Scientists have developed a groundbreaking "biocomputer" that merges lab-grown human brain tissue with electronic circuits, showcasing capabilities such as voice recognition. Published in Nature Electronics, the study outlines how researchers transformed clusters of human cells called "organoids" into neurons and integrated them with electronic circuits, coining the term "Brainoware" for the resulting system.
This hybrid biocomputer, blending artificial and biological components, demonstrates potential applications in artificial intelligence systems and advancements in neuroscience research. Brainoware employs brain organoids, bundles of human cell-mimicking tissue used to model organs. These organoids, derived from versatile stem cells, were manipulated into neurons resembling those in the human brain.
Feng Guo, a bioengineer at the University of Indiana Bloomington and co-author of the study, explains the initiative as building a "bridge between AI and organoids." The objective is to explore whether the biological neural network within brain organoids can contribute to computing: "We wanted to ask the question of whether we can leverage the biological neural network within the brain organoid for computing," he says.
To create Brainoware, researchers placed a single organoid on a plate equipped with thousands of electrodes, establishing a connection between the brain tissue and electronic circuits. Input information was converted into electric pulses, transmitted to the organoid, and decoded using a machine-learning algorithm. In a practical demonstration, the system achieved voice recognition accuracy of 78% after being trained on 240 recordings of eight individuals.
The potential extends beyond AI, as Brainoware offers a unique opportunity to study the human brain. Arti Ahluwalia, a biomedical engineer at the University of Pisa, emphasises the ability of brain organoids to replicate the architecture and functionality of a working brain, facilitating research into neurological disorders like Alzheimer's.
Despite these promising prospects, challenges persist. Sustaining the viability of organoids poses a significant hurdle, requiring careful maintenance and growth in incubators. Moreover, scaling up these mini-brains for more complex tasks demands addressing issues of cost and complexity in cell cultivation.