Duke University augments rats brain with sixth sense

first_imgHow would you like the option of having a sixth sense? Well, if research being carried out at Duke University is anything to go by, one day soon you might be able to upgrade your brain with an extra sense, maybe even a few new ones.Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, neurobiology and biomedical engineer at Duke, has managed to implant microscopic electrodes into a rat’s brain that allow it to detect the otherwise invisible infrared light. The rat can’t see the light, but it can feel and touch it. As the video above shows, it does so almost as quickly as seeing actual light.Nicolelis’ experiment is thought to be the first time that a “brain-machine interface has augmented a sense” in an animal. But it didn’t just happen. The rats first had to be trained to understand the touch sensation they were feeling wasn’t actually anything physically touching them. That process took about a month, after which they interpreted the signal as a location to travel to and forage for food.The addition of this extra sense was achieved by tapping into the part of the rat’s brain that deals with processing whisker touch sensations (the cortical region). The electrodes convey touch for the infrared light as a microstimulation to the rat, but importantly, does so without overriding the natural touch information gathered by their whiskers. So this is an additional sense as no other sense is blocked to achieve it.Although the experiment is being carried out on a rat, there’s no reason this same process couldn’t be made to work on the human brain as a neuroprosthetic device. If an injury occurs that means someone loses their sight, for example, a sensor could be implanted to offer them a new form of sight.These so-called brain prosthetics may also one day offer us abilities you’d normally associate with a superhero, such as X-ray vision. But the focus will initially be on how brain sensors can be used to help with overcoming injuries.[Image credit: Animal photos]last_img read more