Linking the brain and other human body cells with computers is probably the dream of every scientist. Ray Kurzweil, an engineer at Google predicted that humans and computer will become hybrids by around 2030. “Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking,” he said. The bigger and more complex the cloud, the more advanced our thinking. By the time we get to the late 2030s or the early 2040s, Kurzweil believes our thinking will be predominately non-biological.
Scientists at Karolinska Institutet have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics. This artificial neuron contain no ‘living’ parts, but is capable of mimicking the function of a human nerve cell and communicate in the same way as our own neurons do.
Neurons are isolated from each other and communicate with the help of chemical signals, commonly called neurotransmitters or signal substances. Inside a neuron, these chemical signals are converted to an electrical action potential, which travels along the axon of the neuron until it reaches the end. Here at the synapse, the electrical signal is converted to the release of chemical signals, which via diffusion can relay the signal to the next nerve cell. The primary technique for neuronal stimulation in human cells is based on electrical stimulation. However, scientists at the Swedish Medical Nanoscience Centre (SMNC) at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neuroscience in collaboration with collegues at Linkoping University, have now created an organic bioelectronic device that is capable of receiving chemical signals, which it can then relay to human cells.
The Swedish Medical Nanoscience Center at Karolinska Institutet is uniquely positioned within the medical faculty where medical problems guide the nanoscience development within a setting that offers a blend of technological, pre-clinical and clinical expertise.The Swedish Medical Nanoscience Center acts as a knowledge hub on the national and international arena, forming a physical platform where scientists from the fields of medicine and engineering intimately collaborate in real life. This fosters a new breed of scientists with true interdisciplinary knowledge.
“Our artificial neuron is made of conductive polymers and it functions like a human neuron”, says lead investigator Agneta Richter-Dahlfors, professor of cellular microbiology. “The sensing component of the artificial neuron senses a change in chemical signals in one dish, and translates this into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is next translated into the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in a second dish, whose effect on living human cells can be monitored.“ Agneta Richter-Dahlfors.
The research team presented their journal to Biosensors & Bioelectronics. Biosensors & Bioelectronics is the principal international journal devoted to research, design, development and application of biosensors and bioelectronics.
It is an interdisciplinary journal serving professionals with an interest in the exploitation of biological materials and designs in novel diagnostic and electronic devices including sensors, DNA chips, electronic noses, lab-on-a-chip and ?-TAS. Biosensors are defined as analytical devices incorporating a biological material e.g. tissue, microorganisms, organelles, cell receptors, enzymes, antibodies, nucleic acids, natural products etc, a biologically derived material e.g. recombinant antibodies, engineered proteins, aptamers etc or a biomimic e.g. synthetic receptors, biomimetic catalysts, combinatorial ligands, imprinted polymers etc intimately associated with or integrated within a physicochemical transducer or transducing microsystem, which may be optical, electrochemical, thermometric, piezoelectric, magnetic or micromechanical. Biosensors usually yield a digital electronic signal which is proportional to the concentration of a specific analyte or group of analytes.
The team hopes the research will improve treatments for neurologial disorders which currently rely on traditional electrical stimulation. The new technique makes it possible to stimulate neurons based on specific chemical signals received from different parts of the body. In the future, this may help physicians to bypass damaged nerve cells and restore neural function.
“Next, we would like to miniaturize this device to enable implantation into the human body”, says Agneta Richer-Dahlfors. “We foresee that in the future, by adding the concept of wireless communication, the biosensor could be placed in one part of the body, and trigger release of neurotransmitters at distant locations. Using such auto-regulated sensing and delivery, or possibly a remote control, new and exciting opportunities for future research and treatment of neurological disorders can be envisaged.”
The emerging field of Bioelectronics seeks to exploit biology in conjunction with electronics in a wider context encompassing, for example, biological fuel cells, bionics and biomaterials for information processing, information storage, electronic components and actuators. A key aspect is the interface between biological materials and micro- and nano-electronics.
The invention of a neuron that can mimic the functions of human nerve cells means that people are playing God and soon robots will rule the world. Stephen Hawking said that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. This is because the AI would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate, whereas the human race is limited by slow biological evolution. Computers are more efficient than human beings and a group of scientists managed to link the communication between computers and the human brain this probably means that besides scientists creating human-like robots they can also make a normal human robotic or artificial.