Scientist deep brain stimulation
Scientists controlled movements of mice via a magnetic field applicationREUTERS/Aly Song

A team of scientists, working on deep brain stimulation, has made quite a breakthrough after developing a method to control a living, awake mouse by taking over its brain, according to a report in BGR.

Though the idea of controlling or 'hacking' a brain comes straight out of a sci-fi movie and appears a bit far-fetched, the research team – led by Professor Arnd Pralle of the University of Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences – has confirmed its real-world applicability.

The team even conducted a quick set of tests to ensure that their method, called "magneto-thermal genetic stimulation", actually evokes motor behaviour in the subject's limbs.

To make this happen, scientists had to activate neuro-circuits, or deep brain circuits, in the mice. So, they took up a minimally-invasive approach and modulated the activity of specific neurons by introducing specially-built DNA strands and nanoparticles into the subject.

The process did not require implantation of any kind of device inside the mouse's body. But once the introduction of DNA strands and nanoparticles into the mouse was completed, they were able to control the subject's brain using an alternating magnetic field.

As and when this magnetic field was applied, the particles heated up, prompting the neurons to fire and trigger movements.

"The approach uses alternating magnetic fields to heat superparamagnetic nanoparticles on the neuronal membrane," the research, which was published in the eLife journal, notes. The neurons which were heat-sensitised could then be activated with the application of a magnetic field."

After partially gaining control of the subject's brain, scientists were able to control the subject's body movements by getting different neurons to fire. They were able to make the mice lock-up their limbs, turn around, freeze and even run.

In specific terms, the research article stated, "Magneto-thermal genetic stimulation in the motor cortex evoked ambulation, deep brain stimulation in the striatum caused rotation around the body-axis, and stimulation near the ridge between ventral and dorsal striatum caused freezing-of-gait." The motor behaviour lasted as long as the magnetic field was applied.

What this means is that the concept of brain control via magnetic fields could be a reality in the near future and the technique could eventually be used for various methods of human brain stimulation. However, it is still early days and the procedure involves a lot of risk for the human body as well.

But if the method is eventually perfected by scientists and researchers, it would lead to the development of a means of controlling brain stimulus for the betterment of people suffering from mental disorders and other neural complications.