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Biotech Medicine

Rewiring a Damaged Brain 92

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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  • Drain Bamage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kolbe ( 320366 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:50AM (#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?

  • by catmistake ( 814204 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:51AM (#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 Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:53AM (#33719594)

    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) ...

  • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @01:16AM (#33719682)

    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!

  • Except, No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @01:45AM (#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.

  • by iamhassi ( 659463 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @01:48AM (#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 interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @01:58AM (#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 jacquems ( 610184 ) <> on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @02:12AM (#33719904)
    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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @02:19AM (#33719940)

    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 The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @02:37AM (#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.

  • vaporware (Score:3, Interesting)

    by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock.poetic@com> on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @03:17AM (#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.

  • Re:Drain Bamage (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zAPPzAPP ( 1207370 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @03:39AM (#33720266)
    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.
  • Quite Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pinkushun ( 1467193 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @05:19AM (#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: []

  • by oh-dark-thirty ( 1648133 ) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @12:24PM (#33723830)

    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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