A tiny computer chip that serves as a “robotic cerebellum” has been implanted
into the skull of a brain-damaged rat, replacing one component of its brain and
restoring its ability to move.
While the results of the
multi-disciplinary project involving researchers from Tel Aviv University, and
others from Italy, Austria and Spain, are very promising, it could take 10 to 15
years until such technology provides human amputees with robotic
TAU neurobiologist Prof. Matti Mintz, a member of the team
during the last eight years, told The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday that at present,
rehabilitation of paralysis victims is based largely on behavioral manipulations
directed at activation of brain self-repair processes.
However, he said,
future advances are expected to include biological manipulations such as genetic
manipulation and stem-cell-based therapy that promote recovery of
“Another feasible strategy is the replacement of defined
neuronal microcircuits by synthetic analogs,” Mintz said.
Much work in
recent decades has advanced the techniques of monitoring and stimulating
localized brain sites using electric or magnetic currents. Deep brain stimulation
reduces the symptoms of conditions ranging from Parkinsons disease to
“The hope is that these two techniques can
be interfaced by a real-time processor and used as a closed loop system with the
brain,” added Mintz.
The rodent model was used by Mintz, TAU engineering
experts Prof. Yosi Shacham- Diamand and Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron; Dr. Mira
Marcus- Kalish of TAU’s Interdisciplinary Center for Technology; Dr. Christoph
Guger of Austria; Prof. Paolo Del Giudice of Rome’s Instituto Superiore di
Sanità; and Prof. Paul Verschure of Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu
They aimed at testing the feasibility of the closed-loop hybrid
methodology for rehabilitation of brain functions by replacing a damaged brain
microcircuit. The piece of cerebellum was used to test feasibility because it is
responsible for coordinating movement.
When wired to the brain, the
“robo-cerebellum” received, interpreted and transmitted sensory information from
the brain stem, facilitating communication between the inputs and the outputs of the inactivated microcircuit.
To test this robotic interface between body and brain, the
researchers taught a brain-damaged rat to blink whenever they sounded a
particular tone. The rat could perform this behavior only when its robotic
“It’s proof of the concept that we can record
information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological
network and then return it to the brain,” said Mintz, who recently presented his
research at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in
“We are not the only ones in the world to consider
the problem. There is a group in Los Angeles that is doing excellent work. They have ambitious plan to replace by a synthetic chip a large structure of the brain called the hippocampus. However, present technology does not unable embeding in a chip an anatomical replica of such large chunk of the brain and therefore they imitate they hippocampus by an approximating algorithm. We think our approach creating a synthetic anatomical replica of small microcircuit of the brain is currently more promising,” he said.