NYSCF Innovators Develop Method For Controlling Brain Activity With Holograms


The phrase “encoding sensations into the brain using holograms” sounds pretty sci-fi, but a new study from NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigators Stephen Brohawn, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, and Hillel Adesnik, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology, both at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that it could one day be a reality.

When we experience a sensation, it is because certain groups of our neurons fire in a specific pattern. If we can identify which neurons are firing in which patterns during a sensation, then we theoretically re-create that sensation by stimulating the neurons ourselves—in this case, using a hologram.

Why use a hologram?

It takes a high-precision instrument to target single cells within a section of the brain. A hologram is an ideal tool to accomplish this feat, as it can direct light to form a highly intricate 3D pattern. When brain cells are fitted with receptors that respond to light, all it takes is for the hologram to hit them, in turn activating the cells and creating a sensation or perception.

What did the researchers do?

In this study, the researchers projected holograms through a clear window into a thin layer of brain tissue in living mice. These holograms could activate groups of 50 neurons up to 300 times a second, mimicking typical brain activity.

The researchers ran tests on the motor, vision, and touch areas of the brain as the mice walked along a treadmill. While the mice did not show behavioral changes after the stimulation, their brain activity resembled activity in response to a sensation.

Why is this work important for medicine?

The researchers’ hope is that this tool could be used to recreate lost sensations due to peripheral nerve damage, allow patients to better control prosthetic limbs, restore vision in the blind, or help paralysis patients feel touch.

Before any of this is possible, however, there is still work to do. The authors say the next step is to study patterns of human brain activation during sensation so they can precisely reproduce them using the holographic tool. They will also work on making the technology more accessible—so it can fit in a backpack—and scaling it up so that it can work on more than just the brain’s outer layer.

Read more about this research in Nature Neuroscience or check out additional coverage from UC Berkeley.

Diseases & Conditions:

Neurobiology, Neurotechnologies

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