“My God Spock! You’re using NET!”

As I was reading an article in Scientific American’s January 2013 issue on the developments in prosthetic design and bioengineering (effectively about how to plug into the nervous system), my own mind drifted to Star Trek.

Yes, Star Trek. Jim and Spock. Jim trying to fight and, erm, “love” his way around the universe and Spock trying to stop him cross-contaminating these new species that they encountered. Yes, Star Trek.

Anyway, what came to mind more specifically was Spock’s ability to mind meld and tap into the consciousness, let’s say brain, of another living being. In this article, the dilemma of bio-engineering is how to create these bionic bridges and “listen in on neural activity”. Currently they do this via external electrodes but  are looking into inserting electrodes directly into the outer layers of the brain although this method does present problems associated with tissue rejection. The individual doesn’t have the sensory feedback to control movement so this is bypassed by the listening-in being done by the electrodes. Then it occurred to me that this is basically the underlying principle behind NET (Neuromuscular Energising Therapy) whereby the therapist listens-in to a patient’s nervous system in order to detect muscle patterning and the wave of activity generated during movement of limb or body. It’s giving a goal-orientated directive for the individual to move in a smooth, coordinated and controlled manner by analysing what’s actually happening during the event. it’s not just palpating soft tissue and joint structures, it is directly tapping into the neural pathways. It creates a bridge between the therapist and the individual, a proprioceptive/biofeedback loop, the tactile communication guiding the individual’s movement which in turn has to be analysed by the therapist as they listen-in to the information. Sort of a Spock-like mind meld. Motor cortex, oh yeah.

It’s a two-way communication. If the engagement process is correct, the movement is guided correctly and the correct information is accessed in the brain (probably the most effective neural pathways to recreate a movement pattern). I think the brain acts on a reward system. When a coordinated movement is achieved, a reestablished connection opens up the potential for further inter-neural connectivity. IMHO for what it’s worth, I believe once the pathways are open, they stay open and have to be destroyed again by another process in order to lose that connection. Basically, the brain recognises it, likes it and should more easily reproduce it. Once you’ve got it, you keep it.

What I believe is possible, and we’re hoping to research this, is that the areas responding to treatment can be mapped by functional MRI scanning and then I think…hold on wandering down a rabbit-hole here so recorded it on video. Play the video if you’re curious about where that went.

You can read the article on Scientific American’s website:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-artifical-arms-could-connect-nervous-system

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