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Science / Medicine : Circuit Mimics Human Brain Cell

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From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Scientists have created a tiny electronic circuit that mimics electrical behavior of a brain cell, a step that may aid in studies of brain function.

The circuit is smaller than a square measuring 1/250 of an inch on a side, and an array of 100 to 200 of them could probably be packed on a square measuring about 4/10 of an inch per side, researchers said.

The work was presented in last week’s issue of the journal Nature by Misha Mahowald of Caltech and Rodney Douglas of Oxford University.

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The approach they used “could emerge as the technology of choice” for making artificial nervous systems to study brain function, Andreas Andreou of Johns Hopkins University wrote in an accompanying editorial.

The new circuit is an analog device, which means it uses electronic signals of varying strengths rather than the simple on-off signaling of standard digital devices.

Analog simulations of brain cell activity can show characteristics of biological nervous systems that take much computation time to simulate on a digital computer, Andreou wrote.

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