Theodore Berger On Neuro Engineering

Monday, March 25, 2013

 Future of Neuroscience
Later this year, Dr. Theodore Berger is slated to be a featured speaker at the GF2045 - Global Futures 2045 International Congress in New York.  Dr. Berger's work involves recreating functions of the brain in silicon, with the aim of one day restoring and enhancing neurological function in human beings.
Professor Theodore Berger (USC) is a biomedical engineer and a developer of neuro prosthesis technology models into the brain to replace damaged or dysfunctional nerve tissue.

Later this year, Berger will be speaking at the Global Futures 2045 International Congress in New York.

The research of Dr. Berger involves the complementary use of experimental and theoretical approaches to developing biologically constrained mathematical models of mammalian neural systems.

His current research is the hippocampus, a neural system essential for learning and memory functions. The goal of this research is to address three general issues: the relation between cellular/molecular processes, systems-level functions, and learned behavior; the extent of which the functional dynamics of neural systems are altered by activity-dependent synaptic plasticity; the extent to which the essential functions of a neural system can be incorporated "within a hardware representation."

Berger and his colleagues have developed “neuron–silicon interface” technology using silicon-based, multisite electrode arrays and tissue culture methods for implantation of hardware models into the brain to replace damaged or dysfunctional nerve tissue.  Such chip's ability to converse with live cells is a dramatic first step, he believes, toward an implantable machine that fluently speaks the language of the brain-a machine that could restore memories in people with brain damage or help them make new ones.

Brain-Computer Interface Chip Berger
The aim of restoring damaged neurological functions with silicon parts begins with a small dish of living rat brain cells located inside Theodore Berger's lab at the University of Southern California.

According to Berger, "We've learned enough about what long-term memories are when their in code, that we can identify the long term memory codes and there, right there, there is the code for the bar that the animal is going to press to get water."

"We can recognize these things and can see what they are and manipulate them in some ways so, within a couple years, we will have the ability to form new long-term memories the way they are formed in the brain."

"There are several parts of brain that I consider ready for this next-generation analysis," states Berger.

David Packard Prof. of Engineering and Prof. of Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience, and director, Center for Neural Engineering (CNE) at the University of Southern California (USC). Ph.D. in Physiological Psychology from Harvard University (1976). Postdoctoral training in Psychobiology Department and at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

In the research, the team attached electrodes to the rats’ brains, connected to two areas in the hippocampus, called CA1 and CA3. Prior research has shown that the hippocampus converts short-term memory into long-term memory. The team recorded the signals between these regions as the rats performed their tasks, and then they drugged the rats so that the hippocampus regions could not communicate. The rats forgot which lever to press next, said Berger, lead author of the study, which is published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

Neuroscience Mind Uploading
In the experiment, the researchers had rats learn a task, pressing one lever rather than another to receive a reward. Using embedded electrical probes, the experimental research team recorded changes in the rat's brain activity between the two major internal divisions of the hippocampus, known as subregions CA3 and CA1. The experimenters then blocked the normal neural interactions between the two areas using pharmacological agents. The previously trained rats then no long displayed the long-term learned behavior. But long-term memory capability returned to the pharmacologically blocked rats when the team activated the electronic device programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding functions.
“The rats still showed that they knew ‘when you press left first, then press right next time, and vice-versa,’” Berger said. “And they still knew in general to press levers for water, but they could only remember whether they had pressed left or right for 5-10 seconds.”
"We are living longer and longer, and so more and more of neuro diseases of the brain, degenerative or accidental damage to the brain, are going to be seen and must be dealt with. And so having a strategy where we think about which brain parts can be replaced, in the context of which ones are damaged more often is just a wise thing to do."

"There are several parts in the brain that I consider to be ready for this next-generation analysis, and this will allow us to create a mathematical model of how some of the functions work, and we'll be able to reproduce those in mathematical models, and we'll be able to reproduce those in microchip form." says Dr. Berger.

SOURCE  Global Futures 2045

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