The compass moves as it gets closer to my head…Saturday, July 14th, 2012 by Roberto Saracco
Indeed, this might happen in the future, by the end of this decade if the experiments going on at the Massachusetts General Hospital find a road to clinical applications. To control the symptoms of some diseases, like Parkinson, multiple scleroses and chronic pain, doctors are inserting leads (tiny electrodes) in the brain (DBS – Deep Brain Stimulation). These leads influence the sensitivity and responses of nearby neurons changing their response to stimulation by other neurons. This approach has led to several successes but it also has some limitations and drawback, mostly because it is not possible to finely control which neurons is affected. The electromagnetic field expands its effect in a spherical way, therefore if you are influencing the neurons at the left of the lead you are also affecting the ones to the right, below and over the lead.
Researchers are now studying a way to affect the neuron response by inserting very tiny magnetic rods (1mm in length, 0.5mm in diameter). They create a magnetic field that is directed in a north-south axe (along the length of the particle) and therefore only the neurons around the length of the tiny rod are affected, as shown in the figure.
These are just experiments but they are anyhow interesting in many ways. Clearly, because they can provide a more effective way to cure or alleviate undesirable symptoms. Also because they push for a better understanding of the brain topography: as you can be more precise in what neurons to affect you need to know much better where are the neurons you want to affect.
Additionally, you need to have tools for more precise insertion and then tools to better control the effectiveness of the positioning.
We can expect quite a number of progress resulting as a side effect of this new technology. This goes hand in hand with work being done at the MIT on the “brain mapping” that I already reported in a post few months ago and also in other universities (for a comprehensive view on the status of research on brain mapping see the web site of the brain mapping organization at UCLA.
I am pretty sure that from these diverse research areas like medicine, brain network topologies and smart materials will derive interesting insight on the future of our telecommunications networks that as nodes multiply will reach a dimensions that approaches the one of “brains”, or as Kurzweil keeps saying, a singularity point. According to him this will happen in 2031. I am not as sure as he his, on the date, but I share the vision that the not distant future will bring some fundamental change in our way to see a communications network. I have no problem in imagine that the network will extend into our brains as transducers (that we use to convert from bits to physical quantities that can be perceived by our senses) are becoming embedded in our bodies. And once there, it will be a little step to say that our brains are becoming part of the network and will have their saying on some network properties….
Science fiction? Yes, but not for long.
By the way, those tiny magnetic particles will NOT influence a compass….
Tags: health care