The project, funded by the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme and involving partner institutions in the UK, France, Spain, Switzerland and Israel, is also expected to produce new knowledge about the functioning of the brain which could be used to develop novel stem cell-based treatments.
Networks of stem cells resembling the human cortex will be designed and cultured onto microchips, being genetically engineered to enable stimulation by specialised light sources. Sophisticated 3D computer modelling will allow them to observe any changes the cells undergo, to see how adaptable they are. This imitates the ‘plasticity’ of the human brain, which can rapidly adapt to new information.
Using this brain-on-a-chip platform technology we will demonstrate the use of human brain stem cells to solve problems from data. We envisage this work will lay the foundations for a “paradigm shift” in biological computing and machine learning technologies.
Current electronic approaches to machine learning have limits, requiring ever-growing computing power and high energy demands. The recent trend towards ‘neuromorphic computing’, which aims to mimic human neural activity electronically, is hampered by the inherent limitations of conventional electronics.
In contrast, human brain cells effortlessly combine these functions and have extremely low power demands, requiring only a small volume of a nutrient-rich solution to operate.
In the NEU-CHiP project, the team will layer networks of stem cells resembling the human cortex onto microchips. They will then stimulate the cells by firing changing patterns of light beams at them. Sophisticated 3D computer modelling will allow them to observe any changes the cells undergo, to see how adaptable they are. This imitates the ‘plasticity’ of the human brain, which can rapidly adapt to new information.
Partners are involved from Aston University and Loughborough University (UK), the University of Barcelona (Spain), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, France), Technion Israel Institute of Technology (Israel) and the company 3Brain AG (Switzerland).