Israeli scientists say they’ve created a synthetic cerebellum that has restored lost brain function in rats.
The implant can receive sensory input from the brainstem, interpret this input and then send a signal to a different part of the brainstem to instruct the rat’s body to carry out a movement.
It’s believed to be the first time such an implant has been able to send information to the brain as well as receiving signals from it.
The Tel Aviv University team disabled a rat’s cerebellum and installed their own. They then tried to teach it a conditioned motor reflex by sounding an auditory tone while puffing air at the rat’s eye. The aim was to get the rat to blink when the tone was heard.
And while the rat failed to establish the reflex when the artificial cerebellum was disconnected, it learned just like a normal animal when it was hooked up.
“This demonstrates how far we have come towards creating circuitry that could one day replace damaged brain areas and even enhance the power of the healthy brain,” Francesco Sepulveda of the University of Essex told New Scientist.
“The circuitry mimics functionality that is very basic. Nonetheless, this is an exciting step towards enormous possibilities.”
The next step, says the team, is to try and releat a similar feat using an animal that’s conscious – a much harder job.
“It will likely take us several decades to get there, but my bet is that specific, well-organised brain parts such as the hippocampus or the visual cortex will have synthetic correlates before the end of the century,” says Sepulveda.