This short film from GE’s Focus Forward profiles the work of Miguel Nicolelis, a Duke University neurobiology professor and director of the Walk Again Project. The project is an international consortium of researchers who are developing technology at the cutting edge of robotics in hopes of one day rendering wheelchairs obsolete.
No computer on Earth is more powerful or efficient than the human brain. Legions of computer scientists have been hard at work designing neuromorphic chips that mimic its information processing capabilities.
But, as it turns out, the brain packs even more computing power than previously thought. A study, published this week in Nature, found that dendrites, the branch-like outgrowths of neurons that connect to other neurons, aren’t the passive wiring scientists thought they were. Rather, they are actively involved in processing data.
“Suddenly, it’s as if the processing power of the brain is much greater than we had originally thought,” said Spencer Smith, the University of North Carolina School of Medicine assistant professor who led the study, in a statement. “Imagine you’re reverse-engineering a piece of alien technology, and what you thought was simple wiring turns out to be transistors that compute information. That’s what this finding is like. The implications are exciting to think about.”
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects roughly 24 million people a year, according to World Health Organization statistics. Researchers know that the disorder runs in families, which points to a hereditary factor, and have also found evidence that it is characterized by abnormalities in the brain’s white matter.
But finding exactly where in the white matter is no easy feat. The most common brain-imaging method, Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), works by mapping the spread of water molecules in cells. The snag is that pathways in white matter are so tightly packed together that getting a precise reading about where a problem is occurring is not possible using this technique.
Now, Harvard Medical School researchers are using a different set of tools to get a more complete picture of this part of the brain.