The Electric Brain – Mind Field S2 (Ep 8)

published on July 9, 2020

The nervous systemis fundamentally electricWhen we move our arm,it moves because a signalhas been sent to the musclethat controls it,and that messageis made of charged atomsmoving in and outof nerve cells

It's electricityNow, because the brainis electric,we could also useelectricity to recordwhat the brain is doingor bypass it entirely,-and control a body-

That means thatwe could use our mindsto move other people's bodies,restore movement to peoplewho are paralyzed,feel through an artificial handas if it was our own,and even read people's mindsShocking!

Even though electricitywasn't really understooduntil the 1800s,its abilityto influence the bodyhad been known since at leastancient Roman times,

When respected physicianScribonius Largus wrote about a man who accidentally stepped on an electric fish and was suddenly relieved of gout pain

Scribonius did some experimentsand found that you could putan electric fish on your head and relieve headachesIn 1804,centuries later, Italian physicist Giovanni Aldini

discovered he could make people's muscles move with electricityHe amazed the European worldby using electricityto animate the corpseof an executed criminal

The corpse opened its eyes and even seemed to sit upBut Aldini wasn't justtrying to shock peopleHe was showing the worldthat neurons,the cells that control bothour thoughts and our movements,

Operate through electricityImagine bypassinga person's brainso as to control their bodyNow normallywhen you move your body,your brain sendselectrical signalsthrough nerves

But if we could use electrodesto send those signals,we could controla person's bodywithout needing their brainto be involvedWe could control themwith a remote control,and that's whatwe are about to do today

With cockroachesI'm here with Tim Marzullofrom Backyard Brains,and, Tim, you broughtsome cockroaches Yes, Michael,cockroaches use their antennato sense their environmentand move around,and we're going to tryto trick the cockroach

And controlits movementfor a numberof minutesTrick it, how do we trick it?We are going to do a surgeryon the cockroachwhere we're going to hijackthe nervous systemto send electrical impulsesto their antenna

All right,well, let's get to it- Let's do it- I've brought with metoday a state-of-the-artcockroach operating roomNow, how do you do surgeryon a cockroach?We have a jar of ice water,and to induce anesthesiawe are going to putthe cockroaches

In the ice waterand their nervous systemwill stop firingelectrical impulsesWe'll notice after a minuteor two they'll stop moving Once the roaches were anesthetized, they were ready for surgery All right,so then now what we're gonna do

Is attach the electrodesSo here we havethe little connectorIt has three wiresIt has a ground wire,and it has a wirefor the left antennaand the right antennaI'm going to puta little bead of Superglue

On the cockroach right here,and then I'm just gonnastick the electrodeon the cockroach's head Next, we inserted the ground wire into the flight muscle of the wing- There you go- Cool

I put the wirein the back The remaining two wires get inserted into the antenna Now I'm justgonna snip the antennaright there and we And now becauseit's a hollow tube

we can stickthe wire in So now,what I'm gonna dois I'm just gonna insert itinto the antenna-All right?- Got it, wow And he's readyfor the left antennaThere we goIt went right in there

I'll put the cockroachright back in the ice waterNow it's worth pointing outwhat this does to themand to their quality of life Yeah, after the surgeryI'm gonna take them backto their homes,

Snip the wires,and these cockroacheswill then be retired And the antennawill grow back? Yes, and I will returnthem to our reproducing colony,and they'll live happycockroach livesafter the show

– Fantastic- All right-So now we're ready to go- Wonderful Our cyber-roach was now neurologically wired for external control This isa state-of-the-artroach racetrack

Tim and I are aboutto take some robo-roachesfor a test driveBut first, Tim,I wanna see howan ordinary roachmoves aroundand uses its antenna So let's just seewhere this guy goes

He wants to explore my handAll right,and then, oh wow-Wow-Racin' awayAnd you can you seehe's hugging that wallYou can see he keeps tappingthe wall and moving alongHe's not in the middleof the road,

-he's on the edge of it- Yeah As we know, roaches use their antennas to explore their surroundings and locate food and shelter When no walls or obstacles were sensed, the roaches felt free

to move around at will-Hey, guys- Hey, whoa, whoa follow the rules It was time to test-drive our robo-roach So thisis the battery,

Along withthe Bluetooth device And I'm just gonna plugthem in right now We're talkingabout actual voltages Yes, becausewe are talking to the nervesin a language thatthe nerves understand Tim has built an app

that communicates to the electrode on the roach's back When we swipe right, the electrode sends a signal to the roach's left antenna, stimulating the sensation of an obstacle

on its left which causes the roach to move right and vice versaWhich way should we go,left or right?I think we should go leftLeft Whoa- Okay, well, that's- Doing donuts

All right, that wasa little bit too high We adjusted the intensity of the signal to find the optimal settingAll right, now, I'm gonna tryto get him to turn right,go back through the factory- Oh- Good job

– Okay, very good- Good jobNow he doesn't knowif there's a road,so I'm gonna have to tell himto kind of keep going-to the right, good- Okay, very good- Yeah, good, come here-All right, where is he?Did he just– he wants to goto the hot air balloon?

He wants to goto the hot air balloon,but I would ratherhe go to workat the factory,so I'm gonna– I'm gonnaHe's like,"I'll go back to work" I'm gonna swipe left- Okay-There, good All right, left

– Very good- Now right- Ooh All right- Good- All right, watch this And turn right- Okay Good, good, goodTurn right All right,turns a little bit- Turn right, oh- Oh, you see

-he adapts over time- He adapts over timeSo we are taking awaytheir autonomous controlof their bodyWe're just causingthem to thinkthey should decide to moveone way or the other Yeah, some peopleused to be sort of scared

That we're onthe slippery slopewhere I'm gonna controla whole humanitywith my electrical stimulation,but you can see thatthere's so many other sensorysignals that the cockroachis receiving,that we're competing with-So, Tim, this was very cool- Uh-huh

-a little bit weird- Uh-huhI didn't feeltotally comfortablecontrollinga living organism-Uh-huh-But there's something herethat's, that's reallyimportant for the futureof understanding brains

Sure,we use this technologyin biomedical applications,such as cochlear implants,and deep brain stimulationto treat Parkinson'sBut things such asconsciousness and attentionand will are currentlyreally at the cutting edgeof neuroscience research

How do youmake decisions?The wonderful thingabout, uh,neuroscience isthat it's wide open In the very near future, cyber cockroaches could actually save lives Researchers at Texas A&M

and North Carolina State University are developing a groundbreaking use for robo-roaches in search and rescue missions Instead of installing wires in the roach's antennae, they're implanting receptors

in the bug's actual nervous systems to insure a longer-term effect The plan is to release a swarm of robo-roaches into a disaster area like a collapsed building As the roaches explore,

they'll send images and data back to a computer which creates a detailed 3D map of the disaster zone If the cyber-bugs stray from the search area, their nerves get stimulated to steer them back in

If a roach detects a survivor, a signal is sent back with the victim's location While a real world test has not been done yet, scientists hope to do so within the next 10 years

Meanwhile, the same technology used to cyber-hack cockroaches can also be used on humansNow, Tim,when I move my arm,my brain is sendingelectrical signalsto my musclesand they respond to that,

And they contract,and they releaseBut you are aboutto use a batteryto electricallystimulate my musclesSure, sure A human's nervous system can be hacked with no surgery required

Tim attached electrodes to my forearm, which communicated via Bluetooth to an app on his iPad So I'm gonna amplifythe signalsof your muscle activitySo, every time a neurontalks to the muscle,

The muscle firesan electrical impulselike the neuronsSo we can seethese electrical impulsesright hereSo what I want you to do-is contract- Oh, yeah All right,so there you go,you can see the impulses

-occurring in your-Watch this So that whooshis the soundof many musclefibers firing- Many, many-firing action potentialsbecause neurons are synapsingon those muscleswhen you are decidingto move your body

Let me passively moveyour handWe don't see that much activity,maybe some stretch activity,but now resist me-Now there's no movement- Wowbut we're seeingelectrical activitybecause it's dueto contraction

So what's coolabout thisis that becauseyou are makingvoluntary movementswith your brain,we can exploit thesemuscle contractionsand use itto control robotics Okay, so, Tim,this is all really cool,

But the real reasonI invited you here todayand told you to bringall of this is thatI want to controlanother human Alie?-Hi, Michael-Thanks for comingSo, Alie, you might bea little apprehensive nowafter hearingwhat I just said, but

Yeah, yeah, I heard youThis is for science,and it's gonna go both waysI'm gonna let you controlmy arm as well You ready?Okay Wait, I'm goingfirst, though?You're gonna go first,I think that's important, yes-For-For randomization

– Okay-I flipped a coin earlierthat no one saw,but it happened Alie Ward from the Ologies podcast was brave enough to let me test how the brain sends signals to the body, in this case my brain sending signals

to move her body And we've placed a screen between us so she can't see when I make a move that sends the signalAll right, let's do itSo, MichaelOkay Should I contractlike softly or firmly?

-Just go all the way like that, yes-All the way?-Okay, here we go-All right-Did you feel anything?-Not yet, no-I'm not strong enough-Okay, I'm gonna turn it up-a little bit, okay?- Okay, yeahIt feels like pins and needlesa little bit

Okay You're at twoI'm gonna turn up to four, okay?- All right-OkayNow contract,MichaelAh!That was really, really,really weird- Contract-Oh, that's really weird

– Okay-This is really weirdOh, that's– I'd–I'm still not over thatIt feels like, uh,I'm a marionetteand there's just stringsbeing tugged For the sake of science, it was only fair that I give Alie a turn at the controls

But I also wanted to know what it was like to have someone control my movementsAll right, now whileAlie controls my body,I thought it would be niceto maybe enjoy some hot,bright-red tomato soup

And a nice glassof grape juiceI might even do some writing, multitaskingSo, um, can we try outthe strength,uh, just, like, geta bit of a sense-of what's gonna happen to me?-All rightSo, I'll put itreally low at a two

– Good, yeah- OkayAnd, uh, okay,now contract, AlieAll right-Ah, okay, yup, I felt it-Contract again-I felt-Okay Did you feel that?-Yes- All right, now,

I'm gonna turn it upto a fourOkayAll right,now contract-You ready?-YupWowThat's, um,

That's not me moving my armOr the rest of yourentire body responds Well– yeah,I'm a jumpy person,so you're gonna geta lot more out of me-Okay- Now, pleasedon't control me

While I just take a nice,relaxing sip of I'll turn it upto five and a half Okay, I'm justgonna take a nice little,uh, taste of this soupThis is so meanI love it The meanest part is thatthis is very lukewarm soup

All right Now, just let meplease eat in peace-I'm sorry- All right,I'm gonna take a breakand write somethingI'll leave you alone,I'll leave you aloneOkayI'm try–I can resist it, but

Like the cockroaches, my body was learning to adapt to the signalTo scienceThat's the beautyof electrophysiologyOf course the fact that ourneuronswork through electricity

Means that we can alsorecord from them,and that has amazingmedical applicationsThe electroencephalogram,or EEG,came about in the 1920s, allowing doctors to see some of the brain's electrical signals as visible brain waves

But by the 1980s,scientists realizedthat for some tasks,like the dream of allowingparalyzed patientsto move a robotic arm,you need a much richerbrain signal That's because moving an arm

requires a lot of information You need information for how to move your upper arm, your forearm, your hand, your fingers, all through 3D spaceEEG just doesn't carry enoughinformation to do that,since the electrical signalsit picks up

Get distortedafter they make their waythrough our skull and skinSo, if you wanted to controla prosthetic limbwith just your mind,researchers realizedyou'd need to recorddirectly from the brainAnd in 2006,

Scientists finallydid just that They implanted an electrode in the brain of a paralyzed human for the very first time And since that first test patient, several paralyzed patients

have received brain implants that allow them to control robotic arms with their minds As our understanding of the brain grows and our computers get better at decoding signals from the brain,

these patients are gaining finer and finer control over these robotic arms Recently, science has taken a big leap forward from allowing paralyzed patients to control robotic limbs to giving them control of their own limbs

I traveled to Ohio State University to meet one of those patients, Ian Burkhart At 19, while vacationing with friends, Ian dove into a wave at the beach and broke his neck on the sandy floor, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down

I knew as soon as I hitthat I was paralyzedAnd I was floatingface-down in the water-and could not get up-Could you I couldn't moveanything at all You go from being 19 and independent,

living on your own in college, to now I need help doing everything from eating to going to the bathroom, sitting up, getting into my wheelchair I can move my shoulders pretty well,can move my bicepsthat allow me

To move my armsa little bit,but nothingfrom my biceps down The doctors at Ohio State had approached Ian about a revolutionary experimental treatment developed by Battelle, a research and development firm

using cutting-edge technology called NeuroLife They wanted to implant a chip in Ian's motor cortex, which would allow him to move his hand again while he was connected to a computer in the lab

I was invited to the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University to meet the researchers and witness this cutting-edge work in action So first we're gonna plugIan into the system The piece, uh, isprotruding from my skull as- Yeah- reference, that's the pedestal

It's undera little protective cap,um, but it's there 24/7and it leads to some wiresthat go to the actualmicrochip arraythat's on the surfaceof my brain Pushed intothe actual organ of the brain Exactly

The microchip in Ian's head detects the blood flow and electrical impulses of his brain that are associated with causing movementSo this is the actual chipIt sits on the surfaceof his brain

Wow Ian's brain is connected to software that reads and analyzes his brain activitySo this is a live lookat Ian's motor cortex

YesSo if you think aboutmoving your arm,we should see more activity-or a different pattern?- Yeah At the start of the session, in order to calibrate the decoder with his brain,

Ian is prompted to think about moving his hand by watching images of hand movements You'll seemy computer prompt meand as it prompts meto do that,that's whatI'm thinking about

What do you mean"think about?" Just as muchas I can think about-imagining that movement-Yeah As Ian's brain thinks about moving his hand- Okay, Ian, are you ready?-Yup its electrical signals

are detected by the chip and sent to the decoderThen we takethat informationand we associate itwith a hand closedSo now the decodercan recognizeif he's thinkingthat same thing again

Next, the decoder sends a signal to a device that can control Ian's muscle movement This special sleeve on Ian's arm contains a hundred and thirty electrodes, which stimulate the muscles in his forearm

to produce the specific movements that his brain is thinking about, such as closing his hand or moving his thumb Now it was time to see Ian move his paralyzed hand with his thoughts

So, Ian, if you're readyfor this next one- Yup-I'm gonna count you downThree, two, one Whoa So,that was the decoderDecoding his thoughts?

-Decoding his thoughts- Wow Ian was in controlof the movements Nice work Already, Ian's achievements go far beyond closing his hand With the help of this cutting-edge technology,

he can use his own paralyzed hand to do a number of fine motor tasks from everyday movements to playing Guitar HeroHow many other peopleare like Ian?Currently in the world,

Maybe five? Ian continues to gain more independence outside the lab, as wellDo peopleever drive with youand get nervous like,"Oh, my gosh,well, clearlythis is dangerous"

I thinkif everyone elsethat was drivingalong in the road knewI have no use of my handsgoing 70 miles an hourdown the freeway,they may not like thatBut they've– they havenothing to worry about

Right, yeah,and I'm probably saferbecause I can't takemy hands off the wheel-to get on my cell phone and-Right YupYou're not fiddlingwith the radio andYeah, that I shouldn't bedoing while I'm driving Ian's progress was truly inspiring,

and this was only the beginning for himWhat are your hopesfor the future for yourself? Hopefully,I can upgradeto the next versionand, you know,have more capabilitiesand be able to do thingsa lot easier

In the long term, I hope that this can be a device that people just use You have someone who has a spinal cord injury and they can just continue right where they left offI think, you know,the work that we're doing

Is something that hasnever been done beforeand it's really exciting to beon that cutting edgeRestoring movementis one thing,but what about feeling,sensation?We feel with our skinbecause of signals

Sent to the somatosensorycortex of our brainBy putting sensorsin robotic fingersconnected to implantsin a person'ssomatosensory cortex,researchersat the University of Pittsburghhave enabled Nathan Copeland

To feelthrough a robotic hand Nathan underwent brain surgery to receive two implants, one in his motor cortex to control a robotic arm and a second implant

over his somatosensory cortex This second implant stimulates his brain and the pattern of stimulation depends on what part of the robot hand is touched So, if you touch the robot on a specific finger,

then the part of Nathan's somatosensory cortex that normally responds to that finger get stimulated PinkyUh, middle His brain interprets that as touch

Nathan and Ian's remarkable achievements have been aided by their ability to communicate with the researchers involved But what can be done for people who are not only unable to move, but also unable to speak?

Steve Kaplan was an active 57-year-old computer programmer dating Laurie, a horse wrangler for the rodeo But that all changed a year ago when he suffered a massive stroke leaving him in a vegetative state,

unable to move or speak Doctors initially declared Steve brain dead However, inside his body he was fully conscious, but unable to tell them so It wasn't until a nurse noticed

that Steve's eye movements were intentional that he was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome, a condition which robs people of everything but their mind While a normal brain receives electrical signals from the senses and sends signals back to them,

the stroke prevented the electrical signals from leaving Steve's brain Over the last year, with the help of physical therapists, Steve has regained some very minor range of motion in his neck

I sat down with Steve and his now-wife Laurie to learn more about locked-in syndromeSteve, Laurie, hello Although he's still unable to speak, thanks to new scientific developments, Steve can communicate with the outside world

using a computer Hello, MichaelNice to meet you, SteveAnd niceto meet you, LaurieFirst of all,thank you so muchfor giving us some time

Tell me how Steve startedbeing able to communicate Well, you know,I asked a lot of questionsabout locked-in syndromewhen they explainedwhat it was,and there wasn'ta lot of answers-Yeah- At the beginning,

He would blink once for yesand twice for no And that was the first parts of the communication And then they gave us a board, and I went through the ABCs, and he would close his eyes when I got to what he wanted

I'd write it down, and that's how it began As you could imagine, Laurie and Steve's first method of communicating was a slow and painstaking process But just months later,

an engineer working to help locked-in patients built Steve a machine that tracks his eye movements As Steve looks at different letters on a screen, the machine translates where he's looking

into synthesized audible speech I want to recover Although there's still a slight delay in communication as Steve scans the letters on the screen, this method is much more fluid

and significantly fasterThe computer helps mecommunicate YeahYou can write with your eyesThis thing's amazingHe can email,he can text,call meif he needs something

It's such a relief It does wondersIt does wonders, yes-Uh-hmm, – And I could onlyimagine how emotionalit would have beento you to be able to lookand write a thing,

And then have it spokenAnd, Laurie,for you to hearwords coming from his mind,from his heart,especiallyfor the first time-in a long time- YesWhat was the first thingyou said, Steve?

The first message was happy birthdayWhat a birthday presentIt really was Steve's progress is remarkable, and it would be difficult to deny the connection between his new ability to communicate

and connect with the outside world with the incredible advances he's made physically over the last year-Look up at the ceiling- Yeah-Look down at your thumbs-Look over at me,your beautiful wife

Laurie and Steve hope that one day Steve will make a full recovery from locked-in syndromeSteve's eye-tracking deviceis electric,and so is his brainThey're connected by the fact

That Steve can move his eyesBut some locked-in patientscan't even controltheir eye movementsThey have what is knownas completelylocked-in syndromeFor these patients,the eye-tracking technology

That helped Steve communicateis useless But researchers in Europe recently found a way of allowing completely locked-in patients to communicate using just their thoughts The researchers combined EEG with near-infrared spectroscopy,

which can non-invasively measure blood flow in the brainThe patients were askedsimple yes or no questionsthat the researchersknew the answers to,which allowed themto train a machine to recognize

Which brain signals meant yesand which brain signalsmeant noThe researchersthen asked the patientsa new set of questionsthey knew the answer to,and using just their thoughts,

the patients were able to give the correct answers to 70% of the questionsNow, giving justyes or no answersmay be limited,but this technology is newAll of this happenedjust this year

These rapid advancements, thanks to the devotion and effort of researchers and subjects around the world, are slowly but surely chipping away at the mysteries of the mindThe betterwe understand the mind,

The betterwe'll be able to helpthe millions of peoplewho struggle to dowhat they wantbecause of psychologicalor neurological conditions,and ultimately the betterwe'll understand ourselvesAnd as always,

Thanks for watching

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