Chips for the Brains. Lecture by prof dr Nick Ramsey 14mrt2012
Report of the lecture Chips for theBrain given by Prof. Dr. Nick Ramsey.Location: Paard van Troje at The HagueDate: 14 March 2012.Report by Siegfried van Hoek.The lecture was given in relation to the worldwide brain-awareness week and was preceded with a minorintroduction by mr. Rob Heinsbroek from the NIHC Dutch National Initiative Brains&Cognition, which in co-production organised this lecture. The tip talk-question is why do we have a brain? Before interpretationswere there already of an evolution of a controller- and experience- organ, where with the individual caninfluence its surrounding with locomotion etc. But we can go a step further into that vision with thequestion about what is happening in (neurological) processing if we for instance perform a locomotiveaction. Because when a failure arises one may get paralysed for instance. Science is searching forsolution for this. Likewise there is a scientific research that wants to develop a technique which allows tobecome able to control its surrounding by mere thoughts in stead of performing physical actions therefore.Is this Science Fiction, or is the realisation of it closer then we might think?The speaker of tonight Professor Doctor Nick Ramsey is linked to the psychiatric department of the UMCUniversity Medical Centre in Utrecht and is occupied with this research. Prof. Dr. Ramsey also is behavior-pharmacologist and in the past he did research on brains in relation to addictions. Nowadays the abilitiesin research are expanded further. So no we know MRI, EEG and MEG while a vast century ago there wasnothing available until X-ray made its first entry. It is therefore a rather young science. The research Prof.Dr. Ramsey is occupied with is called ‘Brain-Computer-Interfacing’ and he received a scholarship of 1,25million Euros for this. With BCI is aimed for being able to influence on the surrounding with the help of aninterface. We are now five years further, and we would like to hear about what has been achieved so far.Prof. Dr. Ramsey was invited by mr. Heinsbroek followed by to take up the microphone under a warmwelcoming applause and speak.Dr. Ramsey gave at start for introduction an example of the use of unmanned Drone aircrafts, where withmilitary missions can be performed. It is a plain that can make sharp reconnaissance images and ifneeded also fire a missile. Behind the control of such an airplane is sitting a whole team, but ... with onesole driver, one also can not control a bike together pointed out Dr. Ramsey. But such a plane indeed isan example of a physical extension by which a person is in control from, and this can be taken as a furtherpersonification of the controller, like as others for instance experience this with their car. The amount ofinformation a human being can process at the same time is limited. We only have two hands and with aretongue we are able to say one thing at the time let alone even speaking two different languages mixedtogether at the same time because of our physical limitations. A computer however is able to this indeed.Seen from an objective perspective we may point that it is all about to be able to exercise a broad (-banded) influence on our surrounding with.The imagination about the expansion of physical abilities is huge, but as a human being we are ourselveslimited and not able to act broad banded towards the outside. Then Dr. Ramsey showed a piece of atelevision series from the late seventies about the Bionic Man. (Lee Majors (Steve Austin)) was a formerUSAF pilot, who after a severe accident got implanted with strengthened and refined equipment-prostheses (limbs, eyes etc), they made a kind of superman out of him with the intention to maintain orderby with. In those days we also had the imagination that within reasonable time we would become to bereally able to this, like as we were thinking before that within ten years of the first landing on the moon therealisation a Moon-Hotel would be a fact. Fantasy skips matters/steps, but actually we have still to go avery long road, before we are even getting close to the realisation of a bionic implant. The visionaryopinion in science is also differing in about.
But everybody sees that it could become possible to make an implant which could help people beingparalysed by a lesion for instance. The higher the neurological disruption is located in the spinal column,the larger the crippling limitations are. Someone who is paralysed completely but his/her brains are stillworking coherently is called to have the locked in syndrome’, whereof patients with a completely locked insyndrome are in the worst situation. We do not know exactly how many patients with this syndrome thereare in the Netherlands, because they are outside the field of medical world (the hospital) taking care ofelsewhere in institutes for, because the are called as a medical-refractory patient with no further treatmentavailable that could help them.Becoming paralysed can have different causes, by a brain bleeding, a muscular disease or a lesion forinstance. The connection between the brain and the muscle is lost then and recovery from is also notpossible. To be able to do something about that anyhow we have to be at the brains. Thirty years ago wehad our first research facility with EEG. With conducting gel and receptors placed on the head we wereable to measure the electronic energy around the skull that is generated by the brains. In the neurologicalnerve transmission modular electricity is generated. Via the nerves muscles are controlled with by achange of electronic signal via Synapse-Receptor-signal- transmission. We were able to note that if weare only thinking to perform a certain movement, and not actually performing that movement, that similarimpulses are measurable in the brains! (Dr. Ramsey is showing images to underpin this further.) In themoment of rest the potential in the brain is at its highest level, but as soon as an action takes place locallya lower potential is measurable. Exactly being able to measure those changes of potential is the startingpoint in the research we are occupied with.Likewise in Berlin scientists were able to play the seventies computer game Pong against each other withjust and only using their mind. Now, this starting point is not good enough for patients, because thesescientists were not paralysed, they were rather focus-trained to be able to play this game by only thinking.And it is also not realistic for paralysed people, because they miss the repeated exercise with. Above, therequirements are much higher, because a lot can go wrong in for instance controlling a wheelchair, andtwo out of three patients are also not strong enough to generate a signal of imagination strong enough for.In addition to this aspects is that because by being paralysed the feedback of the activity can be forgotten:the so called ‘not knowing anymore how to lift an arm’ (delivering the locomotive signal for). Dr. Ramseyappointed the steps in pre-processing of the signal issue in the brains –what is releasing a controlledsignal- , where in consequence an action is performed with. That activity we also perceive visually andthat information is giving us feedback on the performance, which is at the root of knowing how to performa certain action correctly. Dr. Ramsey is pointing out further with an image what the first step in researchwas.The very first subjects got a kind of cap with electrodes on it placed on the head a so called EEG scalp, anext step was placing the electrodes just under the skull-bone on the brains itself. A step further becamethus placing the electrodes inside the brain. Still such an experiment has certain limitations. Brains carry aweight of around 1,3 – 1,6 Kg with at least a milliard neurons. Two percent of that is dying due to alcohol-use etc. Biologically seen there is many more times information-material then we are able to measure.Actually we still know rather little about brains. The science about brains is a rather quiet young sciencebeing barely a century old now.The development of brain research started in 1810, where they attempted to research on certain parts ofthe brains. From that that time also dates the by now largely outdated research after phrenology, wherewith they were trying to measure the function of the brain related to the seize of the skull. The termLinguist- or computing node- protuberance dates from that time, and is related to the theme of skull-sizeand (brain-) function. In those days they were thinking for instance that the language-functions of thebrains were situated under the eyes. (I.e.: In those days also certain patients were pierced through undertheir eyes for ‘scientific’ here after.) A century later they became able to make X-ray scans, with this theybecame able to study the brain of living people for the first time without damaging. And hence they gotanother vision on the brains and their functions en likewise the left and right sight were recognized, whatrespectively was seen as a rather rational and a holistic side in function of the brains. We now know thatthe frontal lobe is involved in thinking and concentration, while instance the backside lobe is enabling thevisual abilities. That knowledge was build by the description out from the domain of neuron-psychology. 2
In the sixties-seventies the EEG made her entry meaning already a significant improvement in theresearch opportunities. In 1990 came the opportunity to do MRI scan research, by which also the bloodcirculation up to a few millimetres became possible. From 2010 we are able to determine the intrinsicresolution of the brains: the determination of the smallest amount of brain tissue which as a unity isperforming a function. We are talking here then about little areas as part of the brains to investigate thoseareas. For long being able ‘to look under the skill with a hefty vision’ predominated, only now we haverefined equipments for this for studying brains. Whereupon Dr. Ramsey is giving an explanation with aparable example about a theatre play and the audience on the tribune that the location of the electrodeand the distance to the brains is of importance. ‘When somebody is sitting completely at the back row, hecan see what is happening on the stage, but he cannot see the personages in detail for instance’, this wecould compare with placing measurable electrodes externally on the skull. . Donohue Cyberkenetics inc.was occupied with this in research placing little needles in the brains.If we would place as a single neurobiologist an electrode in the brains, then this would be comparable with‘as if we were sitting with our nose up to the stage, our vision is limited we can only see a part of thestage’. If we take a seat a little bit further away enough to be able to see the whole stage in our sight, thenwe still can see enough detail and keeping the overview at the same time. In neuron-measurements it istherefore also necessary to investigate a larger area by being a little away from the brains, but under theskull. Such a surface investigation happens with little planes with a hundred needles of 1 mm length, whatcan measure the electronic controllable connecting in the brains.Likewise one could investigate the locomotion-cortex of areas where nerves leading to a certain muscle inorder to make that muscle act, as in the performance of making a grasping movement. In that test phaseresearch was done for this with apes by Dr. Eddy Schwartz. Apes applied with such a brain sensor werebeing made able to grab food; the signal that took place in the brains was being registered. Before theactual grabbing a thought is preceded before which they were able to measure electronically. Likewisewith was determined with a program, which neurons reacted if an ape wanted to take food. That specificsignal got decoded. Hereafter they started to prompt that signal externally in order to let the ape take thefood with its arm. In the USA they are fond of this kind of experiments with robot arms, these kinds ofprojects are in quiet a number there, while here in Europe this kind of research is not happening. Finallythey became able to decode the signal for a robot arm, by which the use of the proper real arm was nolonger needed.The mere thought to take the food was enough. Now we have to take in mind that measurements weredone based on real movements, a known fact that is lacking at real paralysed patients, therefore wecannot really define what area exactly is leading up in taking that food for instance. That ape had a trainedability for taking food with his healthy arm, while a patient being paralysed is not having that ability, andabove it is possible that the function to control the arm simply has been forgotten. But still, this was thevery first success-story of Donohue concerning neural control.An other objection is that neuron do not always work, each day the activity in the brains has to bemeasured again and calibrate the equipment to it in order to get the equipment working. Above this thatimplantation of electrodes is not something allowing you easily to walk on the streets with, there is a bigcloset with equipment connected to it, and a miniature version of that is still very far away.Concerning the comparing of the audience at the theatre act it is also a matter of importance to find theso-called ‘sweet spot’. Aren’t we too close by? We are talking here about little brain=areas in the order ofa square millimetre as smallest unity: the intrinsic resolution of the brains. Dr. Ramsey is then showingsome more images about the overall locations of various functions as they were found at humans, but theexact placement is different from human being to another. Overall there are similarities to be named, butto be able to find the sweet spot of the intrinsic resolution one has to investigate every person separatelyfirst to point out that sweet spots first and then there after one also has to calibrate the equipment daily(adjust). The research on the brains still has very long road to go, but the MRI scanner has expanded theresearch facilities significantly in comparison with the possibilities that were at hand for use before. 3
Whereupon Dr. Ramsey is giving an explanation of a MRI scanner. A MRI scanner is actually a very largecoil where electricity is lead through, which in consequence of induction and change of electricity is raisingan electro-magnetic field around the patient who is lying on a sort of table where the coil is going around.By the presence of the body of the patient locally arises a small change in the magnetic field (flux) that canbe measured and calculated towards an image. This is a very precise kind of radiological imaging of theinternal body in coups (slices) up to a millimetre precise. A regular MRI scanner has a magnetic inductionof 3 Tesla (T = Wbm -2 ) Dr. Ramsey has an experimental build MRI scanner that is going up to even 7Tesla. The coil is getting very hot due to the wire winding around and therefore has a cooling of –269 oCelsius. With this scanner Dr. Ramsey is performing scan research. The question in research is whatareas do we need exactly in a function, and then to find these with the MRI scanner while measuring. Andthis different from person to person, even twins do not have a similar identical building up in functionalityof the brains.Research with craniotomy is however not very likely to be done. Still there are certain cases where we dothis. Likewise there are 10 to 15 epileptic patients that do not react on medication, en there are no cleardeviations to be found. Under conditions an implant can be placed in those situations. The operation takesabout an hour, a hole has to be made, a part of skull bone has to be lifted, and a little silicon matt is placedas slices with electrodes on the desired brain area. Within that matt are placed many electrodes thatconnected with wires go outside the skull. We put the cover back, tulband wrapped around of bandageand the measurement can start with refined equipment. The patient is laying for its safety under 24 hoursfulltime surveillance. We are waiting namely for a natural epileptic attack (not an evocated one, becausethat is not serving us). The issue is what element of the brains is showing the epileptic jamming. Theparticipation in research is by the way at a completely free willed basis. Thus we try to decode the brainactivity, so we get to know what exactly happens and when at an epileptic attack for instance. Placing theelectrodes internally can be done on a suspicion, because often the brain areas to be measured arecomparable. Likewise with such a tulband with a whole battery of equipment attached to it in the nearbysurrounding also other brain research can be done. We are able to interrupt a signal being given artificiallyand to take it over. Brains are all little areas working for making possible the processing of information. Forinstance for counting backwards from 7 to 1 various areas are needed: first of all the ability to reasonlogical, but also for instance areas that enable the physical production of sound, and finally also the earsas physical feedback on the performance being made.... We are able to (temporarily) interrupt such anarea from the chain, by which we are able to define and measure the brain activity locally. This principle isused in controlling a simple robot function with help of concentration of the brains as like with the gamePong. Likewise we had an experimental subject (individual) counting upwards or downwards in order tocontrol the ‘cursor’ in order to let the robot drive in a certain direction.Thus, in the UMC Utrecht neural-prostheses are developed. Lately in the US they are working at thedevelopment of needle pads that are working in groups op three pads to direct robot arms, results in thiswe will have to wait for due to the development requirement of ten years of research on this. The thinkingof the patient is intact, there is so to speak failing a switch in the signal transfer. Such a person in theorycould control a pc in order to go beyond its own personal proper limitations. But again this is a very bigstep forward still in development. There do is a company that is working on an amplifier that could beplaced under the breast-muscle, which could amplify and send through brain signals measured by twostrips in stead of using mats. The technical developments of the present time are like that, becauseelectronics are getting smaller and smaller, mobile phones nowadays carry a pc within. There are alreadyprograms to able handicapped people to get the maximum out of their situation. By giving a confirmingsignal letters can be recognised from -beams with letters passing by horizontal and vertical in screen-, bywhich even an e-mail could be written. Of course this is a rather slow and laborious job to do.The question also is what are we able to do with the knowledge acquired in research-applications, forpeople that need such an application? What are the ideas about what we want (to be able) to decode?Epilepsy is not a visual (brain-cortex) failure for instance. Which parts are suitable for the use of animplant? In relation to our research: what parts of the brains exactly are lightning up in the scans. 4
With this we arrive to the field of neuron-science.A condition in reliable research is the ability to concentrate for test-persons. Dr. Ramsey asks theaudience to perform a harmless viewing exercise with staring at a point projected in the middle of aprojection-screen while for triangles around it (to the left, the right, above and underneath), while one ismoving of them. That convert attention of the viewer is according to Dr. Ramsey notably visible tomeasure in the scan. The better someone is able to concentrate, the better also the measurement of forinstance the visual cortex will be and with this its function. Dr. Ramsey is showing a research-set-upwhere a Robot can drive through a set-up controlled by watching at a cursor at a computer screen beingconnected with the Robot in communication. The recognition of science is also a learning-process.If we are able to register/decode the movements of all the separate fingers, then we could be able todecode deaf language with (deaf language is complex)! But how reliable is such a result of such aresearch for (intuitive) application? The imaginations as in cartoon movies like Avatar are being made (forinstance feeling what another external body is feeling) is not a reality, we can not even get at that brainspot, for just one third of the grey matter is situated at the surface of the (from the outside reachable) braincortex. Two third of the processing is happening in the areas situated much deeper. Next to this there isthe technical problem of battery feeding for such equipment for instance. Above to that, attached to that‘tulband’ is quiet a movement inhibitory beam of cables. If we would like to decode for instance emotionsthen we even would not be able to place all the cables, that cable-beam would become even thicker thenthe size of the head.I.E.: To make a neuro-imulator for a hearing-nerve or a neuron-stimulater against diseases as Parkinsonor a depression are closer at reach. By the way there are already prothesen that regulate locomotiveactions, do take in mind for instance the pacemaker.At last: A next step could become that the amplifier is embedded within the mats itself. Technically this isalready possible to build, but the most difficult step is to make such a device that also is safe medically forimplantation in peoples heads. There is no permission for to experiment with. Making the little cabinetitself is not a problem, and within 10 years we will be able to with medical knowledge. The researchers arehowever still facing a number of problems, where in about twenty years we might have answers. Dr.Ramsey is expressing his hope that with this lecture he has given insights about his field of research, andhe is inviting the audience to pose questions upon, whereof report is given underneath.Question 1:Dr. Ramsey showed scans with graphics that at rest the electrode-potential was at it’s highest in hismeasuresment on controlling an activity. How is that?Answ.: This high potential is coming forth measured from within the middle of the brains. Certain partsnamely control other parts of the brains. At all animals (incl. Humans) the sensitivity of the brain isregulated from the Thalamus. We could describe that as a high-frequent noise we are measuring. Theexecution of a physical activity is locally polarising the cortex on that very brain-part that is taking care ofthat control, by which a potential lowering change takes place, which we can measure. (There also isgoing an electric signal for instance to the arm in order to be able to lift that arm: that is use of energy.)Question 2:Certain patients are not able to make enough activity in capacity of the brain. So there is a difference incapacity, but how is that / how does this arise in existence that (measurable) difference?Answ.: The ability of perception is an important cause. For instance if we carry with earplugs on for monthcontinuously then our neurons would become less sensitive to this. Brains expect a certain input, whenthat input is lacking then its sensitivity for that kind of input will become dull. There is also a certainmemory where is referred to. However, another example in function of the memory is also, that a certainsmell or taste can summon to rise older parts of information in the brains in mental reliving the experience. 5
Question3:Your work is in relation to the researches of Dr. Jose de Milan and his Brain Computer Interface to controlthe outside world by mere thoughts. Someone being completely paralysed could participate incommunication with friends and family with help of a pc in the presence of those friends / family. There isan ethic side to this as well... Also the research of Dr. Henry Makram with reconstructing the human brainwithin a computer and computer simulation is an interesting idea, for instance in the research afterEpilepsy. But how do you see the human being? In psychiatry they are getting back already from - theconcept being that a human being would not be more then merely a chemical fabric (molecule) inside thebrain, what in case if we could become able to put our finger on in process that we in principle could makethe human being even controllable-...Answ: Dr. De Milan and Makran are colleagues of mine, in the past I have worked together with them inresearch. But in distinction: how do we see the human being? As scientist we do not know. Inadequate.Here upon Dr. Ramsey gave an example for illustrating his vision in parable: Imagine I’m a Marsian livingon Mars and I have a very good telescope where with I can look down on earth. Then I can see all kinds ofdetails like houses, roads, cars etc. Now you have to imagine that we can see a car moving, we can alsosee reactions as cause of events and activities, but we cannot see who is inside that car. We couldinfluence on that car, but still that would not be a direct influence on that particular driver in it.Question 4:The control of speech is also happening with electricity, wherefore neurons are involved. Is it possible totranslate that electricity into words? Are we able to direct in control speech if we are able to measure thatelectricity well? Are we able to decode what people are hearing in the auditive cortex for instance? Or aselse on a later moment was questioned further from within the audience: are we able seen in reverse togive individuals impressions through electronic signals as it were as if for example a conversation wasgoing on being heard, but in fact this was merely simulated?Answ.: Speech in itself is a complex chain of activities. Next to the ability to think on the formulation of textthere also is a physical locomotion. First the vocal cords have to receive a strong physical impulse in orderto get these contract, while at the same time breath is passing through out making them vibrate, and withthe use of the mouth, tongue and lips together worked up as a (for us understandable) varied sound:speech. Also hearing speech has a comparable chain of cooperation of different brain-functions in order tomake this possible. So it is about linking various areas active; for people are thinking in plural dimensions.Such a development is not likely to happen easily to Dr. Ramsey, and that such a technique wouldbecome available for the consumer market with a off the shelf pricing, even if we would become able to dothis. In certain professional positions like as for USAF pilots one could lean on that kind of intelligence inorder to become able to perform complex controlling of an airplane. That would be another trend in‘Drone’-development, indeed.Question 5:One listener from the audience went back to that image of Marsians where Dr. Ramsey was speakingabout in reply to question three with metaphorical language. Isn’t it possible medically whether or not todirectly visible to predominate, to control ‘that very driver in that car’ and likewise to control that car?Answ.: First of all, there are quiet some esthetical aspects related to such an aim. And it does not offer a(extra) value for proper functioning of human beings. What Mother Nature has made is many many timesbetter and more complex, technically we cannot match at all to that level. It is easy to implant electrodesand to strengthen biologically the brain-signal, but we are not able to achieve with technique what normalsenses can do in performance. The development of such equipment is a fantasy. When the first manlanded on the moon after that there did not come a Moon-Hotel within the first ten years after. By now weare even a thirty years further even... The Moon-Hotel appeared to be a Science Fiction thought; thefantasy is skipping steps. Likewise also concerning the possibilities of Brain Computer Interfacing.Professor Doctor Nick Ramsey expresses his gratitude at closure to everybody for having come to thislecture and for his or her interest. (Comment besides the lecture concerning neural control and mindcontrol: the supposed ‘Mind Control’ happening (by controlling people from a distance and having themexperience suggested experiences etc) like as in particular in the juridical complaint of John St_ ClairAkwei vs. NSA, Ft_ Meade MD was mentioned, is with this lecture to be pointed out as a fairytale. Onlythe research-phenomena of medication-implants with monitor-function in theory can have certain reality inexistence..., but that is no neural-control.) 6