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Artificial and biological neurons communicate over the internet.

A lack of understanding currently veils the field of brain injury, with sufferers undergoing cataclysmic personality changes as well as other chronic health problems affecting the whole body. Electronics are currently being developed to mimic neurons and synapses, and achieve brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), known as neuromorphic engineering. It is hoped these biomimetic neuromorphic systems will fuse silicon and brain neurons, achieving a synergy between natural and artificial neuronal networks in the body to pave the way for ‘neurobiohybrids’, which will include living robots, human memory restoration, and intelligent neuroprostheses. Now, a study led by researchers at the University of Southampton enables biological and silicon-based artificial brain cells to talk to each other over the internet mimicking neuronal networks in the brain. The team states their work is a massive step toward intelligent and more adaptive neuroprosthetics and BCIs, potentially laying the groundwork for neuromorphic implants to build real brain networks, living robots and restore human memory. The opensource study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Previous studies show future technologies aiming to restore and enhance organ function will rely on efficacious communication between living and artificial biomimetic systems. Interfacing neuromorphic devices with the real brain is a crucial element of the neurobiohybrid field, with the societal and economical impact of intelligent neuroprostheses predicted to be transformative, proffering novel therapeutics for a number of diseases, way beyond traditional pharmaceuticals. The current study allows two artificial neural systems and one biological neuron cultured from a mouse’s brain to communicate back and forth over the internet.

The current study utilizes cultivated rat neurons in a laboratory-based in Italy, artificial neurons on silicon microchips based in Switzerland, and nanoelectronic synapses based in England. Results show neural spiking signals being sent over the internet from the biological neurons in Italy was captured and distributed to the neuromorphic synapses in England. Data findings show these responses were then sent to the artificial neurons in Switzerland also in the form of spiking neuronal activity.

The lab states the process also works in reverse simultaneously via Switzerland and Italy, meaning the artificial and biological neurons were able to communicate bi-directionally in real-time. They go on to add this was achieved using a memristor, a non-linear resistor with a variable semiconductive relationship with current and voltage, including a memory of past voltages or currents; with this memristive element linking brain and artificial neurons to mimic the transmission, and plasticity properties of biological synapses.

The team surmises they have successfully enabled brain neurons and artificial neurons to communicate with each other over the internet. For the future, the researchers state their technology will allow significant developments in neural and artificial intelligence research, and may even be used to ‘write’ human memory.

Source: University of Southampton

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