New science suggests we might soon be able to mix computers and neurons

Mar 22, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
New science suggests we might soon be able to mix computers and neurons
Image credit: ACS Nano, DOI:10.1021/nn103618d

(PhysOrg.com) -- Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, led by Minrui Yu and Yu Huang, have published an ACS Nano paper, "Semiconductor Nanomembrane Tubes: Three-Dimensional Confinement for Controlled Neurite Outgrowth," in which they show that they have been able to successfully coax nerve cell tendrils to grow through tiny tubes made of the semi-conductor materials silicon and germanium. While this ground-breaking research may not portend cyborgs or even human brains enmeshed with computer parts, it does open the door to the possibility of regenerating nerve cells damaged due to disease or injury.

The team, led by Justin Williams, a biomedical engineer, created tubes of varying sizes and shapes, small enough for a nerve cell to glam on to, but not so big that it could fit all the way inside. The tubes were then coated with from mice and then watched to see how they would react. Instead of sitting idly, the nerve cells began to send tendrils through the tunnels, as if searching for a path to something or somewhere else. In some instances they actually followed the contours of the tubes, which means, in theory, that the nerves could be grown into structures.

Scientists have known for a while that nerve cells have a seek feature, but aren’t yet sure what it is they are seeking or if it’s just a random thing they do. By setting up nerve cells to follow pre-planned paths through tiny tubes, the research team hopes to find the answer to that by installing listening devices to record electrical emissions from nerves, which could in theory lead to recorded conversations between nerve cells.

The hope of course, in this type of research, is that a way can be found to connect a computer of some sort to a group of nerve cells to reestablish communication that has been disrupted. The computer in this case could serve as a relay of sorts, allowing those who can no longer walk, for example, due to spinal injury or disease, regain their former abilities. In that regard, this particular research is even more revealing than it might at first seem, due to the fact that the tiny tubes that have been created, very closely resemble myelin, the outer insulating sheath that covers parts of normal cells.

Explore further: A new imaging approach for monitoring cell metabolism

More information: Semiconductor Nanomembrane Tubes: Three-Dimensional Confinement for Controlled Neurite Outgrowth, ACS Nano, Article ASAP. DOI:10.1021/nn103618d

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User comments : 19

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JRDarby
5 / 5 (5) Mar 22, 2011
Fascinating!
HeloMenelo
2.7 / 5 (7) Mar 22, 2011
I Like it !
fuviss_co_uk
5 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2011
Great research
Gthedon
5 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2011
wow my dream neural-electronical integration ... ughhhhhhhh how i long for a day when i have the knowledge of the world (via internet) at my disposal within attoseconds of me thinking the question.. OK i know.. there are other applications that the government can use or anyone for that matter that can potentially be catastrophic/enslaving to the populous but, as with all scientific endeavors risk and reward are a package deal.
jselin
5 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2011
I know Kung Fu
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2011
Gives a whole new meaning to "intertubes".

Oh, and there is no spoon.
Birthmark
not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
This is beyond exciting :D Can I sign up for the trials before it goes public!?!?
zevkirsh
5 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2011
this needs to be hooked up to a lab on a chip that can deliver growth factors or neurotransmitters with digital prescion to synapses , axongs and elsewhere to accomplish highly controlled experiments with unprecedented specficity upon neurons.

could open upon a whole new era of neuronal investigation
Kedas
5 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2011
Were are the day's that we didn't need to upload a firewall update to our brain every morning....
SteveL
5 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2011
Hm... We are Borg?

It will start with the very justifiable control of dibilitating nerve-centered diseases (of which there are many), and continue to ... what limit?
atwas911
5 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2011
Wonderful.. But as soon as the nutcase religious freaks catch wind of this all hell is going to break loose. They are gonna be on the floor convulsing and speaking in tongues to display to the world just how evil this tech is...

No offense to this tech, but we really need to find a cure for the above mentioned problem first.. :P
rgwalther
not rated yet Mar 24, 2011
Hm... We are Borg?
It will start with the very justifiable control of dibilitating nerve-centered diseases (of which there are many), and continue to ... what limit?


It will continue to assimilate until resistance is futile.
Gthedon
not rated yet Mar 24, 2011
lololololol
Hoodoo
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
Awesome stuff. I love that mental image of neurons "seeking" each other down pipes.
Also, I think it's the first instance I've seen of the use of "glam" as verb. There may have been some girls I glammed onto without fitting all the way inside in my time...
whitefang
not rated yet Mar 26, 2011
The focus of this article is on possible medical applications of this technology to quadriplegics but it is interesting to wonder about 'Inception' uses.

Fine. But does anyone today know how bio-neural hardware manufactures the interactive model of reality which you use? Current fMRI scans tell you little of the fundamental mechanics or its software. For information input it would seem the only practical methodology at this time would be via retinal and cochlear implants to supply raw percepts which in turn native neural processors would model as they will. But mentally how would you tell the implant modules specifically what it is that you want to access? REM dream picture projections on the retina picked up by sensors? Starts to sound a little too BORG.
GBirch
3 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
Wonderful.. But as soon as the nutcase religious freaks catch wind of this all hell is going to break loose. They are gonna be on the floor convulsing and speaking in tongues to display to the world just how evil this tech is...

No offense to this tech, but we really need to find a cure for the above mentioned problem first.. :P


Some people are never happy! Why the need to denigrate other people out of the clear blue sky? Get over yourself and contribute something positive for a change!
Gthedon
not rated yet Mar 29, 2011
Gbirch.. i have alot of respect for that post. alot of people posting think its all about being right and showing that the post before them was less insightful then there own, when really its about engaging a community in scientific conversation to inspire and conduce thought. For a bunch of people belonging to a community such as this i am dumfounded by the amount of ignorance and denigration going on between articles.
GBirch
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2011
Thanks Gthedon... I wasn't trying to make a statement for or against the religious point of view, I would just like us as a community to bring about positive change for everyone through rational discussion.

Gary
Gthedon
not rated yet Mar 29, 2011
agreed, it appears tho, unfortunately to many immature minds are aloud to write whatever they want. This site is here for scientific minds to meet share thoughts, constructive criticism, etc, not bash each other.