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Rice team developing flat microscope for the brain

Rice University engineers are building a flat microscope, called FlatScope, and developing software that can decode and trigger neurons on the surface of the brain.

Their goal as part of a new government initiative is to provide an alternate path for sight and sound to be delivered directly to the brain.

The project is part of a $65 million effort announced this week by the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a high-resolution neural interface. Among many long-term goals, the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program hopes to compensate for a person's loss of vision or hearing by delivering digital information directly to parts of the brain that can process it.

Members of Rice's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department will focus first on vision. They will receive $4 million over four years to develop an optical hardware and software interface. The optical interface will detect signals from modified neurons that generate light when they are active. The project is a collaboration with the Yale University-affiliated John B. Pierce Laboratory led by neuroscientist Vincent Pieribone.

Current probes that monitor and deliver signals to neurons—for instance, to treat Parkinson's disease or epilepsy—are extremely limited, according to the Rice team. "State-of-the-art systems have only 16 electrodes, and that creates a real practical limit on how well we can capture and represent information from the brain," Rice engineer Jacob Robinson said.

Robinson and Rice colleagues Richard Baraniuk, Ashok Veeraraghavan and Caleb Kemere are charged with developing a thin interface that can monitor and stimulate hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of neurons in the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain.

"The inspiration comes from advances in semiconductor manufacturing," Robinson said. "We're able to create extremely dense processors with billions of elements on a chip for the phone in your pocket. So why not apply these advances to neural interfaces?"

Kemere said some teams participating in the multi-institution project are investigating devices with thousands of electrodes to address individual neurons. "We're taking an all-optical approach where the microscope might be able to visualize a million neurons," he said.

That requires neurons to be visible. Pieribone's Pierce Lab is gathering expertise in bioluminescence —think fireflies and glowing jellyfish—with the goal of programming neurons with proteins that release a photon when triggered. "The idea of manipulating cells to create light when there's an electrical impulse is not extremely far-fetched in the sense that we are already using fluorescence to measure electrical activity," Robinson said.

The scope under development is a cousin to Rice's FlatCam, developed by Baraniuk and Veeraraghavan to eliminate the need for bulky lenses in cameras. The new project would make FlatCam even flatter, small enough to sit between the skull and cortex without putting additional pressure on the brain, and with enough capacity to sense and deliver signals from perhaps millions of neurons to a computer.

Alongside the hardware, Rice is modifying FlatCam algorithms to handle data from the brain interface.

"The microscope we're building captures three-dimensional images, so we'll be able to see not only the surface but also to a certain depth below," Veeraraghavan said. "At the moment we don't know the limit, but we hope we can see 500 microns deep in tissue."

"That should get us to the dense layers of cortex where we think most of the computations are actually happening, where the neurons connect to each other," Kemere said.

A team at Columbia University is tackling another major challenge: The ability to wirelessly power and gather data from the interface.

In its announcement, DARPA described its goals for the implantable package. "Part of the fundamental research challenge will be developing a deep understanding of how the brain processes hearing, speech and vision simultaneously with individual neuron-level precision and at a scale sufficient to represent detailed imagery and sound," according to the agency. "The selected teams will apply insights into those biological processes to the development of strategies for interpreting neuronal activity quickly and with minimal power and computational resources."

"It's amazing," Kemere said. "Our team is working on three crazy challenges, and each one of them is pushing the boundaries. It's really exciting. This particular DARPA project is fun because they didn't just pick one science-fiction challenge: They decided to let it be DARPA-hard in multiple dimensions."

 Explore further: Scientists use algorithm to peer through opaque brains

Provided by: Rice University  

Source: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-07-rice-team-flat-microscope-brain.html

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Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. 

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.


Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society


The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.


Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.


Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.


This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.


Key elements of the project in the future

• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of  the project of "Immortality”.

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