A new method developed by researchers at Lund university, Sweden, makes it possible to recode neural signals into a format that computer processors can use instantly for managing and storing data.
The recent developments, published in the journal Neuroinformatics, set high requirements for managing and storing data. The researchers at Lund university used simulated recordings from nerve cells to evaluate the method. They were able to show that they can simultaneously collect data over one million nerve cells, analyse the information produced, and provide feedback within a few milliseconds.
Recent progress within brain research has given rise to significant handling challenges regarding the volume of information generated when ‘listening to’ and communicating with a large number of the brain’s nerve cells, with applications in basic research, clinical diagnosis and treatment, increasing the need for solutions in managing and storing data.
The need for quick handling and interpretation of the large volume of generated biological data is needed, whether it concerns the nerve cells of a paralysed patient to control a robotic arm, or using information from the nerve cell to reveal imminent epileptic seizures.
Recoding for computer use
Researchers have developed a method at the Neuronano Research Centre at Lund university which enables simultaneous communication in real time with millions of nerve cells.
Jens Schouenborg said: “Recoding the nerve cell signals directly into bitcode dramatically increases the storage capacity.
“However, the biggest gain is that the method enables us to store the information in a way that makes it immediately available to the computers’ processors.”
In addition to the large number of nerve cells and the volume of information in the signals from each cell, the challenge is that information must be simultaneously translated in order to facilitate meaningful communication with the brain.
Individual nerve cells
Martin Garwicz, Professor of Neurophysiology at Lund university, discusses how their method differs from other ways of analysing nerve cell activity: “Imagine that you want to hear what ten people in the room next door are talking about. If you listen by putting your ear against the wall you will just hear murmurs, but if you put a microphone on each person in the room, it transforms your ability to understand the conversation. And then think about being able to listen to one million individuals, find patterns in what’s communicated and instantly respond to it – that’s what our new method makes possible.”
The method also enables two-way communication with individual nerve cells.
Bengt Ljungquist, lead author of the study, said: “A considerable benefit of this architecture and data format is that it doesn’t require further translation, as the brain’s signals are translated directly into bitcode. This means a considerable advantage in all communication between the brain and computers, not least regarding clinical applications.”