Can Neurotechnology, BCI Solve Brain Disorders?

Guest Post by David Stephen who looks at Neurotechnology. There is a recent announcement, Battelle-Led Team Wins DARPA Award to Develop Injectable, Bi-Directional Brain Computer Interface, about a militaristic neurotechnology.

It states that, “Imagine this: A soldier puts on a helmet and uses his or her thoughts alone to control multiple unmanned vehicles or a bomb disposal robot. That’s the basis for this effort for DARPA’s Next-Generation Non-Surgical Neurotechnology (N3) program. The N3 program seeks development of high-performance, bi-directional brain-machine interfaces for able-bodied service members.

Can Neurotechnology, BCI Solve Brain Disorders?

Most of the current BCI research, including Battelle’s NeuroLife technology, focuses on helping people with disabilities who must undergo invasive implant procedures, including brain surgery, to enable a BCI that can restore lost function. For the next BCI leap, in which the technology can be used by healthy military service members, it’s imperative to find lower-risk and less-invasive options.”

It further states that, “Battelle’s N3 concept for a minimally invasive neural interface system, called BrainSTORMS (Brain System to Transmit Or Receive Magnetoelectric Signals), involves the development of a novel nanotransducer that could be temporarily introduced into the body via injection and then directed to a specific area of the brain to help complete a task through communication with a helmet-based transceiver. Upon completion, the nanotransducer will be magnetically guided out of the brain and in to the bloodstream to be processed out of the body.

The nanotransducer would use magnetoelectric nanoparticles to establish a bi-directional communication channel with the brain. Neurons in the brain operate through electrical signals. The magnetic core of the nanotransducers would convert the neural electrical signals into magnetic ones that would be sent through the skull to the helmet-based transceiver worn by the user.”

Brain-Computer Interfaces, or brain-machine interfaces as are a direction of advancement in neuroscience, hailed to hold promise for the future along correcting disorders and defects of the brain.

There was a paper on how it helped some people against craving responsible for binge eating. There are also cases of thought to text as well as neuromuscular corrections.

BCI is largely cortical, that is, placed and work mostly on the surface of the brain. They explore cortical-subcortical networks, but thorough explorations in deep brain areas, where several other centers are, are limited.

This and other challenges they have, say that they may go the way of molecules, because of the incredible diversity of the brain. For example, there are medications that could prompt or ease certain thoughts. There are others too, like stimulants or those for sedation.

Molecular targets change experiences, but there are often side effects and the experiences come at degrees, at different times that vary their reach. Stimulants can be taken but may sometimes not change much, sedatives can also be taken, but may not also not reach deep because of neural determinations. This says that targeting a molecule could work for one to a point, but dip the other, much or midly. So respective molecules are not the finish point for what is experienced, regardless of their influence for something.

Brain computer interfaces have not told how the brain works experiences. They shape a few, but do not drive deeper understanding of its workings.

Fear is not a cell or molecule. Fear is not also a brain center. There are corresponding cells, molecules and centers in the brain, activated for fear – at times, but fear is an experience that does not always play out for what should cause fear. Also, what should not cause fear may trigger it at times.

There is also no universal fear for everyone all the time, or the same degree of fear for the same person in the same situation all the time.

The experiential mechanism of fear removes its power from cells, molecules and marked brain centers. They may be used to influence aspects of it, often, as well as with BCI, but what fear and other experiences are, rise above just those.

BCI are great with motor functions, where they can be used to stop tremors, help movements and drive precision. These could be where BCI hold their highest promise, even though there are also other parts of the brain at play too not just that center.

The thalamus, for example, has a role in motor integration, so is the reticular formation. If there is a problem of motor skills from the thalamus [a deep brain center], for some, it may be tough for some BCI to do much about it. Though there is deep brain stimulation of the thalamus, however, full exploration with BCI is still limited.

Brain defects and disorders are numerous, requiring novel approaches and extended understanding. BCI and Neurotechnology has a future with the brain, but to what extent will be known.

David Stephen does research in theoretical neuroscience and neurotechnology. He has a research experience in computer vision at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona. He was a visiting scholar in medical entomology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His writings explore the experiential mechanisms of the brain for human interactions with the world. He blogs on