'Touching' Infrared LightCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: February 21, 2013 07:20AM
Potentially one of the hardest things to adapt to is the loss of a limb as it will immediately change your ability to do some many tasks. Researchers are constantly trying to create better prosthetics to return what capabilities they can and now some can be linked to and controlled by one's brain. Researchers at Duke University have recently demonstrated a similar link between a prosthetic and the brain of rats but instead of allowing the rats to control the prosthetics, it was to give them a sense of touch.
For many animals, including rats and humans, infrared light cannot be seen, but the researchers sought to change that by attaching an infrared sensor to the brains of rats. When an invisible infrared light was turned on, the rats were aware of it, leading them to go up to it to touch it. Importantly this research demonstrated that the brain was able to work with both this artificial stimulation and the normal whisker touch rats experience. This suggests that the cell types connected to an implant do not need to be specific but can instead of a broader range, thanks to the plasticity of the brain.
While the ability to sense the infrared light is definitely interesting, the reason the researchers did this was to study the brain's ability to interface with such implants. Eventually the researchers would like to see a similar implant be used with an exoskeleton to give quadriplegics the ability to move their limbs and sense of touch.
Source: Duke University