neuroscience

Category Archives — neuroscience

Researchers recreate a brain, piece by piece – TechCrunch

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have created a method for growing and connecting single neurons using geometric patterns to route the neurons more precisely, cell by cell.

The article, “Assembly and Connection of Micropatterned Single Neurons for Neuronal Network Formation,” appeared in Micromachines, a journal of molecular machinery.

Thus far researchers have created simple brain matter using “in vitro cultures,” a process that grows neurons haphazardly in a clump. The connections associated with these cultures are random, thereby making the brain tissue difficult to study.

“In vitro culture models are essential tools because they approximate relatively simple neuron networks and are experimentally controllable,” said study author Shotaro Yoshida. “These models have been instrumental to the field for decades. The problem is that they’re very difficult to control, since the neurons tend to make random connections with each other. If we can find methods to synthesize neuron networks in a more controlled fashion, it would likely spur major advances in our understanding of the brain.”

Yoshida and the team looked more closely at how neurons behave and found that they could be trained to connect using microscopic plates made of “synthetic neuron-adhesive material.” They look like little frying pans with extra handles and “when placed onto the microplate, a neuron’s cell body settles onto the circle, while the axon and dendrites – the branches that let neurons communicate with each other – grow lengthwise along the rectangles.”

The researchers then connected the neurons, testing if they would fire simultaneously as predicted.

“What was especially important in this system was to have control over how the neurons connected,” Yoshida said. “We designed the microplates to be movable, so that by pushing them around, we could physically move two neurons right next to each other. Once we placed them together, we could then test whether the neurons were able to transmit a signal.”

It worked.

“This is, to the best of our knowledge, the first time a mobile microplate has been used to morphologically influence neurons and form functional connections,” said investigator Shoji Takeuchi. “We believe the technique will eventually allow us to design simple neuron network models with single-cell resolution. It’s an exciting prospect, as it opens many new avenues of research that aren’t possible with our current suite of experimental tools.”

Unfortunately, this is just the first step for this technology, especially considering the millions of neurons necessary to eat, breathe, and sleep (and use the internet). It is, however, a good start.

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This jolly little robot gets goosebumps – TechCrunch

Cornell researchers have made a little robot that can express its emotions through touch, sending out little spikes when it’s scared or even getting goosebumps to express delight or excitement. The prototype, a cute smiling creature with rubber skin, is designed to test touch as an I/O system for robotic projects.

The robot mimics the skin of octopi which can turn spiky when threatened.

The researchers, Yuhan Hu, Zhengnan Zhao, Abheek Vimal and Guy Hoffman, created the robot to experiment with new methods for robot interaction. They compare the skin to “human goosebumps, cats’ neck fur raising, dogs’ back hair, the needles of a porcupine, spiking of a blowfish, or a bird’s ruffled feathers.”

“Research in human-robot interaction shows that a robot’s ability to use nonverbal behavior to communicate affects their potential to be useful to people, and can also have psychological effects. Other reasons include that having a robot use nonverbal behaviors can help make it be perceived as more familiar and less machine-like,” the researchers told IEEE Spectrum.

The skin has multiple configurations and is powered by a computer-controlled elastomer that can inflate and deflate on demand. The goosebumps pop up to match the expression on the robot’s face, allowing humans to better understand what the robot “means” when it raises its little hackles or gets bumpy. I, for one, welcome our bumpy robotic overlords.

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BrainQ raises $5.3M to treat neurological disorders with the help of AI – TechCrunch

BrainQ, an Israel-based startup that aims to help stroke victims and those with spinal cord injuries treat their injuries with the help of a personalized electromagnetic treatment protocol, today announced that it has raised a $5.3 million funding round on top of the $3.5 million the company previously raised. The company’s investors include Qure Ventures, crowdfunding platform OurCrowd.com, Norma Investments, IT-Farm and a number of angel investors, including Valtech Cardio founder and CEO Amir Gross.

When we last talked to BrainQ earlier this year, the team was working on two human clinical trials for stroke patients in Israel. At that time, the company had closed its first funding round and had also recently started to work with Google’s Launchpad Accelerator, too.

The general idea behind BrainQ is to use the patient’s brainwaves to generate a tailored treatment protocol. No AI company would be complete without data — it’s what drives these algorithms, after all — and the company says it owns one the largest Brain Computer Interface-based EEG databases for motor tasks. It’s that database that allows it to interpret the patient’s brain waves and generate its treatment protocol.

BrainQ EEG reader device

“We are on the verge of a new era where AI- based precision medicine will be used to treat neurodisorders, which do not have a sufficient solution to date,” said BrainQ CEO Yotam Drechsler in today’s announcement. “At BrainQ, we are thrilled by the opportunity to bring this vision to life in the world of neuro-recovery. In a short time, we have already achieved significant results and are looking forward to the opportunity to push our technology and expand our operations, further positioning BrainQ as a leader in the world of BCI-based precision medicine.”

As is typical for Israeli startups, the team’s background is quite impressive and includes former members of the country’s elite intelligence units and academics with a background in AI and neuroscience.

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