'Wi-Fi' Nanoparticles Send Signals from the Brain
The nanoparticles could generate measurable magnetic fields in response to the brain's electrical fields and then be used to send wireless messages.
The problem with talking to our own brains, directly, is that we don't really speak the same language. The brain uses complex electrical fields and impulses to move information around on the atomic level. We can record and manipulate these fields, in a relatively blunt fashion, with implants and wires. But it's like working with oven mitts on.
New findings published in the journal Future Medicine suggest that we may have another way forward. A medical research team at Florida International University in Miami injected 20 billion nanoparticles into the brains of mice, with the idea of establishing a kind of direct wireless connection to neurons.
The "magnetoelectric" nanoparticles (MENs) injected in the mice have several special properties. First, they're small enough to sidle up to the neural network itself. Within whispering distance, you might say.
Secondly, the particles can be triggered by an outside magnetic field to produce an electric field when adjacent to individual neurons. That electric field, researchers say, should be able to communicate directly with the brain's electric field.
"When MENs are exposed to even an extremely low frequency magnetic field, they generate their own local electric field at the same frequency," lead researcher Sakhrat Khizroev told New Scientist. "In turn, the electric field can directly couple to the electric circuitry of the neural network."
The nanoparticles could be used to deliver drugs to specific parts of the brain. In fact, the team's research has already demonstrated that anti-HIV and anti-cancer drugs could be delivered and released in this way.
The technique could also be used to create a new kind of brain-computer interface. By essentially running the process in reverse, the nanoparticles could generate measurable magnetic fields in response to the brain's electrical fields. Toggle the system back, and you've got a dialogue going. Neat.
I'm tempted to try it myself here at Discovery News World HQ Labs, but due to an ill-advised "Grey's Anatomy" binge-watching incident last night, my brain and I are not currently on speaking terms.