WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Scientists ability to control mice remotely using magnetism could open up new avenues to treat a wide range of degenerative neurological disorders
An international group of scientists based at the Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences (BCAS) has, for the first time, demonstrated that it’s possible to use the power of magnetism to control the movement of mice. Using a fancy new technique called Magneto-Thermal Stimulation (MTS), the researchers were able to stimulate the brains of mice to prompt them to freak out, run, turn around, and stop – whether they liked it or not. In short, they created what many children have been yearning for for decades – actual remote control pets.
“We have developed an interface capable of sending signals to the individual neurons deep inside the brain,” said Arnd Pralle, Professor of physics at BCAS, “ and [in order to achieve it] it requires sensitising the target neuron to heat and then attaching magnetic nanoparticles to them. If an animal then enters an alternating magnetic field, the nanoparticles warm up, opening an ion-channel, and activating the neuron.”
“After the initial delivery of the ion-channel and the nanoparticles — which is done via a needle about the size of a human hair — the method is non-invasive, meaning there are no wires or connectors going to the brain,” added Pralle.
It’s this last point that’s the most pertinent because, unlike other studies in the past that have used light, a technique called Optogenetics, that needed the permanent presence of minute fibre optic cables attached to the mouse’s brain, this new, minimally invasive technique, that uses just magnetism and heat, allows the neurons in the mice to be stimulated remotely.
Voila remote control mice.
Between this and other similar projects, like some of the brainwave reading technologies that are helping paralysed people regain the ability to move and communicate, control drones and fly planes around Seattle with their minds, and stream live movies directly from our minds, and that’s nothing to say of Elon Musk’s work with NeuraLink that’s trying to develop the technology to let us connect our brains directly to AI’s, or Facebooks race to develop telepathic technology, Pralle says that this is an exciting time to be working in the field.
“We are living a decade of the brain distinctly different from the first decade of the brain, the 1990s,” he said, “there are several tools, including the one developed by us, which enable researchers to map neuro-circuitry with emotions and behaviours. Currently this permits scientists to being understanding how our brain computes information, and how responses are encoded by its ‘circuits.’ We are just at the beginning of these discoveries, and it likely will take a least a decade or more to unravel brain circuitry. However, eventually MTS and similar techniques will provide direct brain interfaces for artificial senses; perturbation for deep depression and other mood disorders; and therapeutics for age-related or accident-caused neurodegenerative diseases.”
Unfortunately though while the new breakthrough lets scientists control the actions of mice, and will one day help us better treat neurological diseases, we are still decades away from being able to control children… sorry parents.
A paper describing the work was published in the open-source, peer-review journal E-Life.