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05-17-2012, 02:11 AM #1
Robotic arm could help reveal brainís inner secrets
A group of researchers at MIT and Georgia Tech has built a robotic arm that can automate whole-cell patch clamping, a complicated technique that normally requires great manual dexterity and takes researchers months to master. Once streamlined, this technology will monitor and record the electrical signals generated by the neurons in a living brain, to help uncover the secret inner workings of the human mind - or at least, in the not-so-distant future, of a lab rat's.
Robots have become the biologist's best friend across a number of fields: the Human Genome Project wouldn't have been possible without the help of a genome sequencer and, in some cases, robots have become so helpful that they've proved they could even replace biologists altogether.
As of now, robotics has yet to make a real dent in neuroscientific research. But the robotic device developed at MIT and Georgia Tech may soon change the game once and for all just by showing what's possible. A far cry from the "clumsy robot" stereotype, this piece of research involved putting a robot in charge of whole-cell patch clamping, an extremely delicate procedure that requires maximum precision and is used to record information from neurons in the living brain of anesthetized laboratory mice.
Whole-cell patch clamping involves bringing a tiny hollow glass pipette in contact with the cell membrane of a neuron, then opening up a small pore in the membrane to record the electrical activity within the cell....being a human...