Science News

Geomagnetic Brain Device Lets Blind Rats Navigate ‘Like They Can See’

Blind Rats See Brain GPS

Blind rats wearing geomagnetic compasses and microstimulators attached directly to their brains were able to navigate their way through a maze almost as well as rats with normal vision, according to researchers who reported their findings on April 2.

In the new study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, researchers found that the animals were capable of spontaneously learning how to use new information about their location to navigate the maze.

The findings, according to researchers behind the study, suggest a similar neuroprosthesis may be beneficial to blind people, as it could enhance their navigation to the point at which they could walk freely, according to a EurekAlert release. The release quoted Yuji Ikegaya of the University of Tokyo as having said that the “most remarkable point” of the paper is the flexibility demonstrated in the mammalian brain.

The most remarkable point of this paper is to show the potential, or the latent ability, of the brain […] That is, we demonstrated that the mammalian brain is flexible even in adulthood–enough to adaptively incorporate a novel, never-experienced, non-inherent modality into the pre-existing information sources.

As opposed to attempting to restore the vision of the blind rats, researchers behind the study, Ikegaya and his colleague Hiroaki Horimoto, intended to restore their allocentric sense which allows the animals as well as people to recognize the position of their body within the environment.

Ikegaya indicated that they “were surprised that rats” were able to “comprehend a new sense that had never been experienced” and learn to use the device in their behavioral tasks within just two to three days. He went on to suggestively inquire whether we have yet to employ the “full use” of our brains.

Perhaps you do not yet make full use of your brain […] The limitation does not come from your lack of effort, but it does come from the poor sensory organs of your body. The real sensory world must be much more ‘colorful’ than what you are currently experiencing.

The device is essentially a lightweight head-mountable sensor which consists of a digital compass connected to a microstimulator containing two electrodes, according to Medical New Today.

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