Some Swedish folk from Karolinska Institutet have managed to create a prosthetic neuron. That is an engineering miracle right there. Do you know what all a neuron has to do to function?
“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” — Psalm 139:14
And they’ve built an artificial one of those?! Woah!
According to the article, what they are hoping to do with these artificial neurons is to bypass damaged neurons and reconnect intact effectors. For example, say you’ve damaged a portion of the nerve in your arm that controls your thumb. Thumbs are very useful pieces of human body real estate if you want to grasp anything. They’re thinking to implant one of these prosthetic neurons to bridge the gap the damaged nerve has left and restore your thumb movement and sensation. Another way they’d like to use this is to implant of these in one location and then in combination with wireless communication with the device release a neurotransmitter perhaps far away in the body. For example, maybe someone’s got diabetes. Their pancreas has the ability to make insulin, it’s just a little sluggish and not making enough. Let’s implant one of these babies and turn up the production with a remote control! (This is totally me hypothesizing, by the way.) They’re also looking to replace traditional electrical stimulation treatment strategies with these. So implantable Bioness for foot drop, perhaps? Sounds sweet to me!
Right now this is just in the beginning phases. The interview of the researchers up there says they still need to miniaturize these things before they’re ready for implantation, so this is probably a decade or more from becoming a reality for Joe Schmoe public. But isn’t the future exciting?!