Scientists use DNA and magnetic fields to hack into the brain and control body movement| The Daily Dose – 8/22/2017

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Scientists use DNA and magnetic fields to hack into the brain and control body movement| The Daily Dose – 8/22/2017

 

Hacking the brain

 

Sounding like something straight out of a Sci-Fi film, a new study shows scientists have discovered a way to ‘hack’ into the brain circuitry of mice and control their body movements. 

The collaborative effort, led by physics professor Arnd Pralle of the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, relies on a technology the scientists call ‘magneto-thermal stimulation’. In an approach described as ‘minimally  invasive’, researchers introduced specially built DNA nano particles and strands into their rodent test subjects. After introduction of these materials, the group could then control certain parts of test subject’s brains via the use of an alternating magnetic field. Upon gaining control of parts of a subject’s brain, the researchers could use the magnetic field to cause targeted neurons to fire on command. This targeted neuronal firing gave researchers the ability to control certain motor functions in the animals., causing them to turn around, lock limbs, freeze in place, and also run.  

Establishing how neurocircuit activation causes particular behaviors requires modulating the activity of specific neurons. Here, we demonstrate that magnetothermal genetic stimulation provides tetherless deep brain activation sufficient to evoke motor behavior in awake mice. The approach uses alternating magnetic fields to heat superparamagnetic nanoparticles on the neuronal membrane. Neurons heat-sensitized by expressing TRPV1 are activated with magnetic field application. Magnetothermal genetic stimulation in the motor cortex evoked ambulation, deep brain stimulation in the striatum caused rotation around the body-axis, and stimulation near the ridge between ventral and dorsal striatum caused freezing-of-gait. The duration of the behavior correlated tightly with field application. This approach provides genetically and spatially targetable, repeatable and temporarily precise activation of deep-brain circuits without need for surgical implantation of any device.

This research is not the first to suggest that a living brain’s functioning can be manipulated by remote means. 

Jose Delgado, a Spanish neuroscientist and Yale University professor, spent decades researching the effects of applying electrical impulses directly to living brains, many of them human. Delgado believed that mental illnesses like schizophrenia were not structural defects in, but rather the result of aberrant electrical activity within the brain. He theorized that this problematic electrical activity could be corrected by implanting a few wires in select areas of a patient’s brain, and then using targeted electrical impulses to essentially reboot the brain.

Delgado’s research ultimately led him to invent a device he called the ‘stimoceiver’ – a remote-control radio receiver which would attach to electrodes placed inside a patient’s brain. With the stimoceiver attached, Delgado found he could induce emotions on command such as euphoria, fear, sexual arousal, and anger. He could also control basic motor functions such as causing a patient to involuntarily clinch a hand, or be unable to move a limb. The stimoceiver was also able to evoke abnormal behaviors in patients, like violent outbursts and and hypersexual behavior.

Delgado had indeed made an incredible, and perhaps terrifying, discovery: It’s possible to control a human being’s will with the mere push of a button.

Jose Delgado stops a charging bull using the 'stimoceiver' in 1963
Watch the full 1985 report on 'mind control' here

Though well-meaning and intended to relieve suffering, such research also raises serious questions about the potential uses and ethics of the resulting technologies. 

For instance, a growing amount of research is being conducted with the aim of both erasing and even implanting false memories into the brains of mice. In fact, newly-released research from the University of California Riverside states that pulses of light and genetically modified nerve cells can be combined to reduce fear responses in mice. The stated aim of such research on mice is to ultimately use these technologies on the human brain in hopes that they may one day provide safe and effective treatment for conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Even if such methods do provide relief, is it ever ethical to intentionally erase a person’s memories? Don’t our memories (even the bad ones) inform our sense of who we are as people? And if false memories can also be implanted, what sort of people might we then become?

Despite the stated benevolent aims of such research, I think it’s entirely possible it could be turned into some nightmarish technological terror in, say, government hands. Let’s be honest, the ability to take absolute control over both the body and the mind of human beings is surely a technology any government (including America’s) would eagerly desire to possess.

Completely obedient and unquestioning citizens, soldiers  whose fear of death has been totally erased, the potential ability to literally erase the past from the collective consciousness. Just imagine the dystopian possibilities.

Is it ever acceptable to use any form of ‘mind control’ technology to alter feelings or behavior, no matter how troubling or unwanted? If so, which uses of such technology are acceptable and which are not? Where is the line and who decides where that line should be drawn?

Which forms of programing will be deemed appropriate and who will be holding the remote-control?

 

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This clip from The Science Channel’s Dark Matters : Twisted But True presents the story of Professor Jose Delgado’s experiments with remote mind control of mental patients.

The Science Channel | YouTube

 

 

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Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.
| John Locke |