How are neuroscience and technology interrelated?

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’How are neuroscience and technology interrelated?’’ We will highlight the contributions of technology in neuroscience, the main technological tools and we will take a look at the future of neurotechnology.

How are neuroscience and technology interrelated?

Neuroscience and technology are closely related since technology has provided tools for the study of the nervous system.

Information and computer technologies are increasingly essential in our lives, infiltrating all areas of knowledge. The fusion of these disciplines with biomedicine has given rise to bioinformatics and bioengineering, which allow us to address biological problems from other points of view and develop new equipment to improve research, diagnosis and treatments.

In recent decades we have learned more about the brain than in all of human history. This is largely due to technological development.

New technologies together with the expansion and professionalization of the field of scientific research and work in interdisciplinary teams promoted the development of studies on the human brain. 

In this framework, we have witnessed the sequencing of the human genome, the development of new tools to study neural connections and the explosion of nanotechnology.

Understanding the brian

The brain is the most fascinating organ of the human body and its functioning one of the most complex enigmas in the field of Neurosciences. The scientific community has spent years striving to understand why our mind acts according to certain patterns, and what are the reasons why human beings dream, forget, suffer or even think and decide.

Recent advances in Neurotechnology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have shown that it is already possible to access part of the information accumulated in the brain. This practice is carried out through optical, electronic, magnetic and nanotechnology techniques, which serve to help us understand these processes and even get to read and write people’s brain activity.

This new tool has the ability to decipher processes in our minds and, in this way, facilitate the diagnosis, understanding and cure of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, disorders that affect millions of people throughout the world.

All this supposes a new revolution in the field of Neurosciences, as well as the opening of a new field of development for the industry.

“Neurotechnology makes it possible to decipher part of the brain activity of any individual and, with it, facilitate the diagnosis, understanding and cure of neurodegenerative diseases”

According to experts, a combination of biological and artificial intelligence will be necessary, that is, directly connecting the machine to the human brain, implanting tiny electrodes in it.

Neurotechnology makes it possible to control the motor system and facilitate new communication tools for people who have suffered brain injuries, whether due to an accident or illness.

Through this new science, it has been possible for a quadriplegic person to be able to move a hand voluntarily, with the help of AI. This tool could even raise our intelligence, improve our memory, help us make decisions, and provisionally provide an extension of the human mind.

“This new science could come to control the motor system and facilitate new communication tools in people who have suffered brain injuries”

Experts from the University of Southern California have been working on a memory prosthesis that could replace damaged parts of the hippocampus, one of the brain structures involved in memory and emotions, in patients whose memory function has been affected.

Neurotechnology could in the future change the paradigm of the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, providing scientific evidence on the origin and evolution of these pathologies.

At present, various research groups and companies are working on the elaboration and development of these electronic devices that, in the future, are expected to have the ability to interact with the nervous system and restore, at least partially, some of the functions lost due to neurodegenerative diseases.

Four great advances in the history of neurotechnology

The systematic study of neurosciences, combined with technological advances, have become increasingly important in the detection and treatment of pathologies. 

Applications such as the early diagnosis of dementia, drugs with high levels of efficacy and few adverse effects, rapid and effective treatment of cerebrovascular accidents, brain perfusion and diffusion studies and better motor or cognitive rehabilitation treatments are some challenges that today Neurosciences are trying to solve from effective and efficient use of neurotechnologies.

Here we tell you the 4 most significant advances in the use of Technology in Neuroscience.

  1. Magnets to observe neurons

Thanks to technologies such as EEG, MEG or fMRI, researchers can observe electrical, biochemical or movement events of the bloodstream within the organ, which can be related to specific brain functions, such as memory, language, learning or perception.

Electroencephalography (EEG)

It consists of the measurement of brain electrical activity through electrodes that are attached to the skull. It is a very minimally invasive technique, but with low spatial definition in the information outputs, since due to the variable electrical permeability of the skull, these do not always correspond to the exact place where neuronal activity has occurred.

It is predominantly used to obtain neurophysiological information in basal conditions of rest, wakefulness or sleep, as well as to record changes in neuronal activity in epileptic seizures, among other indications.

Positron emission tomography (PET)

It is considered one of the most invasive techniques. It consists of injecting the subject intravenously with a radioactive substance that binds to glucose, which is subsequently attached to the membranes of the cells of the central nervous system.

Next, the distribution taken by this radiopharmaceutical is analyzed; the image shows metabolic output, which, in turn, provides information on neuronal activity.

Magnetic Resonance (MRI)

It consists of emitting a nuclear magnetic field on the subject and recording the information through a computer, which transforms it into an image. It is one of the most widely used techniques, due to its high spatial resolution.

It can be used both statically (MRI volumetry – allows knowing the volume and cortical thickness of different areas of the brain and assessing whether there are atrophied areas, tumors, etc.) or dynamically (functional MRI, fMRI – shows the brain regions involved in a certain task – spectroscopy, etc.).

The scanner is a working window to the brain because the firing of neurons requires sudden localized oxygenation that the machine can distinguish in near real-time.

Furthermore, the visible contrast between gray matter (neuron bodies) and white matter (connections between neurons) on resonance allows monitoring of infectious and vascular diseases of the brain, as well as neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

  1. Electrodes to cure paralysis

As the function of some regions of the brain became known, in the late 20th century, doctors experimented with a new type of treatment: deep brain stimulation.

In 2018, deep stimulation achieved a new milestone: for the first time, people who were paraplegic from an accident have regained partial movement and control of their legs. In this case, the electrodes are implanted in the patients’ spinal cord, from where they send electrical impulses to the nerves in their extremities.

The deep brain stimulation system consists of three components: the electrode, the extension, and the neurostimulator. The electrode is inserted through a small opening in the skull and implanted in the brain. The tip of the electrode is positioned within the target area of the brain.

  1. Implants to restore the senses

Our sensory perception of the world — what we feel when we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch —is a collection of electrical impulses that the brain processes to form a useful interpretation of material reality. 

Normally, impulses are generated in sensory organs, such as the ear or the eye, but when these biological receptors are not working, neurotechnology can intervene.

Conventional hearing aids pick up sound, amplify it, and send it through the normal ear canal. However, if the hearing damage is too severe, amplifying the sound with a traditional hearing aid will not help.

The cochlear implant overcomes this drawback by sending the signal directly to the auditory nerve.

This means that, unlike traditional hearing aids, cochlear implants avoid damaged areas of the ear. These capture sound, process it and through electronics stimulate the auditory nerve.

Currently, there are the first bionic prostheses that incorporate pressure sensors to recreate the sense of touch and electronic retinal implants that directly stimulate the optic nerve are being tested in patients who have lost the photoreceptors in their eyes.

  1. Sensors to read minds

The most widely used non-invasive alternative is electroencephalography, which uses a sensor on the surface of the skull to record the waves produced by nerve impulses in the brain.

As early as 2016, a study by the University of Oregon managed to reconstruct the faces its volunteers were thinking about thanks to a technology that read minds. To do this, they showed 23 people 1,000 photos of people’s faces at random.

While they were connected to the functional resonance machine, it was able to detect changes in the blood flow of the brain, thus measuring its neurological activity.

In a statement from Toyohashi University, they explain “Until now, the device transforms and decodes the signals.

However, it has struggled to collect enough data to allow the use of powerful algorithms based on deep learning (deep learning) or other types of machine learning. However, scientists seek to optimize the interface to develop a kind of “brain typewriter”, to be able to express our thoughts without having to verbalize or write.

This type of technology could be very useful for people with some type of disability when it comes to expressing themselves or speaking and would be implemented in smartphones.

Neuralink: Brain hacking

The ultimate goal of Neuralink is to achieve absolute symbiosis with artificial intelligence. That is, at least, the dream for which Elon Musk created in 2016 this neurotechnology company specialized in the development of brain-computer interfaces.

We are aware that something like this generates a strange sensation between restlessness, curiosity, hope and, why not, also fear.

The panorama that draws this proposal that obviously combines human life with machines heralds an almost revolutionary change in our lives. It is little more than the fusion of technology with the body and, specifically, with the brain. This in itself opens up a kaleidoscope of ethical and social issues that we should begin to reflect on. Let’s know more data.

One of the aspirations of Neuralink technology is to achieve superhuman cognition. What does this mean and what implications does it have? Elon Musk seeks, above all, to ensure that the machines are at our service and not the other way around. The purpose is to put artificial intelligence at our fingertips at all times to have control over it.

In the future, we could have brains with greater potential and, above all, healthy. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or any other neurodegenerative condition would cease to exist because memory and other cognitive functions would be preserved.

And you, would you dare to insert a chip in your brain?

FAQS: How are neuroscience and technology interrelated?

What is the relation between psychology and other disciplines of neuroscience?

The ideal union of both is the study of mental functions, as well as psychic processes. In order to understand human behavior through psychological theories and neuropsychological paradigms that give an explanation of the functioning of the mind.

How does neuroscience relate to learning?

Advances in neuroscience have made it possible to understand how the brain works and to see the important role that curiosity and emotion have in the acquisition of new knowledge. … Emotions, learning and memory are closely related.

How does neuroscience affect behavior?

Neuroscience focuses on the study of neurobiological aspects of behavior with particular emphasis on neurochemical, psychopharmacological and electrophysiological aspects related to both normal and pathological emotional and affective responses.

Can neuroscientists work with patients?

Most neuroscientists focus on research work. But you can work with patients diagnosing and treating diseases.

Is Neuroscience better than psychology?

No, neither discipline is better than the other. What differentiates neuroscience from psychology is that neuroscience is more approached from a biological point of view.

In this post we answered the question ‘’How are neuroscience and technology interrelated?’’ We highlighted the contributions of technology in neuroscience, the main technological tools and we took a look at the future of neurotechnology.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!

References

Müller, O., & Rotter, S. (2017). Neurotechnology: Current Developments and Ethical Issues. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2017.00093

‌Neurotechnology – MIT McGovern Institute. (2019, February 8). Retrieved October 25, 2020, from MIT McGovern Institute website: https://mcgovern.mit.edu/research-areas/neurotechnology/

Ienca, M., & Andorno, R. (2017). Towards new human rights in the age of neuroscience and neurotechnology. Life Sciences, Society and Policy, 13(1), 1-27.

Musk, E. (2019). Neuralink. An integrated brain-machine interface platform with thousands of channels.

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