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Brain Chip Alters the Mind

Brain Cells Fused with Computer Chip

A new brain chip under development established new connections in the brains of monkeys in a region that controls movement. Scientists hope to eventually make a version that could help humans with movement disorders.

The ongoing research at the University of Washington is led by Andrew Jackson, Jaideep Mavoori and Eberhard Fetz.

The scientists tested a tiny device with a computer chip placed atop the heads of monkeys. The device, called Neurochip, interacted with the brain's motor cortex, where neurons direct the body's movements.

"The Neurochip records the activity of motor cortex cells," Fetz explained in a statement released by the university yesterday. "It can convert this activity into a stimulus that can be sent back to the brain, spinal cord, or muscle, and thereby set up an artificial connection that operates continuously during normal behavior. This recurrent brain-computer interface creates an artificial motor pathway that the brain may learn to use to compensate for impaired pathways."

The device produced changes that lasted more than a week in the primates: Movements evoked from the recording site changed to resemble those evoked from the stimulation site, the scientists said. The changes were likely due to strengthening of pathways within the cortex from the recording to the stimulation site, they said.

Future implantable versions of the device might aid rehabilitation of patients with brain injuries, stroke, or paralysis, the researchers speculated.

A paper on the research is to be published Nov. 2 by the journal Nature.

Meanwhile, several other research teams are working on related technologies.

In a breakthrough earlier this year, scientists for the first time fused living brain cells with silicon circuits. Other brain-computer interface systems have allowed a quadriplegic to move a cursor using only thoughts while another man moved a robotic arm using brainwaves. Earlier this month, a teenager played Space Invaders by employing mind control.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.