February 26, 2009
Solar Cells In Nerves Could Let Signals Hop Over Nerve Damage

Of course this tech has obvious nightmare applications where someone becomes remotely controllable.

Traditionally, stimulating nerves or brain tissue involves cumbersome wiring and a sharp metal electrode. But a team of researchers at Case Western Reserve University is going "wireless."

And it's a unique collaboration between chemists and neuroscientists that led to the discovery of a remarkable new way to use light to activate brain circuits with nanoparticles.

Ben Strowbridge, an associate professor in the neurosciences department in the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and Clemens Burda, an associate professor in chemistry, say it's rare in science that people from very different fields get together and do something that is both useful and that no one had thought of before. But that is exactly what they've done.

But hey, it uses photovoltaic nanoparticles. At least we'd become environmentally sustainable robots.

By using semiconductor nanoparticles as tiny solar cells, the scientists can excite neurons in single cells or groups of cells with infrared light. This eliminates the need for the complex wiring by embedding the light-activated nanoparticles directly into the tissue. This method allows for a more controlled reaction and closely replicates the sophisticated focal patterns created by natural stimuli.

The electrodes used in previous nerve stimulations don't accurately recreate spatial patterns created by the stimuli and also have potential damaging side effects.

Nanoparticles embedded in tissue would be hard to detect. So a secret agent could get turned into an enemy by some complex layout of embedded nanoparticles.

Their goal is to use it to get around nerve damage. Imagine wireless communication to an embedded device that then shines infrared light on neurons to activate them. One could control nerves in extremities cut off by spinal damage. Or transmit sensory data from extremities to the brain.

"The long-term goal of this work is to develop a light-activated brain-machine interface that restores function following nerve or brain impairments," Strowbridge says. "The first attempts to interface computers with brain circuitry are being done now with complex metal electrode stimulation arrays that are not well suited to recreating normal brain activity patterns and also can cause significant damage."

Powerful neuro-tools for medicine become powerful neuro-tools for other purposes as well.

I can also imagine reasons why a person would want to hand over control of part of their nervous system to an external force. Someone on a diet could program their house computer to disable them from opening the refrigerator or food cabinets between meals. Any time you tried the house computer could flash you with a pattern that rendered your arm immobile. Or, hey, exercise without having to think about it. Get a computer to exercise your body while you watch a movie.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 26 12:24 AM  Cyborg Tech

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