March 9, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 82  

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Borg chips?We are snails. You will be assimilated.

By Maureen Finn
Gazette Staff

Researchers have discovered a technique for communication between a microchip and snail brain cells. It is a breakthrough that may eventually lead to a cure for addiction, a way to repair brain damage, restoring sight for the visually impaired and even artificial intelligence.

Naweed Syed, a neurobiologist at the University of Calgary, is the co-author of the study soon to be published in Physical Review Letters.

He said the study was proof of a principle experiment to scientifically prove that brain cells could be stimulated through a microchip. “These chips create a positive charge so that no electric current passes; this charge then excites the brain cell and fires impulses,” he explained.

The impulses can be connected to a second brain cell and read by a computer, Syed said, adding the computer then influences the cells and records their activity without inserting metal electrodes, which can corrode, or using electric current, which can damage the brain.

He explained his findings would result in a better understanding of brain function. By understanding how and where cells communicate, scientists may be able to repair brain damage, including memory loss.

Furthermore, the breakthrough could lead to a cure for drug and food addiction. “The area of the brain that causes addiction cravings can be stimulated to disrupt communication between it and the brain centre, and then reset the clock so that the urge disappears,” Syed said.

The next step in his research will be to culture networks of brain cells to listen and see how they interact, he explained. “One could then develop machines that have artificial intelligence.”

Kamran Sedig, a media, information and technoculture professor at Western, said Syed’s study is a step in the right direction to developing artificially intelligent machines. “This is wonderful, it could lead to a lot of things.”

He added they are still a long way from having real thinking machines. “This [technology] may lead to primitive or sensory based thinking, but I’m not sure if it could lead to abstract metaphoric thinking.

“I don’t think the human mind is the same as the human brain — the mind transcends the brain,” Sedig said, adding it was a deep philosophical issue.

“I want [this technology] to be developed in Canada — this is home. It has to be international property of Canada — we’re proud of it,” he said.

“It’s great to learn of any advancements that could lead to a better understanding of the human brain,” said fourth-year psychology student Kathryn Robinson. “It would be wonderful to develop cures for brain damage and addiction — the lives of so many people could be improved.”



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