Using robots to retrieve valuable info from living brains
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.
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.
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.