As our understanding of the world increases, we start to realize that the things and forces we once thought were separate actually work in a harmony to run the world the way it does. Electricity and magnetism were two forces that once was strongly believed exclusive but it was not until the 1800s that we finally understood it is one force known as Electromagnetism. Similarly, magnetic fields were not thought to be causing any impact on our body and brain, but with the inclusion of a substance, it does, as seen in a 2017 study.
Controlling Brain in the Past
- Electrodes: Though controlling the brain is not something new it has been done three years prior to this study. In 2014, a group of scientists implanted electrodes to control the movement of monkeys. In this researchers were able to create prosthetics that linked two adult monkeys via wires and these prosthetics were connected to the spine and the brain. The only difference between these two was, the monkey that controlled the other one or had the command had electrodes stuck into his head while the puppet monkey had these electrodes in his spine and was sedated so it’d have no control over its body. A screen was placed in front of the master monkey and a joystick was placed in its hand, as this monkey moved the joystick a cursor moved on the screen. A computer was able to translate these signals into the sedated monkey and ultimately it triggered some body movements. Although it was revolutionary, there were some drawbacks to this approach. Firstly, it only moved larger muscles while finer movements would still be hard to control. Secondly, in this method, animals would be glued to electrodes, and removing them could pose a threat to their lives. Though it was originally designed to help people who were suffering from paralysis, it is hard to justify as reliance on electrodes can pose a huge risk to the overall well-being of the patient.
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: Another procedure that is actually currently active, is known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. In this, body movements don’t occur but it still stimulates the brain to help fight mental disorders like depression that isn’t cured by medication. In this, a large magnetic coil is placed over the skull of the patient and it induces electrical currents that alter the brain activity in the targetted region. Though it is a fairly new technique, it has shown promising results. It was seen that a 42-year-old lady was recovered from her 20-year-old battle with bulimia via TMS and many others have already been treated with this procedure. According to scientists, it works because the connection between the frontal lobe and specific regions of the brain was weak in these individuals, and upon being exposed to these currents this connection grew stronger. Unfortunately, some people already have strong connectivity and they cannot benefit from this.
Magnetic Nanoparticles for Stimulation
Challenges are endless when it comes to finding a remedy or a process to aid patients and in order to help patients that have suffered serious injuries to the brain or are unable to move their body scientists state they need to understand the neuron system of the brain better. You may know that magnetic fields simply pass through our bodies, but injecting magnetic nanoparticles allows the magnetic fields to interact with our bodies, as these molecules stimulate the neurons that are outfitted with temperature-sensitive ions and this process is known as Magneto-thermal stimulation.
- The Experiment: In this experiment, like many other scientific experiments, was conducted with mice where the team was able to induce specific motor functions by activating three specific regions of the brain. By controlling specific cells in the motor cortex of the mice, scientists were able to make them run and turn around. But when they stimulated deeper regions of the brain, the mice simply froze.
- The Procedure: Even though it is revolutionary and sounds amazing, it is not so easy to produce, this entire process is nothing short of surgery. As in order for researchers to stimulate individual neurons, they first need to introduce a special strand of DNA into the neurons that allows the cells to produce ions that are activated by heat, this is possible thanks to genetic engineering. Followed by this, magnetic nanoparticles are injected into the same area of the brain and they simply latch onto the neurons, they form a coating around the neurons like when an object is a spray painted. When a magnetic field that is alternating is targetted to the brain these nanoparticles’ magnetization starts to flip rapidly resulting in the generation of heat that warms the cells. This change in temperature fires the neurons as it forces the temperature-sensitive ion channel to open. This entire process is done remotely, sure, initially, complex work is required in order to make it work but it is quite fascinating.
Ultimately, these techniques were used and observed on animals, but scientists suggest that in the distant future we might be able to see paralyzed people be able to use their motor function once again thanks to tiny nanoparticles and magnetic fields.