[Neuroscience] Wiring the Brain at the Nanoscale

Allen L. Barker alb at datafilter.com
Sat Jul 9 15:04:43 EST 2005


[Scientists have demonstrated in principle that they can guide
tiny nano-scale wires through blood vessels and use them to
detect the activity of individual brain cells.  Besides just
detecting the firing of neurons, these wires can also be used to
stimulate them.  (Jose Delgado called such devices "stimoceivers,"
back in the 1960s.)  As science this is fascinating.  It should
improve our understanding of the brain, and it has the potential
to help many people.  On the dark side, though, these
technologies and methods also open the door for serious abuses.

The NSF's Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology does mention that
these techniques "require careful attention to ethical issues."
Unfortunately, very little attention at all has been given to
these sorts of ethical issues.  The US has a long history of
abuses and nonconsensual experimentation in the area popularly
known as "mind control."  Even the documented past abuses are
little-known and tend to be treated as damage-control issues
rather than as human rights abuses with real, human victims.

The US is currently implicated in various forms of torture,
especially in conjunction with interrogation.  Medical
"professionals" have been directly involved in the abuses.  The
US holds "ghost prisoners" at secret locations all around the
globe.  Despite hollow proclamations from the current
administration that it wants to end human rights abuses around
the world, in practice it has worked to normalize and legitimize
the use of torture.  Might some of the undocumented prisoners at
places like Diego Garcia become the expendable victims of
terminal experiments in this area of neuroscience?  The history
and the current climate suggest that that is a very real
possibility.  (Gordon Thomas has described brain implant
experiments which were conducted on "expendable" Vietcong
prisoners, for example:
http://www.datafilter.com/mc/gordonThomasJourneyImplants.html.)

The subject of "mind control" (in all of its forms) needs to be
openly discussed in a realistic, non-naive way.  That includes
the past abuses, any and all current abuses, the many
currently-existing technologies and techniques which have been
developed (either openly or in secret), and the various methods
which will soon become possible.  This Pandora's box was opened
a long time ago; pretending that such things "don't exist" or
that "they would never do that" doesn't cut it.  This is a major
human rights issue in the modern world, even if the major human
rights organizations will not touch it with the proverbial
ten-foot pole.]


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Wiring the Brain at the Nanoscale
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=104288&org=NSF&from=news
Nanowires in blood vessels may help monitor,
stimulate neurons in the brain
July 7, 2005

Working with platinum nanowires 100 times thinner than a human
hair--and using blood vessels as conduits to guide the wires--a team
of U.S. and Japanese researchers has demonstrated a technique that may
one day allow doctors to monitor individual brain cells and perhaps
provide new treatments for neurological diseases such as Parkinson's.

Writing in the July 5, 2005, online issue of The Journal of
Nanoparticle Research, the researchers explain it is becoming feasible
to create nanowires far thinner than even the tiniest capillary
vessels. That means nanowires could, in principle, be threaded through
the circulatory system to any point in the body without blocking the
normal flow of blood or interfering with the exchange of gasses and
nutrients through the blood-vessel walls.

The team describes a proof-of-principle experiment in which they first
guided platinum nanowires into the vascular system of tissue samples,
and then successfully used the wires to detect the activity of
individual neurons lying adjacent to the blood vessels.

Rodolfo R. Llinás of the New York University School of Medicine led
the team, which included Kerry D. Walton, also of the NYU medical
school; Masayuki Nakao of the University of Tokyo; and Ian Hunter and
Patrick A. Anquetil of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Nanotechnology is becoming one of the brightest stars in the medical
and cognitive sciences," said Mike Roco, Senior Advisor for
Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded
the research.

Already, the researchers note, physicians routinely use arterial
pathways to guide much larger catheter tubes to specific points in the
body. This technique is frequently used to study blood flow around the
heart, for example.

Following the same logic, the researchers envision connecting an
entire array of nanowires to a catheter tube that could then be guided
through the circulatory system to the brain. Once there, the wires
would spread into a "bouquet," branching out into tinier and tinier
blood vessels until they reached specific locations. Each nanowire
would then be used to record the electrical activity of a single nerve
cell or small groups of them.

If the technique works, the researchers say, it would be a boon to
scientists who study brain function. Current technologies, such as
positron emission tomography (PET) scans and functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI), have revealed a great deal about how neural
circuits process, say, visual information or language. But the view is
still comparatively fuzzy and crude. By providing information on the
scale of individual nerve cells, or "neurons," the nanowire technique
could bring the picture into much sharper focus.

"In this case, we see the first-ever application of nanotechnology to
understanding the brain at the neuron-to-neuron interaction level with
a non-intrusive, biocompatible and biodegradable nano-probe," said
Roco. "With careful attention to ethical issues, it promises entirely
new areas of study, and ultimately could lead to new therapies and new
ways of treating diseases. This illustrates the new generations of
nanoscale active devices and complex nanosystems."

Likewise, the nanowire technique could greatly improve doctors'
ability to pinpoint damage from injury and stroke, localize the cause
of seizures, and detect the presence of tumors and other brain
abnormalities. Better still, Llinás and his coauthors point out, the
nanowires could deliver electrical impulses as well as receive
them. So the technique has potential as a treatment for Parkinson's
and similar diseases.

According to researchers, it's long been known that people with
Parkinson's disease can experience significant improvement from direct
stimulation of the affected area of the brain. Indeed, that is now a
common treatment for patients who do not respond to medication. But
the stimulation is currently carried out by inserting wires through
the skull and into the brain, a process that can cause scarring of the
brain tissue. The hope is, by stimulating the brain with nanowires
threaded through pre-existing blood vessels, doctors could give
patients the benefits of the treatment without the damaging side
effects.

One challenge is to precisely guide the nanowire probes to a
predetermined spot through the thousands of branches in the brain's
vascular system. One promising solution, the authors say, is to
replace the platinum nanowires with new conducting polymer
nanowires. Not only do the polymers conduct electrical impulses,
conductive, they change shape in response to electric fields, which
would allow the researchers to steer the nanowires through the brain's
circulatory system. Polymer nanowires have the added benefit of being
20 to 30 times smaller than the platinum ones used in the reported
laboratory experiments. They also will be biodegradable, and therefore
suitable for short-term brain implants.

"This new class of materials is an attractive tool for
nanotechnology," said MIT's Anquetil. "The large degrees of freedom
that they offer synthetically allow the rational design of their
properties."

-NSF-



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