Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A net to connect your brain to the net?

Science fiction which involves future humans having a permanent neural connection to the future internet has always been a bit vague about how that connection would be made. 

Seems to me that this story in Nature might be the first hint of the technology that could do it:
A diverse team of physicists, neuroscientists and chemists has implanted mouse brains with a rolled-up, silky mesh studded with tiny electronic devices, and shown that it unfurls to spy on and stimulate individual neurons.

 The implant has the potential to unravel the workings of the mammalian brain in unprecedented detail. “I think it’s great, a very creative new approach to the problem of recording from large number of neurons in the brain,” says Rafael Yuste, director of the Neuro­technology Center at Columbia University in New York, who was not involved in the work.

If eventually shown to be safe, the soft mesh might even be used in humans to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, says Charles Lieber, a chemist at Harvard University on Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the team. The work was published in Nature Nanotechnology on 8 June1.

The Harvard team solved these problems by using a mesh of conductive polymer threads with either nanoscale electrodes or transistors attached at their intersections. Each strand is as soft as silk and as flexible as brain tissue itself. Free space makes up 95% of the mesh, allowing cells to arrange themselves around it.

In 2012, the team showed2 that living cells grown in a dish can be coaxed to grow around these flexible scaffolds and meld with them, but this ‘cyborg’ tissue was created outside a living body. “The problem is, how do you get that into an existing brain?” says Lieber.
 Update:  someone comments after the Nature News article that it's like the "neural lace" used by Iain Banks in his Culture books.  Never read him myself,  but yes, it does sound as if it might be physically similar.   Quite interesting that this is the first time I've really heard of work on something that could have widespread neural connections.

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