Bionic Rats Could Lead To Brain Implants In Humans
The psychology department of Tel Aviv University in Israel is attempting to replace part of the brain of rats with microchips. The chip would replicate damaged or destroyed parts of the brain. Currently, researchers are focusing on a relatively simple part of the rats’ brains that responds to stimuli and controls simple motor functions. After studying this part of the brain, they created a electronic replacement to mimic this relatively simple brain function.
The research includes a combination of disciplines: nanotechnology, biology, informatics, and cognitive science: “nano-bio-info-cogno”. While brain implants are already in use in prosthetic limbs and other applications, this would be the first time researchers have attempted to recreate a two-way brain signal. These experiments could lead to similar computerized parts of human brains, to assist those who have suffered brain injuries or developed degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.
BBC News also reported on the backlash from the UK-based National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), an animal rights activists. NAVS Chief executive Jan Creamer states:
This type of research raises enormous ethical concerns, let alone the poor animals whose lives are wasted on dubious and ego-driven experiments.
The NAVS is totally opposed to all forms of animal experimentation and advocates the use of sophisticated non-animal techniques, which this clearly is not. As an example, we are currently funding a long-term project concerned with the human brain and its functions and our research uses cutting edge technology, not the outmoded animal model.
If the research is successful with rats, the team plans to move on to human subjects, which brings out new ethical and philosophical questions they will have to contend with. How much, if any, of the human brain can be replaced without losing your identity? The treatment of cyborgs in science fiction does not bode well for the initial acceptance of anything that tampers with the human brain. From Doctor Who’s cybermen to the replicants in Blade Runner, cyborgs and similar fictional creations are rarely sympathetic. I kind of doubt that will be a big issue in the long run, however; there are too many benefits of this research for people with brain injuries or similar conditions.