Designing an Exoskeleton

August 2, 2014

Hi guys! I know I’m super late with this assignment, but I’ve had school this week, so I have been super busy. I also don’t have a way to upload a picture, so I will do the best I can to describe this invention.

My invention would be something of an exoskeleton. It would be a separate, and much larger, body that would work through our own thoughts. It would expand upon the existing functions of our brain. It would operate via a series of sensors placed into the brain that would send the information by wireless transmission to the exoskeleton to allow for movement of arms, hands, legs, feet, torso, etc.
This would be a helpful device for people who are not capable of moving around by themselves; be it a stroke victim, war veteran, a person who was born paralyzed, etc. By using circuits in the brain to control a “new body” these individuals would regain a life that they thought they had lost, or would never have to begin with.
Before we could do this, however, there is much more we need to learn about the function and over all structure of the brain. There have been advances that allow for some movement of a robotically maneuvered limb, but what I am describing is a full body, or half body, system for the user to wear in order to gain mobility and function in that area or set of areas. The difference here is that the technology would have to be very advanced, and the sensors would have to be highly specialized in order to decipher the large amount of information that they would be processing. Is this supposed to be moving the right arm up, or the left leg out? These seem to be very simple questions, but in terms of the neural circuits, we would have to have a large amount of information about the function of specific brain regions. This is where an fMRI would put to use. By mapping these out these regions, and designing each individual person’s new exoskeleton, each piece of machinery would be specialized for that user.
If this device would be used to allow people to walk in it, the machine would have to be able to maintain balance and support the weight of the user. By seeing the difficulties engineers are having with a perfectly mobile robot, this part of the invention seems to be a part that could take a while to develop.
As there is already technology very similar to this, I’m not sure how much longer it will be before this is available. It may have already been invented, but it definitely isn’t available to be placed on the market. In my mind I picture this as a common piece of technology that is widely available to many people all over the world. The amount of patients, people, children, that could be helped by something like this is a lot higher than I would even like to think about. So, to answer the question, with the rate in which discoveries are being made in the realm, I would hope that at least in the next fifty or so years this invention will be marketable to the public.


What makes you intelligent?

August 2, 2014

 If I were able to design an incredibly sophisticated, state of the art piece of neurotechnology, I would create equipment with the ability to measure intelligence, and determine the neural basis for someone being classed as an intellect, or a “genius” . What makes one person more intelligent than the next? Can you enhance intelligence? Does intelligence deteriorate? These are all questions that I would love to answer using highly advanced technology to do so. The reason for being so attracted toward this area specifically, is the magnitude of questions to which have unknown answers, and the the multiple interpretations of the definition of intelligence.  The intelligence quotient (most commonly known as an IQ test), is one of today’s very few methods of measuring intelligence- obtaining an overall IQ score based on a test comprised of simple arithmetic, vocabulary, memory, mazes, general knowledge etc. While the scores obtained do act as an indication of the abilities of that individual, I feel the IQ test does not give us the whole picture, focusing on such a limited range of a human’s capability.

This piece of technology would act as a new imaging system of the brain, which is rich in detail. With the same principle as the modern day MRI scan in mind, this technology would be able to locate the “source” of intelligence. To do this, the individual would be required to complete a series of problems, perceived to be academically challenging (for example), while the technology would map the neural activity of the brain, the volume of different regions of the brain, as well as the overall size of the brain. In this way, we would be able to identify whether the number of connections made between neurons gives rise to intelligence, whether the volume of grey matter in the Cerebellum determines cognitive ability, or alternatively, whether the physical size of the brain plays a role! We want to identify the structural difference in someone who is deemed to be “clever”, from someone who is not. This piece of technology would have no direct impact on your cognitive ability, or in altering your nervous system to become “more intelligent”, it would simply act as a device that is able to recognise intelligence when it sees it!

To make this technology possible, I believe that a greater understanding of each part of the brain would have to be established: function, composition, as well as down to the type of neuron most prevalent in each region. While the function of this machinery is to ultimately provide a detailed image of the brain, it needs to be able to detect the very small  action potentials generated by neurons in the brain, and so in terms of sensitivity, technology does need to become more advanced (since I would want to avoid any invasive procedure). Although ambitious, I believe this technology would be building on the systems already in use today, and so I am hopeful that this device could successfully be used within the next 30 years.

 


Map of every neuron

August 1, 2014

The overriding “theme” of the advances in neurotechnology these days revolves around trying to see the brain in greater detail. People want to see the circuits in detail, down to the single neurons. People want to trace neurons and identify which neurons all around the brain that they connect with. However, this is a laborious process and the technology doesn’t exist yet to build a picture of the brain neuron by neuron. People are either able to map the neural circuits for incredibly small chunks of brain (a chunk of human brain the size of a grain of salt takes up 2 petabytes of data); to map the entire human brain, but not in very fine detail (like the Allen brain atlas); or to map the brains of other animals (such as mice). I am imagining a technology that will be able to map the entire human brain in fine detail. The technology will generate a 3-d simulation of the brain which can be viewed on a computer screen. You will be able to zoom in on a single particular neuron and the computer will show you where it connects. This will give information in greater detail than ever as to the function of very specific circuits of neurons. It will enable scientists to differentiate areas of the brain with much more precision. Moreover, this 3-d simulation won’t be generated using a recently deceased brain—it will be generated in real time. Thus, like an fMRI, you can watch as the brain responds to stimuli in real time. However, instead of watching general areas of the brain, you can watch individual neural circuits. Also, you can compare multiple brains at the same time. This will let you examine the difference between normal brains and brains with, for example, schizophrenia. Right now, we can’t tell a schizophrenic brain apart from a normal brain. But, if we could compare them in greater detail, we might be able to discover something. That’s just one example.

To make an image of all the individual neural circuits of the brain while it is alive, we need to have a new type of imaging system. We also need to improve our chemistry skills. Normally, you inject fluorescent material into a cell, watch as it travels the length of the axon, and use a microscope or some other imaging technique to generate the picture of the cell. I want to have the same thing, but using photons or some other particle that can pass through the skull. Perhaps you use different electrically charged particles for different neurons. You precisely beam the particle inside the head. It collides with the neuron. It releases a chemical into the cell body which diffuses throughout the cell. A machine mounted outside the head precisely detects the location of the radioactive signals of the chemical. It uses this location information to generate a picture of that neuron in the computer simulation. Thus, you scan a single neuron. The machine is able to do this incredibly fast, and it can also differentiate well between different neurons (based on which chemical was injected into which). It continuously scans the brain, updating its pictures of the neuron.

There would need to be a lot of technological advances to make a real-time neural circuit imaging system possible. For one, you need to have incredible data processing abilities. Images of neural circuits create a lot of data. However, considering how terabyte-containing USB drives are hitting the market, I think computers will learn to be a lot faster very soon. Another thing we don’t have is the imaging technology to detect minute electrical changes in great detail. Our machine needs to have ultrasensitive receptors that can measure potential changes down to the millivolt in order to tell which neuron is exactly where. This will probably take longer to develop and calibrate. Probably, it will be 100 years before people have the ability to do this.

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Voodoo Brain

August 1, 2014

The Voodoo Brain:

 

Imagine having a doctor watch how your brain works. Not from an MRI, or a brain imaging device. But real time, live feed back of how your brain and neurons are working in a real life setting. My new neuro- technology is a 3D printed brain that shows the synaptic connections being made in your brain. Nowadays, 3D printers can create something in wood, or plastic. But imagine a squishy brain that sat in a tub with wires connected to it. The wires are connected to a computer and show live images of the connections being made. Different colors on the custom made computer program show how strong or how quickly the connections are being made. The voodoo brain would be a new type of imaging system that measures the brain in real time. I believe that this invention will not be able to be used for at least 25 years. There are many different massive advancements that would have to be made before the Voodoo Brain could be put into works. How could this technology be useful? There are so many different functions this technology could serve. Because the program will show real time data, patients with diseases or mental health problems could perform cognitive tests that could reveal what the problem is, where the problem is, and if there is a problem at all. This technology could also be used to read minds! If enough connections are mapped to show when a certain pattern occurs, when a person is thinking a certain thing, we could read their mind. This could lead to a fool proof way to perform lie detector tests, or spy on enemies. This could also create an entirely new type of doctor. Doctors who read and analyze the voodoo brain would have to be trained extensively in how to read and document what they see. The computer program: Would probably look like any 3D computer image of the brain, except with live synaptic connections. The program would create graphs that recorded every connection made in certain regions of the brain, and how strong, or quickly the connection was made. The program could also record the inverse: which parts of the brain aren’t making connections. Whether it is during sleep, or exercise, or while taking a math test.

 

Diagram A: This shows where the 3D brain could be held, and the wires hooked up to it

 

Diagram B: This shows the computer program used to show different synaptic connections happening. The box in the top right corner shows where data and graphs can be shown. The box in the bottom right corner shows a specific data table that is highlighting a region of the brain

Don’t ask me why the picture is mirrored, I have no idea!

 


Neuro-technology Invention: Paralysis

August 1, 2014

photoFirst off, I apologize for my drawing… I will never be an artist!

  1. My invention is a machine that detects signals from the brain and transforms them into action potentials in the nerves that control muscle movements. It will be attached to neurons through an outside source, a large machine. The machine will eventually get smaller as technology advances in the future. This machine will be made specifically for paralysis patients. Because they are not able to make movements on their own in specific parts of their body, the machine will allow them to do so. It could not, however restore feeling in those areas. The process of allowing a person to move again without control of the central nervous system will use signals from the brain to tell the machine to tell the body to make movements. In order for a person to be able to do so, they must undergo much necessary training. They will learn how to control the machine and tell it to move their body parts.

 

 

  1. Theoretically, this machine will be in the form of a large electric computer attached to a rechargeable battery. This supplies the electricity required to generate action potentials in the nerves that control the muscles. It will be attached through wires and a system of electrodes in the brain, then through electrodes in the peripheral nervous system. These will receive signals from the brain, once the person goes through training to understand how to manipulate the machine with their brain. These signals will be processed in the computer, and electricity will be conducted to the wires that eventually reach out into the peripheral nervous system of the person. These will reach a system of microscopic wires that attach at different points in the muscles. The electricity will allow an action potential to be generated. One disadvantage to this system will be that there will still be limited mobility; not all muscles will be able to be reached, and the machine will control a general muscle area, not specific parts of it. The machine will be on wheels for mobility.

 

  1. In order to make this invention possible, there will need to be extreme advances in human electrode monitoring, and the machine’s electrical branches will need to be created in such a way so that needles are not protruding from everywhere in the person’s brain. With technology today, I believe this will be impossible in the next few years. However, in 100 years give or take, technology and knowledge of the brain will have advanced enough so that this may be possible. It will be difficult to make the entire process so that it is not too much of an obstacle in the rest of the person’s life. Scientists must first find way for electrodes to detect signals from all regions of the brain with such a miniscule instrument. Then those signals will travel to the machine that will process the information. The machine will need to tell the cells how to regulate the sodium and potassium levels in order to fire off an action potential. If more than one action potential needs to be fired off, the machine will tell the cells.

 


Catching Brain Tumors Early

August 1, 2014

An estimated 14,320 people are expected to die in 2014 from brain and other nervous system cancer. From 2004 to 2010, only 33.4% of people diagnosed with brain of other nervous system cancer survived five of more years after being diagnosed. From 2001 to 2010, death rates remained stable, indicating that there is still not a universal method of detecting brain tumors early on. 76% of diagnoses catch the brain or nervous system cancer when it is at the localized stage and only 36.6% of patients in the position live for 5 or more years after diagnosis.

Due to these statistics, I have decided to propose a solution to detect the growth of cancerous nerve cells in a simple and easy manner. To get there, the first step is to find what specific protein or hormone all cancerous nerve cells secrete or if  they release a higher or lower level of a certain protein/hormone that is secreted by all neurons. The apparatus I imagine is able to detect, identify, and measure the concentration of nearly every known protein/hormone in a given culture of cells. It has a bank of all this data imbedded into its system.

A biopsy would be done on a mammal, preferably a human or mouse, and their normally functioning neurons would be cultured outside of their body. The machine would then collect fluid from the extracellular matrix and run an analysis of all the proteins and hormones present and their concentrations. This process would be repeated at least thirty times in order to decrease the variance. This way, we can make a safer assumption about the whole population.

A biopsy of cancerous nerve cells would be done on a mammal preferably a human or a mouse, and their cancer cells would be cultured outside their body. Like with the normal cells, the machine would collect fluid from the extracellular matrix of the cancerous neurons and run an analysis of all the proteins and hormones present and the concentrations of each. This process would be repeated at least thirty times for the same reason mentioned before.

A comparative analysis would be done by scientists of the levels of all the proteins and hormones detected from the ECM of each type of culture (noncancerous vs. cancerous). Of the proteins and hormones present in both groups, if any particular ones are identified as being present with a concentration in the cancerous cell that is statistically different (t-test) from the concentration in the normal cells, this protein or hormone should be noted. If there is a protein or hormone that is consistently present in the ECM of the cancerous neurons that isn’t present in the ECM of normal neurons, this protein/hormone should be noted as well.

It would be decided by a group of scientists which protein(s) or hormone(s) is/are selected as a universal indicator(s) of the growth of cancerous cells in the nervous system, whether it be one that is in secreted in different levels by cancer cells or one that is secreted by cancer cells only.

Starting in early childhood, an individual will undergo a blood test and an MRI to record a baseline for the protein/hormone indicative of cancer of the nervous system. The blood will be tested for presence and concentration of the decided-upons protein(s) or hormone(s). For the rest of the individual’s life, their blood will be drawn and tested twice a year. If an abnormal level is detected, an MRI will be done to look for tumor growth. Hopefully, this would increase the percentage of patients with cancer of the nervous system that are diagnosed when the tumor is very small and easily extractable.

I anticipate this kind of technology to exist within the next fifteen years as more proteins and hormones are discovered.

Sources: http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/brain.htmlUMVGWE-1 copy


Brain-controlled Smart Home

August 1, 2014

Although I think brain imaging and other methods of researching the brain are extremely interesting and important, for this assignment, I didn’t want to create a piece of technology that can only research the brain. Instead, I wanted to create a piece of technology that has a specific function that can help people. I wanted this technology to be able to help people who are wheelchair bound due to neurological disorders, brain injuries, paralysis, or other movement disorders become more independent. Today, there are “smart homes” in which almost anything can be controlled by iPhones, tablets, or special remotes. Instead of a phone or other device controlling the smart home, the technology that I created would be able to control it.

This device would be similar to a brain pacemaker, a small device implanted in the brain that provides electrical signals to the brain, that can, for example, prevent a seizure. But my device would work the opposite way: instead of sending signals to the brain, the device would receive signals from the brain and amplify them. The device would be connected to a wireless network, as would various devices inside the smart home. When a person with the device thinks “turn the television on”, for example, the electrical signal from the brain would travel to the brain device and then be transmitted to the television, turning it on. This would eliminate the need for the iPhone or other device that controls the smart home; just brain signals themselves would be able to control all of the devices in the smart home that an iPhone could. This device would ultimately improve the quality of life of wheelchair bound people, especially quadriplegics, as they can gain more independence by being able to control things and do things on their own.

Fortunately, smart homes are already a real technology, and they are becoming increasingly popular. As more devices in the house are able to connect to the smart home, I imagine they will become even more popular, and even more advantageous to the people that I designed the device for. One thing that must improve before this technology is possible is the strength and reliability of wireless signals. Without a reliable wireless signal, the device would be useless. Without a strong wireless signal, brain signals would be able to control fewer devices in the home. Imagine being able to control anything in your home with the device one minute, and then the wireless signal disappears and you can no longer control anything. This would be extremely frustrating for anyone with this device. I don’t think that more developments in smart homes will take too long, and developing a stronger and more reliable wireless signal should not take too long either. The part of developing this device that would take the longest time is figuring out how the device would receive only the brain signals that can control the smart home, so that other brain signals cannot confuse the device. Because brain research is also becoming increasingly popular, hopefully someone would be able to figure out this problem. I hope that this device would be created and able to work successfully in the next 10-20 years.

brain device

 


Panic No More

August 1, 2014

The future is a place for advancements and prosperity, the ideal place for new technology to be invented and implemented. Out of all things, I am a big advocate for mental health. If I were to design new neuroscience related technology, I would create something that would help ease panic attacks. My plan is to engineer a microchip that is attached to the lobes and the amygdala. This microscope will be able to record how fast neurons fire action potentials and what other parts of the body are being stimulated. During a panic attack, an individual may undergo a series of actions and emotions. Physical symptoms of a panic attack include heart palpitations, shaking, and tightness of the chest. Conditions such as these encourage anxiety to begin, initiating the “flight-or-fight” response. The amygdala is responsible for emotions and the frontal lobe functions in logic, decision making, and higher cognitive reasoning. These structures are greatly impacted by occasional or frequent waves of intense emotions. The microchip I have designed will measure the activity of neurons and to where these signals will be sent. If we can identify which regions of the body are being stimulated or damaged. This information can be directly taken from the microchip, which I have designed to be removable. It can inserted into a computer and then the information can be charted. The reason I choose to invent technology that deals with mental illnesses is because I feel like that even though there has been medication and other treatment options available for people suffering from panic disorder, I feel that it is not effective. Most often, people who have panic attacks cannot exactly express what they feel or how their minds become clouded. If technology such as this existed, then it would much easier to track which systems shut down and which ones send unnecessary “flight” reactions. An invention such as this may take a while to be brought to life. Sometimes, concept such as mental illness need time to be explained to the general public. Anxiety, panic, depression, and others are considered cries for attention, or the people who suffer them are still children who need to grow up. But these are all stereotypes, pretense. But sometimes a little effort goes a long way. With much more understanding, advancements regarding effective therapy can be made. It may seem far-fetched, but I hope my technology will become available for everyone to use, learn, and benefit from.

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Personal Neuro Connections

August 1, 2014

Have you ever wished you could communicate with someone silently? In modern neurotechnology, scientists have made it possible for humans to use their brains to communicate with external systems. For example, we just read about the paralysis patient Hutchinson who used her mind to move a robotic arm. While this is a great advancement in neurotechnology, I think it could be taken further in the future, to the point of humans sending brain signals to each other. This could be a great advancement that could connect two people on a larger scale than ever before, and it would show how the brain can be a very complex system.

To make this possible, a small sensor chip, much like the chip implanted in Hutchinson’s brain, would be surgically placed in each brain. This would be the chip that studies the neurons around it and send the signal to the other person. It is important to note that this would only send a signal out, not receive one. Thus, to create a send-and-receive system between two people, both subjects would also have to be implanted with a receiving chip. The receiving chip will be loaded with a complex system that sorts the brain signals and decodes action potentials, sending them to the region of the brain where they originated from. To initiate the send-and-receive response, a remote could be made for each subject with two buttons: a receiving power button and a sending power button. So, if one subject had both the buttons on but the other person only had the receiving button on, they could receive a signal but not send one, and vice versa.  I imagine that at least at  first, the system will only be able to send and receive signals that are very vague. A subject could send a signal to another subject that could prompt the receiving subject to display a feeling that is being projected in the first subject’s mind. For example, if the first subject were eating something sweet, it could send the signal to the other person, and the second subject’s mind would fire sensory neurons to show what the first subject is experiencing.

Though this would appear to be a cool invention, I think that it would still be dozens of years before a system like this could be perfected. While it is very possible to implant a sensor chip that studies the neurons around it in a human’s brain today, the real struggle in this device would be the receiving chip. In order to create software that can decode neuron signals from another person’s brain, scientists would have to identify incredible amounts of neuron signals that would likely be impossible for a long time. And once scientists create the devices, there is still a large chunk of time that would have to be dedicated to testing the system on model organisms before it could be trusted to work on humans.

But alas, it is important to never underestimate the future.

The following picture is a brief sketch of what I infer the system would look like. The chips would each be about the size of a lady bug, much like Hutchison’s sensor was. The receiving chip would contain a much more complex system, however, because it would contain the decoding system.

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The Flashbulb

July 31, 2014

Ever heard of flashbulb memories? They are highly descriptive and detailed “snapshots” of a certain event in the past that is significant to you for some reason, usually for an emotional reason. Flashbulb memories have been substantially researched, even though it has been proven that even these memories can be false. As we known, memory can often play tricks on us and is often unreliable, especially in eye-witness accounts. Flashbulb memories are interesting because they offer very vivid and often reliable information regarding a certain event (ex. JFK’s assassination, 9/11 etc..) because they hold an emotional significance. However, even flashbulb memories become less and less reliable over time. Certain aspects of the memory become unclear, are forgotten, or are even altered over time.

Neurological studies show that there is a connection between emotion and memory in the brain. Emotional arousal causes neurohormonal changes, which engages amygdala, which are involved in the storage and coding of memories. My experiment is an extension of Mark Mayford’s experiment using light in order to create false memories in a mouse’s brain. My creation, called the Flashbulb, works for human brains and allows us to use light in order to alter flashbulbs memories. This would essentially create a completely untrue but intensely vivid and descriptive memory in someone’s brain. After creating the memory, scientists could observe how much of the false memory the participant remembers over time. This would allow scientists to learn more about memory and why it is so unreliable.browntech

My artistic skills are lacking, however the general idea is to add genes into a human brain that are responsible for making memories, which are light-sensitive and can be manipulated. I think that this technology could definitely be invented in the near future. A very similar technique was invented for mice: scientists were able to manipulate a memory that already existed in a mouse’s brain and alter it. The mouse would then stay clear of certain places, for example, because they would have an unpleasant memory of it even though they had never entered that place before. This sort of experiment has never been done on humans, however. It would require some invasive procedures in order to implant the genes that make the proteins necessary for this procedure. However, other than this the technology is not terribly advanced. A great deal of research has been conducted in order to better understand memory, which is such an important aspect of our lives and yet is so unreliable.

Another interesting experiment that could be conducted using this technology is to implant a memory in someone who is suffering from anterograde amnesia, which is a disease that prohibits patients from transferring short term memory to long term memory. It would be interesting to implant a flashbulb memory into his brain and observe the brain to see what happens to that memory and how it gets lost or forgotten by the patient. There are so many disorders that revolve around memory, and I think that this technology would aid researchers and could help develop treatments or cures. Let’s see what happens!