MIT engineers have developed a new computerized device that integrates between neurons and muscles. Neurons are the core component of the brain and send sensory information and reflexive instructions that guide how people operate and move about. The goal of the quarter-sized computer chip inserted into the body is ostensibly to understand how neurons impact neuromuscular medical conditions such as ALS, but they also point to the progress being made in computer-to-brain integration.

Photo Credit: Sebastien Uzel, MIT
Photo Credit: Sebastien Uzel, MIT

MIT device replicates connection between neuron and muscle

MIT’s microfluidic device replicates the connection where the nerve meets the muscle. The computer chip can stimulate neurons and this creates muscle movement, in this case a twitch or contraction.

The results of MIT’s findings, published in Science Advances Wednesday, is initially going to be used to treat neuromuscular-related conditions including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“The neuromuscular junction is involved in a lot of very incapacitating, sometimes brutal and fatal disorders, for which a lot has yet to be discovered,” Sebastien Uzel, who led the work as a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, was quoted as saying. “The hope is, being able to form neuromuscular junctions in vitro will help us understand how certain diseases function.”

Brain computer integration neuro dust sensor implantable

Brain simulative attempts have been occurring since 1970, just now bearing fruit

Since the 1970s, researchers have been attempting to simulate the neuromuscular junction in the laboratory with degrees of success. Such Petri dish environments are very different from actually implanting a computer chip into a human body and interfacing with neurons and muscle tissue.

“Now with all these new microfluidic approaches people are developing, you can start to model more complex systems with neurons and muscles,” Roger Kamm, the Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Biological Engineering at MIT, was quoted as saying. “The neuromuscular junction is another unit people can now incorporate into those testing modalities.”

Brain computer integration neuro dust sensor

Berkeley researchers develop wireless communication system between brain and computer

Separately, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have developed a “Neural Dust” sensor that can be implanted in the body and can wirelessly communicate with a computer.

The ability for a computer to actively read the internal workings of the brain is a new wave of research that has been touted as having a wide range of practical applications, including increasing memory capacity as well as detecting medical problems before they become serious.