Documenting the Coming Singularity

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Controlling the brain with light

Technology Review - 2.24.10 (by Mark Williams)

A novel optical device could ultimately be used to treat neurological disease.

Light therapy: A neuron (green) engineered to express a light-sensitive protein fires in response to specific wavelengths of light. A glass electrode (lower left corner) records the neuron’s electrical response. Researchers from Medtronic used this system to confirm that a new implantable stimulator can properly activate neurons with light. Credit: Karl Deisseroth, Stanford University.

Researchers at Medtronic are developing a prototype neural implant that uses light to alter the behavior of neurons in the brain. The device is based on the emerging science of optogenetic neuromodulation, in which specific brain cells are genetically engineered to respond to light. Medtronic, the world's largest manufacturer of biomedical technologies, aims to use the device to better understand how electrical therapies, currently used to treat Parkinson's and other disorders, assuage symptoms of these diseases. Medtronic scientists say they will use the findings to improve the electrical stimulators the company already sells, but others ultimately hope to use optical therapies directly as treatments.

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