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Swedish Scientists Build Artificial Neurons Able to Communicate With Organic Neurons

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Scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have built a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics. This artificial neuron contain no “living” parts, but is capable of mimicking the function of a human nerve cell and communicate in the same way as our own neurons do.

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Neurons communicate with chemical signals called neurotransmitters. Incoming chemical signals are converted to electrical signals that travel along the neuron and eventually converted back to chemical signals and sent to other neurons. To date, the main medical technique used for neuronal stimulation is based on electrical stimulation. However, the new bioelectronic device developed by the Karolinska researchers is capable of receiving chemical signals, which it can then relay to organic neurons.

The Fundamental Chemical-to-Electrical-to-Chemical Signal Transduction Function of Organic Neurons is Achieved by the Artificial Neuron

Our artificial neuron is made of conductive polymers and it functions like a human neuron,

artificial neuronsays lead investigator Agneta Richter-Dahlfors, professor of cellular microbiology. “The sensing component of the artificial neuron senses a change in chemical signals in one dish, and translates this into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is next translated into the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in a second dish, whose effect on living human cells can be monitored.”

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Richter-Dahlfors and her team, in collaboration with collegues at Linköping University, have published the results of their research in an article titled “An organic electronic biomimetic neuron enables auto-regulated neuromodulation” on Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

The fundamental function of neurons, defined as chemical-to-electrical-to-chemical signal transduction, is achieved by connecting enzyme-based amperometric biosensors and organic electronic ion pumps. According to the research paper, the results demonstrate the potential of the organic electronic biomimetic neuron in therapies involving long-range neuronal signalling by mimicking the function of projection neurons.

artificial-neuron-communication

The intended applications of the research include complementing or replacing traditional electrical stimulation with neuron-like chemical signals in treatments for neurologial disorders. The prototype organic electronic biomimetic neuron would have the capacity to precisely intervene with the underlying malfunctioning signalling pathway.In the future, this may help physicians to bypass damaged nerve cells and restore neural function.

“Next, we would like to miniaturize this device to enable implantation into the human body,” says Agneta Richer-Dahlfors.

We foresee that in the future, by adding the concept of wireless communication, the biosensor could be placed in one part of the body, and trigger release of neurotransmitters at distant locations. Using such auto-regulated sensing and delivery, or possibly a remote control, new and exciting opportunities for future research and treatment of neurological disorders can be envisaged.

Currently the prototype device, shown in the video, is fingertip-sized. It’s interesting to speculate on the possibility that this or a similar devices could eventually be subject to extreme miniaturization much beyond the relatively sober plans envisaged by Richer-Dahlfors. Banks of cell-sized artificial neurons that work like organic neurons, and can communicate with organic neurons, could then be added to the brain as co-processors and memory storage devices, which would be an important step toward working brain implants.

Images from Shutterstok and Karolinska Institutet.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Don Reba

    June 27, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    With that wireless technology ambition, couldn’t you place triggers in one body, and release in another? That could be… interesting.

    • DoRightThing

      June 28, 2015 at 5:37 am

      It would open up the possibility of having an organism with physically disconnected parts, or provide inter-organism communication…
      A Borg-like collective may arise as an evolutionary waypoint in the future.
      However, with human nature being what it is, a neural internet may not be much fun after all.
      It is still too early to say if intelligence confers an evolutionary advantage!

    • Giulio Prisco

      June 29, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Most definitely interesting! (Think of applications to sex 🙂 Wireless receptors should be placed in the target body though.

  2. Brad Arnold

    June 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Synthetic neocortex extender.

  3. Private_Eyescream

    July 6, 2015 at 5:25 am

    Except… human brains use sodium and potassium ions for neural communications with electricity being only a shortcut for speed. This artificial neuron creates no potassium or sodium ions and just uses electrons. Now to explain the problem a bit more.

    Brain sends a coded signal. Potassium and sodium ions are released from neuro-transmitters.

    Artificial neuron sends a coded electrical signal. No potassium or sodium ions are released or absorbed. This is what, in biochemistry, would be called a “non-free ride”, which the human body despises. Because no potassium or sodium is released, the body has to reuse these ions at a mitochondrial cost, burning ATP and chewing through the chemical energy Krebs Cycle paths like a parasite, killing the nerve cells by using up electrical energy while not replacing any chemical source energy molecules. Research EXCITO-TOXINS for more information.

    And since no new ions are put in play, the chemical signal at the neural ends are static, unchanged, but the electrical signals run on, artificially generated by the Artificial Neuron. How do nerves signal at the end of the dendrites? By ionic chemical reactions with sodium and potassium ion receptors, but since none of that chemistry is in play with the fake nerve cell, the result is chemical confusion and the errant release or uptake of neural signalling ions. And what happens when the Artificial Neuron is NOT SIGNALLING (not killing nerve cells)? Well, the answer is simple, the neurotransmitter ions are left RANDOMIZED. Completely RANDOMIZED.

    Excitotoxins are a class of chemicals (usually amino acids) that overstimulate neuron receptors. Neuron receptors allow brain cells to communicate with each other, but when they’re exposed to excitotoxins, they fire impulses at such a rapid rate that they become exhausted, then die.

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Medicine

Elon Musk Hints at Advances in ‘Neural Lace’ Brain Hacking Tech

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Visionary and sometimes controversial entrepreneur Elon Musk hinted at advances in next-generation brain hacking. Recent research results promise future “neural lace” technology that could enhance our brains and connect them to the cloud.

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Artificial Intelligence

The Possibilities and the Future of Brain Hacking

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For all of man’s scientific and technological advances, the human brain largely remains a mystery. A new Vimeo video, “Master/Mind,” examines the state of research on the human mind and the questions that scientists, ethicists, futurists and others are asking in light of what we’re learning about the mind. The video, a Vimeo Staff Pick, consists of a series of comments from scientists, technologist, futurists and ethicists.

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Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are developing so rapidly that many people are wondering if some day, man will no longer harness science but rather be controlled by it. As this question weighs heavily on peoples’ mind, there has been a focus on understanding the human brain.

The central issue the video explores is: New technologies are beginning to unlock the brain’s true potential, but at what cost to our humanity?

“We can identify galaxies light years away, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears,” President Obama states at the outset of the video’s journey.

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The video shows a recent news report that scientists are seeing neurons change in real-time as events are “recorded” in the brain.

An Organ Of Surreal Complexity

“This is an organ of surreal complexity, and we are just beginning to understand how to even study it,” says Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Sebastian Seung, Ph.D., Princeton Neuroscience Institute professor of computer science, says scientists have speculated that human memories, “the information that makes you, you,” are stored in the connections between the brain’s neurons.

The video examines various approaches to the study of the brain, from the universities to self-taught technology geeks.

The brain consists of 86 billion neurons and the neurons are connected via synapses and other matter. It’s a vast network of connections.

Scientists think synapses record what happens when someone learns something. The video shows what appear to be synapse images.

EEG Detects Brain’s Electrical Activity

Joel Murphy, co-founder of a technology consultancy called OpenBCI, sought to create a low-cost, open source electroencephalography (EEG) system that detects electrical activity in the brain. His partner, Conor Russomanno, found a “how to hack EEG’s” tutorial and was able to do it in one day. “I think everybody is interested in the brain these days,” Russomanno says. Technologies are emerging allowing us to tap in and “figure out what’s going on in there.”

The video examines the laboratory research using electrodes that attach to the human body and allow scientists to monitor fluctuations in electrical activity. Scientists are trying to understand the meaning of these frequencies and relate them to things that people perceive or experience in their everyday lives.

“I think brain computer interfaces are going to be instrumental in human evolution,” Russomanno says.

“Conceivably you could image your brain every two weeks and you would never lose more than two weeks of your experience,” says Russell Hanson, Ph.D., founder of a firm called Brain Backups.

Science Versus Ethics

The video also explores the tension between ethics and science.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of New York University (NYU) division of medical ethics, says myths throughout history are cautionary about going too far with human knowledge. But in modern times, people have been wondering about controlling new power, be it medical or physics. If we talk about modifying the brain, people worry about losing their identities, Caplan says.

In recent years, science has considered how technology can enhance human capability, such as wearable technology.

Futurist and inventor Raymond Kurzweil says thinking will be a hybrid, biological and non-biological.

Nick Bostrom, Ph.D., author and philosopher, says machine intelligence is the last invention that will need to be made. Machines will eventually be better at inventing than humans. “Once there is super intelligence, the fate of humanity may depend on what this super-intelligence does,” he says.

“Once they go in there (the brain) and tinker, what they are eventually going to do is very crude control and mostly destruction,” says Peter Breggin, M.D., a psychiatrist. “It’s the seat of our humanity, and that’s what they’re tampering with.”

Also read: Research Priorities for Artificial Intelligence — open letter

What Makes Us Human?

A narrator notes near the end of the video that man does not have the ability to do what he is doing if it wasn’t intended in the first place. From the beginning of time, man has worked to control the environment.

“We develop technology to improve the human experience,” Russomanno says. “Whatever we turn into or whatever we become, we need to make sure that we’re still human.”

“It seems to me the brain alterations are closer to changing who we are, so we have to be careful about what we want to be,” Caplan of NYU says.

“What is it about the human brain that could potentially never be replicated artificially?” asks Lydia Fazzio, M.D., founder of biohackers NYC. “To be human is to incorporate a bit of the erratic, of the unpredictable, and that is what I hope continues.”

Image from Shutterstock.

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Neurotech

Researchers Link Human Brains for Questions and Answers Game

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University of Washington researchers used a direct brain-to-brain connection to enable pairs of participants to play a question-and-answer game by transmitting signals from one brain to the other over the Internet. The experiment is thought to be the first to show that two brains can be directly linked to allow one person to guess what’s on another person’s mind.

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