Artificial nerve cell breakthrough

Tom James @ 06-07-2009

line_curve_buildingResearchers at Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University in Sweden have made one more step towards artificial nerve cells with the creation of an artificial nerve cell that can communicate with natural nerve cells using neurotransmitters:

Scientists have now used an electrically conducting plastic to create a new type of “delivery electrode” that instead releases the neurotransmitters that brain cells use to communicate naturally. The advantage of this is that only neighbouring cells that have receptors for the specific neurotransmitter, and that are thus sensitive to this substance, will be activated.

The scientists intend to continue with the development of a small unit that can be implanted into the body. It will be possible to program the unit such that the release of neurotransmitters takes place as often or as seldom as required in order to treat the individual patient.

As ever the initial applications are intended to be towards treating diseases like Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy. Progress on these fronts would be wonderful. But what further applications will become possible when this product matures?

[from Physorg][image from takanawho on flickr]


Neurocosmetics: wireheads for congress

Tom James @ 21-01-2009

neurospasmNeurocosmetics has yet to take off in the backstreets of Birmingham, but is likely to change everything, at least according to Marcel Kinsbourne in his Edge question answer:

…the novel method of deep brain stimulation (DBS), by which electrodes are inserted into the brain to stimulate precisely specified locations electrically, is already used to correct certain brain disorders (Parkinsonism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Not only are the targeted symptoms often relieved; there have been profound changes in personality, although the prior personality was not abnormal.

A patient of lifelong somber disposition may not only be relieved of obsessions, but also shift to a cheerful mood, the instant the current is switched on (and revert to his prior subdued self, the instant it is switched off). The half empty glass temporarily becomes the glass that is half full. The brain seems not entirely to respect our conventional sharp distinction between what is normal and what is not.

Paging Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Iain Banks, Greg Egan et al – but how will society change when people are free to choose their personalities at a whim?

In fact, could that be the solution to the Fermi Paradox? Could it be that all technological civilizations advance to the point where they develop a technique for inducing whatever their alien equivalent of permanent happiness is and then stop developing?

If you can track down a copy Arthur C. Clarke’s The Lion of Comarre deals with a similarly themed subject rather well.

[from the Edge question][image from TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³]