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| Human World on May 13, 2012

Using robots to retrieve valuable info from living brains

Researchers have developed a robot arm – guided by a cell-detecting computer algorithm – to identify and record information from the brain’s neurons.

Researchers have developed a way to use robotics to find and record information from neurons in the living brain. They began their studies with a living mouse brain. The labs of Ed Boyden, associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, and Craig Forest, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, collaborated to develop the technique, which they call in vivo robotics. They published their first paper about the technique in the journal Nature Methods on May 6, 2012.

The method could be particularly useful in studying brain disorders such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, autism and epilepsy, Boyden said.

Researchers at MIT and Georgia Tech are using robotics to probe the living brain. Image via Shutterstock

They have created a robotic arm that can find and record information from the brain's neurons. Credit: Sputnik Animation and MIT McGovern Institute

They developed a robot arm – guided by a cell-detecting computer algorithm – to identify and record information from the brain’s neurons. These scientists say their technique acquires this information with better accuracy and speed than a human experimenter, who would have to be trained for months in order to accomplish the same work.

Why access the inner workings of a neuron inside the living brain? Such access offers useful information about the brain’s patterns of electrical activity, its shape, even a profile of which genes are turned on at a given moment, these scientists say.

They say that their technique will ultimately enable researchers to classify the thousands of different types of cells in the brain, map the ways they connect to each other, and figure out how diseased cells differ from normal cells.

MIT researcher Ed Boyden (left) and Georgia Tech researchers Suhasa Kodandaramaia (seated) and Craig Forest. They say the training of humans to do this type of work is so difficult that only a few labs do it at present. Image Credit: MIT

Bottom line: Researchers at MIT and Georgia Tech have created a robotic arm that can find and record information from neurons in the living brain. They published their first paper about the technique in the journal Nature Methods on May 6, 2012.

Read more about this story from MIT