Lab Grown Petri Dish Of Brain Cells To Play Pong Better Than We Can

Brain Cells

According to scientists “The video game Pong is such a simple concept, anyone can play – even a dish of brain cells”.

Researchers connected the neurons – the cells responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world and for sending motor commands to muscles – of humans and mice to a computer, where neurons were made aware if their paddle was making contact with the ball.

Using electric probes, scientists monitored the activity and responses of the neurons and plotted the results as “spikes” on a grid, with the spikes getting stronger with time the more a neuron moved a paddle and hit the ball accordingly.

Scanning electron microscope image of a neural culture that has been growing for more than six months.

The living model proves that brain cells can display signs of intelligent behavior, even when they are mixed together in a dish. However, the researchers stress that the brain cells do not know that it is playing Pong in the way a human player would.

A Melbourne-led team of experts has for the first time shown that 800,000 brain cells living in a dish—DishBrain—can perform goal-directed tasks—in this case, the simple tennis-like computer game, Pong. The researchers’ experiments provide evidence that brain cells in a dish can exhibit inherent intelligence, modifying their behavior over time. Future directions of this work have potential in disease modeling, drug discoveries, and expanding the current understanding of how the brain works and how intelligence arises. The findings also raise the possibility of creating an alternative to animal testing when investigating how new drugs or gene therapies respond in these dynamic environments. The researchers’ next aim find out what happens when the DishBrain system is affected by medicines and alcohol.

“We have shown we can interact with living biological neurons in such a way that compels them to modify their activity, leading to something that resembles intelligence,” said Brett J. Kagan, PhD, CSO at biotech start-up Cortical Labs, which aims to build a new generation of biological computer chips. And while scientists have for some time been able to mount neurons on multi-electrode arrays and read their activity, this is the first time that cells have been stimulated in a structured and meaningful way.

Hon Weng Chong, PhD, Cortical Labs CEO, explained to Several Platforms, “The concept for the system arose from the insight of the work from Isomura et al. who proposed a theoretical framework (The Free Energy Principle) developed by Prof Karl Friston as a driving force for learning in a biological neural network.” As Chong noted, “DishBrain offers a simpler approach to test how the brain works and gain insights into debilitating conditions such as epilepsy and dementia.”

Chong, Kagan, and the Cortical Labs team, together with Friston, FMedSci, FRSB, FRS, who is a theoretical neuroscientist at University College London (UCL), and collaborating researchers affiliated with Monash University, RMIT University, UCL, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, reported their developments in Neuron, in a paper titled, “In vitro neurons learn and exhibit sentience when embodied in a simulated game-world.” In their paper, the team concluded: “Using this DishBrain system, we have demonstrated that a single layer of in vitro cortical neurons can self-organize activity to display intelligent and sentient behavior when embodied in a simulated game world.”

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