The cyborg rats are here.
Scientists at Tel Aviv University have, for the first time, used "digital cerebellums" to restore brain functions of rats that had previously been lost. According to New Scientist, the program essentially created "cyborg" rats, with a portion of their brain function being replaced by a chip.
The function is basic, but shows tremendous promise for a human application.
The team’s synthetic cerebellum is more or less a simple microchip, but can receive sensory input from the brainstem, interpret that nerve input, and send the appropriate signal to a different region of the brainstem to initiate the appropriate movement. Right now it is only capable of dealing with the most basic stimuli/response sequence, but the very fact that researchers can do such a thing marks a pretty remarkable leap forward.
"It's proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyse it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain," researcher Matti Mintz told New Scientist.
Scientists did not implant the chips into the rats' brains, reported PopSci, but instead used electrodes to replicate brain activity. During the experiment the rats learned to blink to a simple stimulus response, something that wasn't possible without the use of the microchip.
Though this basic response isn't much, the experiment proves that chips can not only receive information from nerves, like they do in cochlear implants or certain prostheses, but can send information back out to induce movement. It's just one small step, but proves that at some point scientists may be able to repair parts of the brain disabled by the likes of a stroke with a microchip.
But this isn't the only function electronics have been able to repair in rats. Earlier this year New Scientist reported that researchers at USC were able to restore previously lost memories in rats using electrodes and chemicals.