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Boffins place living creature under control of brain chip

Hooray! Monkey butlers at last! Well, rodent butlers

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Boffins at Tel Aviv University have successfully implanted an artificial cerebellum into the skull of a rat with brain damage and restored its ability to move.

The cerebellum is the part of the brain that coordinates movements and it has a relatively straightforward neuronal architecture, which is why the researchers chose it for replication.

They analysed brainstem signals going into a real cerebellum and the signals sent out in response, and used that information to make a synthetic version on a chip that's wired into the rat brain using electrodes.

In order to test the chip, the scientists removed the cerebellum from a rat and then tried to teach the rodent to blink when it heard a certain tone, trying with and without the electronic cerebellum hooked up.

When the rat had its robo-brain plugged in, it was able to learn the new behaviour.

"It's a proof of the concept that we can record information from the brain, analyse it in a way similar to the biological network, and then return it to the brain," says Professor Matti Mintz, of TAU's department of psychology, who recently presented his research at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge.

Brain implants could eventually be developed to replace tissue that's been damaged by stroke or debilitating diseases, or restore learning processes that decline with age - or even, drawing upon terrifying science fiction, enhance healthy brain function. ®

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