Rats Learn Reflex With Artificial Cerebellum-On-A-Chip

Researchers at Tel Aviv University developed a chip that could accurately receive input from a rat’s brainstem and send its own signal to another area of the brainstem to initiate muscle movement. 

From New Scientist:

To test the chip, they anaesthetised a rat and disabled its cerebellum before hooking up their synthetic version. They then tried to teach the anaesthetised animal a conditioned motor reflex – a blink – by combining an auditory tone with a puff of air on the eye, until the animal blinked on hearing the tone alone. They first tried this without the chip connected, and found the rat was unable to learn the motor reflex. But once the artificial cerebellum was connected, the rat behaved as a normal animal would, learning to connect the sound with the need to blink.

This is very cool – a device in direct two-way communication with the brain? – but the article is very sparse on actual details, and a quick search hasn’t turned up any other articles on this experiment just yet (this article is from today). I’d like to know how exactly the chip dealt with nervous system signals, particularly in light of the article I posted last week discussing the difficulty of machine-nervous system communication. How did they deal with that in this case? I’ll probably check later to see if any other articles have any more details, and edit in an explanation here if I find one.

For context, this reflex (the very famous classical conditioning) is obviously on the very simple end of brain activity that they could emulate, and in a simpler brain than a human’s; this is still far far away from anything that would be useful for humans, but that’s the way it goes. Science requires patience and more than a few dead-ends.


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