Researchers from Johns Hopkins University recently unveiled their goals for “organoid intelligence,” or OI, a potentially ground-breaking new field of study that seeks to develop “biocomputers” (JHU).
We can use actual human brain cells to make computing “more brain-like” by fusing lab-created brain cultures with real sensors and input/output devices.
Organoids, or collections of live tissue made from stem cells that behave like organs, are the biological hardware that drives computational systems in biocomputers.
The fundamental idea behind this technique is:
It has been challenging to fully comprehend how the human brain functions. In the past, rat brains have been used to research a range of neurological issues that impact people. Even though rats offer a more approachable and simple model for understanding the brain than humans, both rodents and humans have fundamentally different brain structures and functions as well as very unique cognitive abilities.
In an effort to create systems that are more applicable to humans, researchers are creating brain organoids, or 3D cultivation of brain tissue, in the lab. These “mini-brains” (up to 4 mm in size) are made from human stem cells and mirror many of the morphological and functional characteristics of a developing human brain. They are currently being used by scientists to test medications and study how the human brain grows.
Brain organoids created in the lab fall short since the human brain also needs other sensory inputs (touch, smell, vision, etc.) to develop into the sophisticated organ that it is. Also, the organoids’ current lack of blood circulation restricts how far they can expand.
Relevance of OI and biocomputers:
It will enable more intricate learning than a traditional computer, experts claim, leading to richer feedback and superior decision-making to AI. By utilising the brain’s processing capability, technology can be used to comprehend the biological underpinnings of human cognition, learning, and numerous neurological illnesses.
About the most recent “bio-computer”:
JHU researchers seek to construct “bio-computers” by integrating brain organoids with cutting-edge computing technology. By cultivating the organoids inside flexible structures connected to several electrodes, they intend to merge the organoids with machine learning (similar to the ones used to take EEG readings from the brain).
These devices will be able to administer electrical stimulation to simulate sensory experiences as well as record the neuronal firing patterns. Next, utilising machine learning approaches, the neuronal response pattern and its impact on human behaviour or biology will be investigated.
Researchers recently developed a microelectrode array that has the ability to record and stimulate human neurons. They were able to educate the neurons to produce an electrical pattern that would be generated if the neurons were playing table tennis by providing either positive or negative electric feedback from the sensors.
Possible uses for “bio-computers”:
Human brains perform better than machines at processing complex information, despite being slower than computers, for instance, at basic mathematics.
Moreover, stem cells from patients with cognitive or neurodegenerative diseases can be used to create brain organoids. Learning about the fundamental underpinnings of human cognition, learning, and memory can be accomplished by contrasting the information on brain anatomy, connections, and signalling between “healthy” and “patient-derived” organoids.
The biology of severe neurodegenerative and neuro developmental illnesses including Parkinson’s disease and microcephaly, as well as the discovery of treatments, may benefit from their work.
Promotion of the usage of industrial biocomputers:
Today’s brain organoids are roughly three millionths the size of a real human brain, with an average cell count of less than 100,000 and a diameter of less than 1 mm. Hence, increasing the organoid size of the brain and adding non-neuronal cells involved in biological learning will both increase the brain’s computing ability.
Researchers will also need to create microfluidic systems to move oxygen, waste, and nutrients. Researchers will need to set up “Big Data” infrastructure in order to store and analyse the enormous volumes of data (i.e., brain recordings from every neuron and link) that these hybrid systems would produce.
In order to connect the structural and functional changes in the brain organoids to the numerous output variables, they will also need to develop and employ cutting-edge analytical approaches (with the aid of machines).
The creation of long-term memory is the current obstacle for this technology. It is therefore already planned to use these patient-derived brain organoids as donors for conditions like autism and Alzheimer’s. This decade could be better for drug development.
OI and biocomputers are new technologies that have comparable difficulties. It is also suggested that an ethics team be established in order to recognise, investigate, and evaluate moral quandaries that may develop in relation to this technology.