Cyborg Rats Have Digital Brain Parts

Researchers at Israel's Tel Aviv University have found that is is possible to replace limited parts of a rat's brain with electronic equipment. The intent is to help people with diseases such as Parkinson's, by replacing faulty brain tissue with electronics.

"Imagine there's a small area in the brain that is malfunctioning, and imagine that we understand the architecture of this damaged area," says Prof Matti Mintz, a psychobiologist at Tel Aviv University who is involved in the international project.


(Researcher monitors a sedated rat)

They took advantage of the fact that if a rat hears a particular sound before it gets hit with a jet of air, it will eventually blink when the sound is played ahead of the puff reaching its eyes.

Prof Mintz offered the BBC a tour of his lab at Tel Aviv University "We know how to blink. Currently, I'm blinking very freely," says Prof Mintz.

"We also know how to record that the animals are learning to respond to a stimulus - we plant electrodes around the eye, and record the muscle activity to see when the rat actually closes its eye.

"And we know that when we damage the biological structure [the cerebellum] the animal cannot learn this simple motor response any more, never again, and nothing in the brain can replace this learning.

"So after having studied this brain region, we constructed a simulation that works in a similar way to the original biological system - and when we see some recovery of the lost movement, it is clear that it is coming from our synthetic device and not from any other area of the brain."

My favorite example of this idea in sf is the microsoft from William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer.

The counters that fronted the booths displayed hundreds of slivers of microsoft, angular fragments of colored silicon mounted under oblong transparent bubbles on squares of white cardboard ... Behind [one] counter a boy with a shaven head stared vacantly into space, a dozen spikes of microsoft protruding from the socket behind his ear.

"Larry, you in, man?" She positioned herself in front of him. The boy's eyes focused. He sat up in his chair and pried a bright magenta splinter from his socket with a dirty thumbnail.

From BBC; thanks to Moira for the tip on the story and a reference.

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