraid of.

Its a family trait on my mother's side. Diabetes on my dad's side. Agh.

ckb2001
07-20-2007, 01:20 AM
That's what I was afraid of.

Its a family trait on my mother's side. Diabetes on my dad's side. Agh.

Actually, making it a problem to be dealt with at the molecular/genetic level probably increases your chances of seeing a cure in your lifetime, since that's the bread and butter of Big Pharma and science for that kind of stuff is in general more advanced than systems neuroscience.

In any case, there already are trials for drugs on Alzheimers:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070622163923.htm

"A drug based on the design of a Purdue University researcher to treat Alzheimer's disease just began the first phase of human clinical trials."

"Current drugs manage the symptoms, but this could be the first disease-modifying therapy. It may be able to prevent and reverse the disease."

"CoMentis Inc., a biopharmaceutical company based in San Francisco, is initiating the clinical trials of the experimental drug CTS-21166."
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Now, whether this one drug works or not and how well it works is not known yet, but you're probably making a good bet if you say there will be an effective treatment or cure for Alzheimers within 30 years or so. So, try to last that long :wink:

LouPhinFan
07-20-2007, 11:17 AM
Actually, making it a problem to be dealt with at the molecular/genetic level probably increases your chances of seeing a cure in your lifetime, since that's the bread and butter of Big Pharma and science for that kind of stuff is in general more advanced than systems neuroscience.

In any case, there already are trials for drugs on Alzheimers:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070622163923.htm

"A drug based on the design of a Purdue University researcher to treat Alzheimer's disease just began the first phase of human clinical trials."

"Current drugs manage the symptoms, but this could be the first disease-modifying therapy. It may be able to prevent and reverse the disease."

"CoMentis Inc., a biopharmaceutical company based in San Francisco, is initiating the clinical trials of the experimental drug CTS-21166."
-----------------------


Now, whether this one drug works or not and how well it works is not known yet, but you're probably making a good bet if you say there will be an effective treatment or cure for Alzheimers within 30 years or so. So, try to last that long :wink:

That's good news. My grandmother died with it. From what I understand, there might be a cure for diabetes within the next 10 years as well.