Neuroscientists link the brains of monkeys and rats

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

A team of Duke University neuroscientists have reportedly developed brain-to-brain interface networks which allow rats and primates to work together to complete basic tasks, according to a study published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Scientific Reports.

In a pair of separate experiences reported in the publication, principal investigator Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of the Duke University School of Medicine Center for Neuroengineering, and his colleagues showed how they were able to link the brains of monkeys and the brains of rats in real time in order to complete computations or control movement.

As part of one of the experiments, the researchers linked the minds of rhesus macaque monkeys and had them work together to control the movements of the arm of a virtual avatar on a digital display located in front of them. Each monkey controlled two of three dimensions of movement for the same arm, guiding it as a team so that it could touch a moving target.

Similarly, they created a network using the brains of four rodents, then had the rats complete a series of computational tasks centered around pattern recognition, storing and accessing sensory information, and even forecasting the weather. The authors explained that their work will help them learn more about the physiological properties and adaptability of brain circuits.

Findings could be used in clinical applications

This is not the first time that the Center for Neuroengineering researchers have worked on what are known as brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) – computational systems which enable subjects to use their brain signals to directly control the movement of exoskeletons, robot arms, VR avatars and other artificial devices.

Previously, Dr. Nicolelis’ team has created BMIs that can capture and transmit the brain signals of individual rats, monkeys, and even human subjects to artificial devices. However, the primary investigator said that this was “the first demonstration of a shared brain-machine interface.”

Their research demonstrates a new paradigm “that has been translated successfully over the past decades from studies in animals all the way to clinical applications,” he added. “We foresee that shared BMIs will follow the same track, and could soon be translated to clinical practice.”

During the experiments, the researchers equipped the rats and monkeys with arrays implanted in their motor and somatosensory cortices to capture and transmit the brain activity of the creatures. Their experiments found that the monkeys were able to improve at the motor task as they gained experience, and that the rats were able to work together as well as they could on their own.

The results, the group added, support their initial claim that these shared BMIs could be assist in the development of organic technology based on the interfacing of multiple animal brains with a computer. Dr. Nicolelis and colleagues are also working on a non-invasive human version of the technology for use in the neuro-rehabilitation training in paralyzed patients.


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