During my first year of grad school, I worked in the neurolab at Georgia Tech. From there I went on to complete my PhD work in medical image processing focused on brain MRI.
Over the years, I interacted a lot with brain experts. Given the recent tragedy at work, I have again been diving in to understanding the brain and the ramifications of TBI (traumatic brain injury). I have had many deep and interesting conversations over the last two weeks about neuroscience related topics with friends.
Starting with something that is possible today: If a nerve is severed that leaves a bodily appendage paralyzed, there are recent neural prosthetic devices that can connect the brain back up to the appendage, effectively patching the broken nerve and enabling the brain to regain control of the injured region. Neural prosthetics are becoming useful and good. In order for this to work, the brain signals essentially have to be converted by man-made sensors into electric signals and then re-converted back into neurological signals via adaptors to the nerve endings. Neural prosthesis is a relatively new and exciting field.
Now continuing with something a bit strange: While at Georgia Tech, I was introduced in the Neuroloab to a professor working on the MEART system. One of the goals of this system is to train a petri dish of neurons to function better through training than through random experimentation. The petri dishes are formed. Then sensors are placed in the petri dish to transduce signals form the neurons onto robotic arms that paint a picture. If the picture looks good (and there are several ways to determine that) then the petri dish is rewarded with dopamine, a yummy brain chemical. The scientific question these researchers seek to ask is, “Can a petri dish of neurons be good enough to learn and adapt and become better at painting than an untrained petri dish of neurons?”
Finishing with a fantasy (credit to a friend from UGA): What if the same sensors which are used in the two examples above were used to capture the electrical signals that form a personality or emotions? What if we were able to store those and replicate those? What if we were then able to load the emotion or personality via software and hardware back into our brains?
Neuroscience is interesting and keeps making progress.
What parts of neuroscience do you like?