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Biotech Medicine

Rewiring a Damaged Brain 92

Posted by Soulskill
from the resistance-is-futile dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers in the Midwest are developing microelectronic circuitry to guide the growth of axons in a brain damaged by trauma. The goal is to rewire the brain connectivity and bypass the damaged region in order to restore normal behavior and movement. 'The device, which [professor Pedram Mohseni] calls a brain-machine-brain interface, includes a microchip on a circuit board smaller than a quarter. The microchip amplifies signals, called neural action potentials, produced by the neurons in one part of the brain and uses an algorithm to separate these signals — brain spike activity — from noise and other artifacts. Upon spike discrimination, the microchip sends a current pulse to stimulate neurons in another part of the brain, artificially connecting the two brain regions.'"
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Rewiring a Damaged Brain

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  • Not good enough... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SpasticMutant (748828) on Monday September 27, 2010 @11:30PM (#33719512) Homepage
    Too bad it's only for physical trauma. Emotional trauma is yours to keep!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Which may not be a bad thing - people with only happy memories, with no recollection of all the bad things that happened to him/her? Not so sure if you'd want that, there must be reasons that crap sticks in our minds (like: keeps you on the lookout to avoid more of it) ...

      • I agree to a point; I can see that with lessons like, "Fire hot! Ow!", but not so much with, "Priest touching me, can't tell anybody! Must repress.".
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by the_humeister (922869)

      Too bad it's only for physical trauma. Emotional trauma is yours to keep!

      That's why we have alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems!

      • by HexOxide (1375611)
        I've always wondered, if alcohol is the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems, why not just get rid of alcohol, thus getting rid of all of life's problem, along with the need for a solution to them?
        • by martas (1439879)
          You can't get rid of alcohol. Alcohol gets rid of you. And no, not just in Soviet Russia.
      • And then you can use this technology once the booze kills off your brain cells!

  • first post (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ...using the brain chip.

    Damn the lag.

  • Drain Bamage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kolbe (320366) on Monday September 27, 2010 @11:50PM (#33719582) Homepage

    I would be curious to see if this could eventually be used to offset the effects of Brain Surgery as well.

    Having gone through a waking craniotomy to remove a benign tumor from my left temporal cortex in 2006, I'd quickly come to realize that certain things I was capable of before surgery were very difficult, if not nearly impossible without re learning the process all over again. For me, the issue was a loss of linguistics. I was unable to pronunciate "B" or "V" for over a week and had to re-teach myself. Beyond that, I was no longer fluent at speaking both Spanish and English where I was before. None the less, I still consider myself lucky that I have my life and my memories still.

    In any case, work such as this can only help foster a shorter recovery time for brain trauma patients or better yet, recover capabilities that could have been completely lost. Did I mention being a cyborg sounds cool too?

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Just posing a question, but how could you really 'know' if you still had all your memories or not?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zAPPzAPP (1207370)
      They are just trying to provide a general connection around a damaged area. I doubt this connection will make any sense to the brain at first. So you will still have to learn to interprete those new signals and make use of them.
  • by catmistake (814204) on Monday September 27, 2010 @11:51PM (#33719588) Journal

    Nice to see treatments being developed. At least when I took that Philosophy of Mind course in the early 90's, most of what we knew about the brain came from trauma... specifically, bicycle accidents. Basically, case studies looked at where the trauma was located, and built hypothesis about what that area did based on what no longer worked correctly in the patient. Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat was one of our texts, a collection of interesting studies along these lines. Brain damaged patients didn't get treatment regarding their brain truama, per se, they got studied. Sacks was a pure researcher... but somehow got involved with studying patients, and subsequently got fed up with the established idea that there were no treatments. see Awakenings.

    We knew then that the brain tries to reroute things. I met someone recently that suffered from trauma induced skitzophrenia. He said it had been explained to him that a head trauma caused damage to a part of his brain that was between his eyes and that which interprets what he sees... and over time his brain rerouted the signals through other parts that were not damaged, such as memory centers... so he constantly is seeing people that aren't there, but are part of his memory. He claims there is a seamless interaction between these memory people, and the empirical environment... they are not ghosts, so he has to watch closely in crowds to see the reactions of people, and that's how he tells them apart... the memory people only react to movement, avoiding the real people and solid objects, but real people react to what is happening, what is being said, what they are watching.

    Stem cell research appears to hold a lot of promise for brain trauma patients such as the man I met.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:58AM (#33719852)

      Stem cell research appears to hold a lot of promise for brain trauma patients such as the man I met.

      Induced pluripotent stem cell research, more likely. And it will be interesting to see the patients who have such therapy done in certain parts of their brain. Whether or not there are new neurons produced in some areas of the brain like the neocortex is still somewhat controversial. The thinking was for a long time that you couldn't get new neurons because they 1. weren't produced in the brain 2. wouldn't be able to integrate properly and 3. would change the personality if they did. 1 was proven wrong. 2 seems to have been proven wrong too, I think. As far as I know, no one knows whether or not new neurons in your brain would make you a different person. There have definitely been cases of brain injuries changing people's personality. So it will be interesting to see if this type of therapy, or IPsC therapy will cure the damage, but make a new person rather than bring back the old person.

      • by sjames (1099)

        It seems likely that if it makes you a new person, that was going to be the case either way. That is, the damage was already doing that. The only question then is how much disability (if any) will that new person have.

      • by LUH 3418 (1429407)
        It does seem likely that if a big part of your brain was reconstructed, you could have a different personality from before (with different degrees of change depending on the location and amount of damage). However, if I had to pick between that and being essentially disabled for life, I'd pick the personality change.

        Having different personality traits could mean some of the people you know won't fully recognize you. It could likely mean losing some friends and/or a love partner, but then, so could having
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jacquems (610184)
      Conversely, I've often wondered whether people with exceptional abilities might also have brains that have "rewired" themselves. For example, someone with an exceptional capacity for memory might be using areas other than the recognized memory centers of the brain to store memories. It seems that the majority of studies are focused on cases of damage or dysfunction, and relatively few on cases of above-average functioning.
      • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @01:37AM (#33720008)

        I know that taxi drivers who know a city really well end up having noticeable growth in certain areas of the brain that isn't present in control groups.

      • Unfortunately, it's much more difficult to tell where the weirdness is when a brain isn't damaged. A brain scar is easy to pick up on an fMRI or a CT scan. Connecting that scar to what isn't working right is a relatively simple thing. A perfectly undamaged brain that's working in an unusual way is more difficult... you may see a hot spot on an fMRI, but how will you know that this region is what's causing the unusual performance of the brain?

        • When you ask someone to perform a task related to X, and an area normally involving things completely unrelated to X lights up like the fourth of July?

      • Good point. There is also some phenomena where the brains of couples, or a small group of people, operate differently, or at a great deficit, if separated from the other or the group. Maybe 'normal' or 'average' is hard to pin down because of the amount of variety or even social or occupational specialization. It isn't exactly clear, but socialization is important to proper brain function.
    • so he constantly is seeing people that aren't there, but are part of his memory. He claims there is a seamless interaction between these memory people, and the empirical environment... they are not ghosts, so he has to watch closely in crowds to see the reactions of people, and that's how he tells them apart... the memory people only react to movement, avoiding the real people and solid objects, but real people react to what is happening, what is being said, what they are watching.

      Stem cell research appears to hold a lot of promise for brain trauma patients such as the man I met.

      That would totally stink to be him, but nonetheless that is absolutely fascinating.

  • I'm going to go ahead and read this as "scientists develop nanobots to hack the brain".

    I know it's not true, but it sounds awesome.

  • Wasn't there a teeny horror flick made in the eighties about the dangers of this already.

    • by robot256 (1635039)

      Wasn't there a teeny horror flick made in the eighties about the dangers of this already.

      I wonder what percentage of slashdot articles would this be an appropriate response for? 10%? 20%?

    • by jacquems (610184)
      The first thing that came to mind for me when I read the summary was Interface [amazon.com] by Neal Stephenson. It also comes to the conclusion that there are dangers associated with implanting microchips in people's brains.
  • Go EASY on your EBE's
  • Its when you use this technology to connect two different brains that things get interesting.....
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Or dangerous. Each brain is its own domain. If you were to cross inject foreign signals and/or pattern without each brain being aware of the bigger picture, it could be very chaotic.

      Interesting indeed. I'll pass.

      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        The proper way to connect two brains would be to make a smarter interface, that connects to multiple areas.

        (bear in mind I am not a neurosurgeon.)

        Such as, you could attach some reference signals to the premotor cortex, so that the patient could then "actively" engage and disengage the connection, and perhaps even learn to "Dial" another discrete unit. This part of the rig controls the "switching" part of the interface. (Similar technology allows monkeys to play video games using only their brain.)

        The second

    • by Lazareth (1756336)

      Oh wow, that idea triggers all kinds of mad scientist urges in me!
      Oh wait, aren't we already interfacing using sight, sound, etc? Although a low-level direct connection might be interesting.

    • Don't cross the beams?
  • Except, No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:45AM (#33719794) Journal

    The brain already does this itself. It's called neural plasticity. If they brain can do it, it will. If it can't, sticking wires into it and applying shocks and other intrusions and insults is not going to make it happen. Not properly anyway.

    TFA is about neural jumper cables that can focus on only the signals they want, bypass damage and send the signal to another location. Fine idea except you kill the target quickly. But it specifically states "artificially". That makes the stuff about guiding axonal growth complete bullshit.

    Neural connection is guided by glial cells, which are half the brain. If a region is damaged, both kinds of cells are damaged -- there's nothing to guide the growth of neural cells which are also damaged anyway. If you stimulate growth without the guiding mechanism, the cells form a tangle called a neuroma. The best outcome would be no result. Such neuromas caused by severed nerves, such as in amputations ('stump neuromas') are one of the causes of phantom limb pain. Neuromas in the cortex may not cause pain, but if they produce any result other than none, it'll be wrong and potentially interfering with function in the undamaged areas. Plus, stimulating growth where it can't happen properly is an excellent way to stimulate excessive, unguided, pathological growth -- tumors.

    • Re:Except, No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by martas (1439879) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @03:05AM (#33720350)
      I disagree. AFAIK, there are many natural healing processes in the human body that can be accelerated with external stimulation. Can't be bothered to find examples now, but fairly certain that it's true. It I am indeed right, then it's not unreasonable to expect that a similar approach can speed up healing in the brain.

      Regarding your claim about the formation of 'neuromas', I don't see how you can be so certain that that would be the result of the treatment in question. What evidence could you possibly have, considering this is a brand-new idea?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
        You're asking for cited evidence for his theory when you yourself admitted to not being bothered to find any to support your own?

        You too, mate.
        • by martas (1439879)
          uhh, yeah, walked into that one.. but i still maintain that it should be easy to find evidence supporting my clam, so yeah... i've convinced myself already, too bored to do the work for the rest of you. :]
      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        This is similar to how the rest of the body regenerates. In the brain, the glial cells do indeed help guide neuronal connections, and the routing of axon bundles, among other functions.

        In the rest of the body a similar structural function is accomplished using "Fibroblasts." [wikipedia.org] These cells "Know" where they are (or where they 'should' be anyway...) in the body, and help guide tissue cells to divide and proliferate properly to repair damaged tissues.

        There has been extensive study of fibroblasts in animals conc

    • Re:Except, No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @03:05AM (#33720352)

      The brain already does this itself. It's called neural plasticity. If they brain can do it, it will. If it can't, sticking wires into it and applying shocks and other intrusions and insults is not going to make it happen. Not properly anyway.

      That makes just as much sense as saying that "the body heals cuts naturally, so stitching flesh together is not going to fix anything, not properly anyhow".

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I'd say it's closer to "We've thought the earth was flat for centuries, how can you come and say the earth is round, even with your newfangled theories and tests, I discount all your research and stick to my pre-existing beliefs"

  • Paradox (Score:3, Funny)

    by ewieling (90662) <user&devnull,net> on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:45AM (#33719796)

    "researchers foresee the possibility of using the approach in patients 10 years from now."

    How can medical research move so fast and so slow at the SAME TIME?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SpasticMutant (748828)

      "researchers foresee the possibility of using the approach in patients 10 years from now."

      How can medical research move so fast and so slow at the SAME TIME?

      That's easy. It's all about the funding. Now some VC will sink a ton of money into this, after which the pace will slow to glacial while they await regulatory approval. Right about when they need more money, they'll announce another breakthrough, or something favorable enough to secure more funding. Eventually some newer idea will knock this one off its pedestal, or they'll ship a product and get bought out by a large pharmaceutical or medical device company. The doctors and engineers will be free to re

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Joe Tie. (567096)
        The regulatory aspects in particular are why I never get too excited by things like this.
        • Re:Paradox (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Amorymeltzer (1213818) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @10:01AM (#33722500)

          The regulatory aspects in particular are why I never get too excited by things like this.

          "Regulatory aspects?" It's Rewiring a Damaged Brain - literally brain surgery with some chip-building tossed in. Yes there are regulations, but progress is slow because it is hard to find brains to screw around with. This is not a process you take lightly.

          • by BraksDad (963908)
            There are plenty of brains to screw around with, but you need something to compare with or you fail to really learn anything. Finding people with similar enough conditions so you can monitor against a control is the hard part. I have an inopperable GBM inside my mid-brain. I am currently 29 months into a 12 month prognosis, what exactly do I have to lose? Not much, so why not let them anesthasise me and give new things a whirl? It is most likely I will die of asphyxiation or my heart will simply stop. Eithe
  • by iamhassi (659463) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:48AM (#33719810) Journal
    I know everyone hated the Iraq war, but I found it fascinating when the article said "Their work is inspired by the traumatic brain injuries suffered by ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite improvements in helmets and armor, brain trauma continues to be the signature injury of these wars."

    Of course if we hadn't had soliders in the war there wouldn't be any brain trauma to repair, but those soliders sacrifice in Iraq might end up helping millions of people who suffer brain damage from accidents and strokes
    • by tehcyder (746570) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @10:54AM (#33723346) Journal

      Of course if we hadn't had soliders in the war there wouldn't be any brain trauma to repair, but those soliders sacrifice in Iraq might end up helping millions of people who suffer brain damage from accidents and strokes

      Or instead, the people helping the millions of people who suffer brain damage from accidents and strokes could be, maybe, the millions of people who suffer brain damage from accidents and strokes, thereby obviating the need for a fucking expensive and pointless war entirely.

      • by iamhassi (659463)
        "Or instead, the people helping the millions of people who suffer brain damage from accidents and strokes could be, maybe, the millions of people who suffer brain damage from accidents and strokes, thereby obviating the need for a fucking expensive and pointless war entirely."

        You would think millions of people would be enough, but according to the article it wasn't, they were "inspired by the traumatic brain injuries suffered by ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq"

        Their words not mine, but it just p
  • Reminds me of Prime Intellect [kuro5hin.org].
  • vaporware (Score:3, Interesting)

    by swell (195815) <jabberwock&poetic,com> on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @02:17AM (#33720182)

    The ability to connect electronic circuits with neural tissue is an extremely important milestone. It can potentially aid the blind, those with impaired motor function and much more.

    The problem is that it has never been done in a lasting way. Until compatibility issues are solved there is no circuit, however clever, that will perform its function for the months and years that may be required.

    When the circuit has to be installed in a delicate tissue, such as the brain, requiring a complex procedure, is it wise to commit the patient to a lifetime of replacement surgeries?

    The interface must be perfected before any such circuit can be successful.

  • Quite Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pinkushun (1467193) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @04:19AM (#33720604) Journal

    Looking for info on how fast signals travel in our brains, compared to those in a electronic circuit, I found this interesting comparison of the brain vs a Pentium 4 processor: http://vadim.oversigma.com/MAS862/Project.html [oversigma.com]

  • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @05:28AM (#33720806)

    The potential of this is incredible. If this technology is ever fully developed, it would allow you to do something much more interesting than connecting 2 portions of damaged brain. There's no reason a powerful computer cluster couldn't simulate a portion of brain tissue and "stand in" as fake neurons on the other side of the link.

    If the simulation were accurate enough, it would be possible for the patient to train the simulated brain tissue to mimic the original. Recovering stroke patients do this all the time. In the human brain, somehow one portion of the brain can train another portion and can smoothly distribute information around. So in principle, the computer simulation's neurons could gradually be coded with some of the skills of the person connected.

    This would put us a LOT closer to real artificial intelligence, because we would now be able to see what is actually going on in a working area of human neural tissue. Do this on enough patients, and you'd have electronic analogues of most of the brain.

    And the cool part : it might be possible someday to gradually replace a person's brain entirely through a series of surgeries and installing more and more microchips followed by a recovery and training period. You might be able to capture enough of a person's memories, personalities, and skills that the computer simulation would be capable of learning new abilities like the original person and passing the turing test.

    • But then you deal with the "I am my brain" complex. Is this machine now human, will the body still die but the brian live on? Personally, I feel that as long as one part of me is flesh I am human and alive. The minute I become completely machine, who I was is lost. As much as I would love to have most of me replaced/enhanced by machines, I still feel that my brain must be left intact for me to be who I am.
      • But in the hypothetical event that you find yourself in the machine, life will go on regardless of whether you 'feel' you are the same. Think of the problems you could solve without your thinking enhanced by computer! Your thoughts would be millions of times faster than they are now.
  • The microchip amplifies signals, called neural action potentials, produced by the neurons in one part of the brain and uses an algorithm to separate these signals — brain spike activity — from noise and other artifacts.

    In the context of the brain -- which operates in a manner we're still trying to figure out -- please define "noise" and "other artifacts."

    This little gizmo could be throwing away the parity bits used to keep everything coherent.

  • I'm kind of looking forward to it.

  • I think this is only the beginning, we all will at one point end up with a chip in our brain, to help us connect to a link in the near future that will replace totally what we know as the web. The web will still be there, but we will be able to access it via our chip, and make phone calls, etc...etc... a bit like the borg. This is the first step towards this....we allow a chip to help us with one part of our brain to communicate to another (whether it be from a disease or just to have quicker thought time).

  • I'm an OEF vet and when I went to the VA TO get assistance with my mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) issues, I got a chorus of replies passing foff the issues affecting to some other cause. Now TBI, that is fucking obvious I've seen guys with that, its devastating. However I guess since mTBI only kinda fucks my life up, as opposed to making me unable to function, it seems it could have been caused by a bunch of other things. All the advancements won't mean shit to the boots on the ground until/unless the V
  • I had a stroke in my 20's that left me with very reduced peripheral vision on the left. Over the years a tiny bit has returned, which is probably the result of my brain doing some rerouting. I'm assuming this tech, once developed, could eventually help me. Wonder if my insurance will cover it... haha...

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