Researchers control robot with living brain cells

Two British researchers were able to control a robot with brain cells. The development may help scientists understand neuron activity associated with epilepsy or Alzheimer's disease.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Two British researchers were able to use the brain cells of rats to control a robot.

Kevin Warwick and Ben Whalley at the University of Reading, UK used rat brain cells to control a wheeled robotMovie Camera, reports the New Scientist.

Some 300,000 rat neurons -- grown in a nutrient broth and producing spikes of electrical activity -- were connected to the output of the robot's distance sensors.

Amazingly, the neurons steered the robot around a small enclosure.

Here's a video of it happening:

To create the "brain", the team surgically removes the neural cortex from a rat fetus and applies disassociating enzymes to it, disconnecting the neurons from each other. The researchers then deposit a thin layer of the isolated neurons inside a nutrient-rich medium on a bank of electrodes, where they start reconnecting by growing projections that reach out and touch neighboring neurons.

The robot moves because the disembodied neurons are still communicating, sending electrical signals to each other as they do in a living creature.

The team's achievement came about in an attempt to observe how neuron culture responds to stimulation, and the advancement could improve scientists' understanding of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy.

By understanding how large numbers of neurons "spike" or "burst" with activity, researchers may be able to better understand the spikes or bursts associated with those conditions, such as during an epileptic seizure.

With better understanding comes the possibility of modifying that activity, leading to possible therapies for neurological conditions.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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