27 November 2009

Micro-Nubbin Neuron-Chip Interface

This "micro-nubbin" nerve interface-chip from IMEC provides convenient "docking stations" for nerve processes to interface. The chip is meant to serve as an experimental "eavesdropper" -- to listen in on communication between neurons. Initially, it will provide a surface for nerves to grow and interface. Scientists hope to learn something from recording how networks of neurons communicate among themselves.
IMEC presents a unique microchip with microscopic nail structures that enable close communication between the electronics and biological cells. The new chip is a mass-producible, easy-to-use tool in electrophysiology research, for example for fundamental research on the functioning and dysfunctioning of the brain. Each micronail structure serves as a close contact-point for one cell, and contains an electrode that can very accurately record and trigger in real-time the electrical activity of an individual electrogenic cell in a network.

...IMEC's new micronail chip is the ideal instrument to study the communication mechanisms between cells. The electrodes in IMEC's micronail chip are downsized to the size of cells and even smaller. They consist of tiny nail structures made of a metal stem covered with an oxide layer, and a conductive (e.g. gold or titaniumnitride) tip. When cells are applied on the chip surface, their cell membrane strongly engulfs the nail structures, thereby realizing an intimate contact with the electrode. This very close contact improves the signal-to-interference ratio enabling precise recording of electrical signals and electrical stimulation of single cells. _SD
This research is fairly mundane, as described. But Al Fin neuroscientists understand where the science is heading, and are quite excited.

The micro-nubbin chips will need further miniaturisation, and will have to be made biocompatible. In the lab, neuronal and glial proto-cells will be cultured, in contact with the micro-nubbins. The chip + precursor cells + selected growth factors will be implanted intra-cranially, and anchored to the underside of the skull. The cultured and anchored cells will send processes into the white matter of the brain via an intricate system of artificial portals -- in essence engineered artificial white matter paths from the interface to merge with established white matter pathways.   These soft tissue penetrations of the cortex would be composed of the individual's own cells, and firmly immersed within soft tissue so as not to cause damage to other structures.

Al Fin neuroscientists envision roughly a dozen of these micro-nubbin brain/machine interfaces at specific areas of the skull -- depending upon the brain systems to be interfaced. Each nubbin-hub interface will allow for roughly a thousand or more neuron-chip interface points. Visual, auditory, olfactory, motor, and memory systems will be targeted -- among others.

Clearly the initial applications will be military. First, to provide prosthetic control of artificial limbs, and to provide optic and auditory input to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who have suffered brain damage. As the operational ability of the chips improves, they will be used to compensate for subtler forms of brain damage and functional impairment in military injuries.

As the chips are perfected they will be used to create nerve-machine interfacing with advanced weapons systems and remote reconnaissance systems. Then the chips will be implanted into elite combat infantry operatives.

Imagine being able to see well beyond the electromagnetic spectrum of visible light. Or to be able to hear well beyond the auditory spectrum of 20 Hz to 20 KHz. Having the ability to distinguish subtle smells better than a bloodhound. Those would be simple beginnings with much more complex capabilities downloaded later -- as improved versions are developed.

Brain-machine interfacing will allow for a wide variety of expanded human senses and function, as well as rich virtual reality and augmented reality settings. Auxiliary memory and calculation systems as well as other advantages of complex interfacing with highly advanced information systems, would also be available.

Before all these things can be done, such micro-nubbin chips will have to become "smart enough" to understand neuronal code.  That is the purpose of the initial lab studies with cultured neuronal nets.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Saturday, 28 November, 2009  

Post a Comment

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts