Research in neurobiology is surprisingly brutal — much of what we learned about the brain, we learned, simply by opening the body and poking it with anything. The lesson is definitely not for the squeamish. The best tool for this? Most often it is the electrodes — probes in the form of needles which are injected into the brain. Scientists use electrodes to measure the behavior of individual cells of the brain, giving people control their prosthetic limbs or developing new technologies that directly interact with the brain. However, the question remains: is it secure at all?
Recently in the Journal of Neural Engineering published an article on the feasibility of using electrodes in the brain research. In it, the neuroscientists say that the study of the brain by means of neural electrodes can cause a lot of problems. Some of these problems are relatively simple and can be solved by improving the technology. For example, the surface of the electrodes which comes into contact with the brain, activates and records the activity of the brain, may break or slip off, especially in the patient’s consciousness.
This leads to erroneous records; leaky electrode will produce a signal cell that is not active or issue a weaker signal than it actually is. Since we can’t always say why (or even if) this happens, scientists may be difficult to explain or to support their findings.
But the biggest problem faced by the team, due to the fact that we really know very little about the brain. In particular, we know little about how the brain cells respond to contact with the electrode, and its impact. Neuroscientists have performed many experiments to study the brain cells that they have killed or damaged when inserting the electrode.
Solutions, in fact, not so much. The article proposes to focus on areas of the visual cortex. Scientists would know if they studied cells if the object of their research will look at the image and observe the response of the cells.
But even in this case, the scientists came to the conclusion that our technology has come to the limits of what we actually know about the brain. So neuroscientists have been able to gain confidence in their experimental results, they will have to invest in solving the basic issues of how brains react to the electrodes, and other technological intervention.