A technology that one day could help the blind see – and the paralyzed feel – by projecting holograms onto their brains sounds like it's straight out of Star Wars. But researchers at the University of California, Berkeley are turning this science fiction into fact.
Researchers UC Berkeley's Adesnik Lab are working on activating and suppressing specific neurons with light by placing laser 3D holograms into the brain.
"We have one laser we use to observe neural activity and we have another laser with holographic patterns to trigger action potential with light," said researcher Dr. Nicolas Pégard.
What does that mean? Scientists can create a real sensation or experience of something you've actually never had. It's sort of like tricking the brain to see, touch and feel things that are not even there. They hope this technology will eventually help those with prosethetic limbs to feel and the blind to see.
"If you do know all of the steps in convincing an animal that it's one thing when it's actually another, than you've proven to yourself that you know a lot about the brain," said researcher Dr. Ian Oldenburg. "You know at least you can create a perception for an animal."
Right now, they're in the beginning stages of this innovative technology, testing it only on mice. But it's the research of the future. Even those working on the project say it's like something out of a sci-fi movie.
"We always sort of joke it's like the Matrix for mice," said researcher Dr. Alan Mardinly. "You close your eyes and what you want is to wake up and fly a helicopter. We're a long way off from that … If that ever happens, it will be based off of some form of this technology."
"I probably won't ever see a patient helped by this technology. I probably won't live that long," Oldenburg told KPIX-TV's Mary Lee." But it's adding to the sum total of work done on this subject, albeit a small part. It's helping."
"Their work was just published in the journal of Nature Neuroscience. Hundreds of scientists from around the world have already expressed interest. They want as many researchers as possible to start using their technology to hopefully crack the neural code.