Anyone who has ever been scolded for talking over someone knows that speaking and listening simultaneously is a hard thing to do. Conducting an intelligent conversation requires active listening, understanding the received knowledge, and crafting a meaningful response, which often requires blending the new information with one’s own experiences. On a microscopic scale, each neuron in the brain must do exactly this – listen to the inputs from other neurons, synthesize these inputs, and output an electrical response – in concert with other neurons.
Sometimes, neurons fail to properly communicate with each other, resulting in conditions such as seizures. While scientists have long been able to recognize these communication lapses, it has been more difficult to stimulate the brain to artificially deliver the right signals when something goes amiss. One major challenge has been ‘listening’ when artificial signals are delivered to the brain. The artificial signals are too noisy, overwhelming the ability to listen to the neurons communicating with one another.
A new neurostimulator called WAND, which stands for Wireless Artifact-free Neuromodulation Device, sits outside the head and can both ‘listen’ and ‘speak’ to the brain at nearly the same time – what engineers call a ‘closed-loop’ device. Being able to simultaneously record and stimulate neuron signals vastly improves WAND’s ability to provide the correct therapy because it can make adjustments in real-time, helping to prevent seizures. Furthermore, WAND has 128 channels, allowing it to listen and talk to large parts of the brain, all at once.
The team at UC Berkeley that developed WAND points out that its code is easily adaptable and could be used to treat a wide variety of conditions beyond seizures. While the device is currently programmed to recognize abnormal signals and provide compensatory electrical stimulation, the code could be tweaked to ‘silence’ certain signals to reduce unwanted side effects – such as the abnormal movements associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Managing Correspondent: Radhika Agarwal
Popular news article: Medicalxpress
Original science article: Nature Biomedical Engineering
Image Credit: geralt, CC0