A pacemaker for your brain

Jun 28, 2010

By stimulating certain areas of the brain, scientists can alleviate the effects of disorders such as depression or Parkinson's disease. That's the good news. But because controlling that stimulation currently lacks precision, over-stimulation is a serious concern — losing some of its therapeutic benefits for the patient over time.

Now a Tel Aviv University team, part of a European consortium, is delving deep into human behavior, and engineering to create a that can help doctors wire computer applications and sensors to the brain. The chip will provide precisely where and when it's needed.

Prof. Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University's Psychobiology Research Unit in its Department of Psychology is focusing on the behavioral-physiological aspects of the research. He and the rest of the international research team are working toward a chip that could help treat some diseases of the mind in just a few years. The platform, says Prof. Mintz, is flexible enough to provide a basis for a variety of clinical experiments, and tools which can be programmed for specific disorders. For example, the chip could restore lost functions of the brain after a from a car accident or stroke.

Reversing strokes, depression and aging

The team's methodology is straightforward — they record activity using electrodes implanted in diseased areas of the brain. Based on an analysis of this activity, they develop algorithms to simulate healthy which are programmed into a microchip and fed back into the brain.

For now, the chip, called the Rehabilitation Nano Chip (or ReNaChip), is hooked up to tiny electrodes which are implanted in the brain. But as chips become smaller, the ReNaChip could be made small enough to be "etched" right onto the electrodes themselves.

For therapeutic purposes, though, only the electrodes will be inserted into the brain. "The chip itself can be implanted just under the skin, like pacemakers for the heart," says Prof. Mintz, who is currently conducting experiments on animal models, "ensuring that the brain is stimulated only when it needs to be."

One of the challenges of the proposed technology is the size of the electrodes. The researchers hope to further miniaturize deep brain electrodes while adding more sensors at the same time says Prof. Mintz. His Tel Aviv University colleague and partner Prof. Yossi Shaham-Diamond is working on this problem.

The international multidisciplinary team, includes other researchers from TAU -- Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron and Dr. Mira Kalish -- and partners from Austria, England and Spain, regularly converge on the TAU campus to update and integrate new components of the set-up and monitor the progress of the chip in live animals in Prof. Mintz's lab.

A two-way conversation

The idea that a chip can interface between inputs and outputs of certain brain area is a very new concept in scientific circles, Prof. Mintz notes, although movies and TV shows about bionic humans have been part of the popular culture for decades. The researchers say that their ReNaChip could help people whose brains have deteriorated with age or been damaged by injury and disease. The chip will not only provide a bionic replacement for lost neuronal function in the brain, under ideal conditions, it could significantly rehabilitate the brain.

Currently, the researchers are attempting to rehabilitate motor-learning functions lost due to brain damage. "We are attaching the chip to the brain to stimulate relatively simple behaviors," says Prof. Mintz. A controlled treatment for drug resistant epilepsy, based on the team's technology, could be only a few years away, he says.

Explore further: Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Related Stories

Scary music is scarier with your eyes shut

Sep 15, 2009

The power of the imagination is well-known: it's no surprise that scary music is scarier with your eyes closed. But now neuroscientist and psychiatrist Prof. Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv University's Functional Brain Center ...

Appealing the death sentence for brain cells

May 29, 2008

A new drug candidate discovered by Tel Aviv University researcher Prof. Illana Gozes may lead to an effective treatment against the debilitative Alzheimer's disease. This compound could also treat a number of diseases where ...

Intel wants a chip implant in your brain

Nov 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Computer chip maker Intel wants to implant a brain-sensing chip directly into the brains of its customers to allow them to operate computers and other devices without moving a muscle.

Recommended for you

Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Apr 18, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—It is widely know that the grey matter of the brain is grey because it is dense with cell bodies and capillaries. The white matter is almost entirely composed of lipid-based myelin, but ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

Apr 17, 2014

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
Toward the end of this century: Implantable mood modifiers. You dial up the drug analogue, the dosage analogue, the effect profile (gradual/quick onset etc) and the effect duration and then enjoy the ride (chips hacked for access to 'illegal' drugs).
henryjfry
not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
Yeah I'm waiting for the day when my James Bond moddie will be available. If anyone hasn't read George Alec Effinger - When Gravity Fails, they should.

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.