Posted by: MadSciLabz | September 10, 2009

Robot To Be Controlled By Human Brain Cells



A robot controlled by human brain cells could soon be trundling around a British lab, New Scientist has learned. Kevin Warwick and Ben Whalley at the University of Reading, UK, have already used rat brain cells to control a simple wheeled robot. 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. The neurons proved capable of steering the robot around a small enclosure.

Disease Insights

The team say that observing how their neuron culture responds to stimulation could improve our understanding of neurological conditions such as epilepsy. For instance, the way large numbers of neurons sometimes spike in unison – a phenomenon known as “bursting” – may be similar to what happens during an epileptic seizure. If that behaviour can be altered by changing the culture chemically, electrically or physically, it might hint at potential therapies.

To make the system a better model of human disease, a culture of human neurons will be connected to the robot once the current work with rat cells is completed. This will be the first instance of human cells being used to control a robot.

One aim is to investigate any differences in the behaviour of robots controlled by rat and human neurons. “We’ll be trying to find out if the learning aspects and memory appear to be similar,” says Warwick.

Warwick and colleagues can proceed as soon as they are ready, as they won’t need specific ethical approval to use a human neuron cell line. That’s because the cultures are available to buy and “the ethical side of sourcing is done by the company from whom they are purchased”, Whalley says.

Article Courtesy of NewScientist.Com

Related Articles:
NewScientist.Com: Rise Of The Rat-Brained Robots

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