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Duke researcher connects brain activity

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DURHAM, N.C. -

A Duke University neurobiologist is using rats to find ways to connect brain activity, research that could someday help human stroke victims.

For rats in the lab of Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, sharing brain waves is a reality.

"That's what I like to call the brain-net," Nicolelis said. "It's like the Internet, connected to brain activity directly."

He has achieved success after four years of research in connecting one rat's brain activity at Duke with another rat in Brazil.

He uses a micro-chip and electrodes come off of it. The electrodes are implanted into the brains of rats and the signals are linked via an Internet connection.

 "Once you record the signal, you transmit the signal to another animal," he said. "You inject that signal on the second animal's brain.

"Basically, you establish this one-to-one connection between one brain to another."

To test that connection, Nicolelis had the rats perform simple tasks, like using an infra-red light to encourage the rat to go either left or right. That's when the brain activity is sent from one rat to the other, telling the second to go left or right.

The rat is put to sleep during this and the process is totally painless, he said.

It's possible this process could help humans someday.

"If a patient has a lesion in the brain - a stroke - we may create electronic bypasses that basically reconnect structures that were disconnected by that lesion," Nicolelis said.

 Nicolelis now predicts linking the brains of multiple animals and creating an organic computer of knowledge.

The theory falls back on the idea two or more brains are better than one.

The rats connected 70 percent of the time, which researchers consider a success. Researchers are so optimistic they are already testing with monkeys with much more elaborate tasks – even avatar video games.

Melanie Sanders

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