Each year, incredible scientific breakthroughs offer promise for those dealing with serious illnesses. And one recent discovery could be the next big step in revolutionizing the future of medicine.
Researchers say they’ve developed a material that could eventually be used to create brain prosthetics. That’s right, BRAIN prosthetics. This material could potentially help the brain repair itself from the damage caused by problems such as stroke, physical accidents, or neurological diseases (such as Alzheimer’s).
A Powerful Discovery
Australian scientists have created a material designed to help brain cells grow in a predictable pattern. Researchers grew cells on top of a semiconductor and used tiny wires — known as nanowires — as a sort of scaffold. This gave the scientists a platform to help them analyze how brain cells grow and how they interconnect.1
This work could help in the development of brain prosthetics, which could potentially help the brain regenerate after suffering damage. The “scaffold” is helping researchers better understand how neurons in the brain not only create electrical circuits but also how they communicate.
Understanding how neurons are interconnected plays a key role in developing prosthetics. It offers scientists a predictable way to link neurons together, so they can repair whatever damage to the body has occurred.
Could a functional brain prosthetic be on the horizon? Well, according to researchers it’s very possible. Just as limb prosthetics help amputees, brain prosthetics could do the same for people who have suffered devastating brain damage.
An Unlimited Future
This is just the latest development in the fascinating world of neuroscience. Researchers are working on devices that can communicate with the human nervous system. And these devices could help improve the quality of life for people dealing with severe diseases or injuries.2
Neural prosthetics could eventually help people in a number of ways. For example, they could help people suffering from ailments such as severe depression or chronic pain.
Neural prosthetics could help war veterans recover from traumatic brain injuries, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They could also vastly improve the quality of life for people with spinal injuries or speech disabilities.
There are, of course, major challenges facing neuroscientists when it comes to developing these devices. They will need to develop materials and devices that will function without infecting nearby tissues, or cause other complications.
But a group of researchers in California are reportedly making progress with thin polymer materials. These materials are being used in auditory prosthetics. The polymers have proven to be more compatible with live tissue than the wires currently being used in cochlear implants.3
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that allows deaf people to experience a sense of sound. One portion of the device is positioned behind the ear, while an internal portion is surgically implanted under the skin. The device consists of a microphone that picks up external sounds and a speech processor that arranges those sounds. A transmitter inside the device converts signals from the speech processor into impulses of electricity. Then, an array of electrodes sends those impulses to different areas of the auditory nerve.4
While cochlear implants have given many people the gift of hearing, there are drawbacks. Cochlear implants could permanently damage the auditory nerve, increasing the risk of dangerous brain or spinal cord inflammation. In addition, there is a possibility the body will reject the implant.
It is believed that these new polymers will be better able to mimic natural tissue than traditional wiring used in cochlear implants.6 This, in turn, could potentially reduce the risks.
Even More Possibilities
An implant known as “neural dust” could also play a role in revolutionizing medicine. In nutshell, the implant, which is about the size of a grain of sand, could connect the human body with a computer. This would eliminate the need for any wires whatsoever.
Researchers believe neural dust could help reduce the symptoms of epilepsy and help control prosthetic arms and legs. The implants could spur the immune system into attacking a harmful invader. They could even help people suffering from incontinence better control their bladder, or help obese people suppress their appetite.7
There are some prosthetic devices in use that are controlled by brain implants. However, they need to be surgically implanted through an invasive procedure that involves entering the skull. They also require the use of wires. These implants need to be replaced every year or two and carry a risk of infection. Neural dust, on the other hand, could conceivably last for a decade or more. There would also be no need for a surgical implantation.8
The Final Word
The incredible work being performed in the area of neuroscience could change medicine in ways that were never before imaginable. Scientists are just scratching the surface in their research of technology that will have an incredible impact. It will be fascinating to see what comes of their work in the coming years.