Chips Talking To Neurons

Researchers have gotten neurons and silicon to talk to each other.

A specialised microchip that could communicate with thousands of individual brain cells has been developed by European scientists.

The device will help researchers examine the workings of interconnected brain cells, and might one day enable them to develop computers that use live neurons for memory.

The computer chip is capable of receiving signals from more than 16,000 mammalian brain cells, and sending messages back to several hundred cells. Previous neuron-computer interfaces have either connected to far fewer individual neurons, or to groups of neurons clumped together.

Firstly, the researchers genetically modified the neurons to add more pores. Secondly, they added proteins to the chip that glue neurons together in the brain, and which also attract the sodium pores. Applying this neural glue meant that the extra sodium channels collected around the transistor and capacitor connections. This improved its chance of translating the movement of ions into electrical signals on the chip.

Having boosted the electrical connection between the cells and chip, the researchers hope to be able to extend the chips influence further. “It should be possible to make the signals from the chip cause a neuron to alter its membrane and take up a new gene, or something that switches one off,” says Vassanelli. “Now the chip has been developed, we plan to use it to try and switch genes on and off.”

Here is another article reporting on it.

The ultimate applications are potentially limitless. In the long term it will possibly enable the creation of very sophisticated neural prostheses to combat neurological disorders. What’s more, it could allow the creation of organic computers that use living neurons as their CPU.

Again, the boundaries between man and machine have faded a little more today.

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