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Obama Brain Initiative: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s Patients Raise Hopes

Tuesday June 03, 2014

Dick Pelletier

Institute for Emerging Ethics & Technologies - The DARPA-funded program launches this month at two prestige locations, UC San Francisco (UCSF) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). This $26 million, multi-institutional research was announced last October by the President as our best chance at reducing the damage caused by a wide range of brain disorders including Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, and other dementia-related illnesses.

UCSF and MGH will oversee teams of physicians, engineers, and neuroscientists who are working together to develop advanced brain interfaces, computational models of neural activity, and clinical therapies for treating networks of the brain.

The teams plan collaboration with researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Medtronic, to apply a broad range of perspectives to the challenges. A spokesman said the research is based on the understanding that dysfunction plays out across distributed neuro systems, and not strictly relegated to distinct anatomical regions of the brain.

The program also aims to take advantage of neural plasticity, a feature of the brain by which its anatomy and physiology can alter over time to support normal brain function. This factor provides hope to researchers that the brain can be trained or treated to restore normal functionality following injury or the onset of a neural illness.

There are several reasons why excitement is so heightened by this research. Many positive future watchers believe we will witness what promises to eventually become real cures for brain disorders that have plagued society throughout the ages. And as this writer was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (move over Michael J. Fox; you've got company!), the promise of a positive disease-free future for yours truly seems not only highly likely, but maybe inevitable. Go My personal belief in this super-positive research, is that this technology could be the precursor to one day actually replacing the brain with damage-resistant nanomaterials that will process thoughts faster than today's biological brains can.

Nanoengineer John Burch, co-designer of the nanofactory video, Productive Nanosystems, predicts in his blog that expected advances in brain research will lead to artificial brains.

"The new brain would include an exact copy of the structure and personality that existed before the conversion," Burch says, but it would run much faster and would increase our memory a thousand-fold. We could even control the speed of our thoughts, shifting from 100 milliseconds, the response time of todays brains, to 50 nanoseconds, millions of times faster.

Creating thoughts at high speeds would slow everything down; at least that's how it would seem in our mind. Our perception would quicken, but activities would appear to happen slower. Events that seem like minutes in our mind would actually be happening in seconds. We would no longer panic in emergencies.

Burch describes how we would switch to this new brain. A daily pill would supply nanomaterials and instructions for nanobots to form new neurons and position them next to existing brain cells to be replaced. These changes would be unnoticeable to us, but in six months, we would sport the new brain.

Our artificial brain will allow wireless interface with computers and other digital technologies. We could access the Internet, control electronics, and make phone calls, with just our thoughts. In addition, we would understand complicated subjects; even speak a new language, without need for study.

The most important benefit of our new brain could be its ability to survive disaster. Should we suffer a fatal accident, our body may be a total loss, but the moment the accident happened, nanobots would quickly repair our brain, if damaged. Information is then transmitted to a processing center where a new body is cloned, identical to our old body, except with all the latest features; ready for transfer of our brain.

The accident victim would 'wake up,' not even realizing they had died. Biological brains die within minutes after the heart stops, but our new brain will simply turn itself off and wait for a new power supply.

Experts predict these technologies could be in place by mid-century.

Pelletier, Dick. (3 June 2014). Obama Brain Initiative: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s Patients Raise Hopes. http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/pelletier20140603