Dr. Aboitiz revealed “unpublished findings” of neuroscience at CMM-Godelius conference

Dr. Aboitiz revealed “unpublished findings” of neuroscience at CMM-Godelius conference

On the occasion, he also announced the launching of his next book “A history of bodies, brains and minds. The evolution of life and consciousness”.

The director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Neuroscience and academic of the Department of Psychiatry of the School of Medicine of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Francisco Aboitiz, presented “A window to the mind: studies of intracranial neuronal activity in humans”, in the framework of the third session of the CMM-Godelius Lecture Series.

This initiative of the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) of the University of Chile, an international leader in research, innovation and solution of public and industrial problems, and SK Godelius, a company that develops, manufactures, integrates, implements and operates engineering solutions for automation, teleoperation, robotization and connectivity, “seeks to promote a joint reflection between academia and business on science and engineering and the interaction between these two worlds. This type of reflection should not be limited only to the academic environment, it is important to provide this space for the conversation of those who, from the company, the State or society in general, face global problems”, said Salomé Martínez, director of Transfer and Innovation of the CMM, in her welcome speech.

Francisco Aboitiz. Photo: Alonso Farías.

Dr. Francisco Aboitiz’s conference, held on August 24 at the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the University of Chile, was presented in four chapters: the brain at rest, the deep brain, the future is here and controlling the mind?

1. The brain at rest

Dr. Aboitiz evidenced with several studies the relevance of the hippocampus and the default and executive neural networks. “The hippocampus is the deep structure in the brain essential for the formation of new memories. This rewinding of brain activity is key to consolidating short-term memories into long-term memories. Thus the brain is a system of reverberating activity”, he began.

Along these lines, he explained that “in long-term memory, sequences are anchored in the default network, which allows us to repeat in resting conditions these memories that are first generated in the hippocampus”.

“The executive network is activated when people are performing a cognitive task. The person’s reaction to a stimulus is faster when the executive network is activated and later when the default network is activated,” he compared.

Aboitiz emphasized that “brain networks never shut down and maintain constant interactions. Particularly with the language network, producing “inner speech”, such as introspection or mentalization (…) the networks that are involved in language one can trace them to networks that are present in our ancestors, so that language is not an invention but the result of an evolutionary process”.

“Alterations in the dynamics of these networks have been associated with neuropsychiatric conditions, for example, attentional deficit,” concluded the chapter.

2. The deep brain

“We are the only ones in South America that are making records to have a deeper vision of how the human brain works”. This is how categorically Dr. Francisco Aboitiz began this block, in reference to his Fondecyt project that “studies the default network in patients who have undergone surgery for epilepsy”.

The specialist explained that, together with his team, he has carried out several “mind-wandering” tasks. “Through Go – No Go tasks we record the brain activity when the error occurs, this cognitive function is tremendously important, because through errors one learns (…) preliminary studies confirm that the activity in the default network is higher in the off condition than in the on condition”.

Therefore, he explained that “we want to develop an algorithm to identify the points of origin and be able to predict some time in advance the origin of the epileptic seizure (…) When this vasospasm occurs, a notable asymmetry is generated in the frequency distribution of activity in both hemispheres. We want to see if there is any prior indicator or classifier that tells the physician when there is a risk of this, and that can save lives”.


3. The future is here

To demonstrate the international work in the field, the academic showed several research projects in applied neuroscience technologies, such as non-invasive spinal cord electrical stimulation that reduced oscillatory activity at low frequencies in the sensorimotor circuit and improved motor function in an animal model of parkinsonism; or the implant in the motor cortex of a paralyzed human, where the electrodes are connected by a device via wifi with the nerves that move the legs. “The brain sends the order to the sensor and this generates the stimulus that allows the person to walk,” he said.

He also presented a video with the case of a patient with locked-in syndrome who communicates through a brain-computer interface. “They present photos to the woman, then the person thinks about what she saw and that brain activity is recorded using MRI. This is connected to a brain-computer interface and the artificial intelligence, through an algorithm, generates images similar to human thought. These are unprecedented findings”, he explained.

Aboitiz also highlighted the artificial intelligence works where a human sees an image and generates a text or the research that reproduced Pink Floyd’s music based on brain activity.

4. Controlling the mind?

Finally, Dr. Aboitiz reflected on the ethical priorities for neuroscience around artificial intelligence; what problems can the brain-computer interface generate, with respect to privacy, genetic augmentation (brain capacity), agency (capacity to make decisions) and identity of the being; and what are the possible risks of discrimination, limited access to benefits and/or control by corporations or the State.

In this regard, the director of the Interdisciplinary Center of Neuroscience of the PUC questioned the Chilean law on neuro-rights. “We have to be careful with this law. It is important to control the use of all technologies, but neurotechnologies present problems that we do not know if they are exclusive to them or not. One of the most important problems of this type of law is that they are very restrictive and can block scientific research, as did the law on the rights and duties of patients, which led to a decrease in Fondecyt projects on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases”, he said.

Watch the conference here:

New book

At the close of the event, Dr. Francisco Aboitiz announced “as a first” -he said- the launch of his new book for January 2024 “A history of bodies, brains and minds. The evolution of life and consciousness” (Una historia de cuerpos, cerebros y mentes. La evolución de la vida y la conciencia) and invited attendees with a background in mathematics “to help us analyze these extremely complex signals that we are registering from the brain and that we don’t quite know how to analyze”.

For the organizer of the event and associate researcher at the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) of the University of Chile, Servet Martínez, “it is really an invitation to create ensembles. The challenge of the brain requires mathematics, electrical engineering, computation and new perspectives. The importance of this third conference is that we are advancing in what we want, to produce a dialogue between different disciplines, between technology and science”.

CMM Director of Transfer and Innovation, Salomé Martínez, together with Francisco Martínez, Francisco Aboitiz, Fernando Bracco and Servet Martínez. Photo: Alonso Farías.

The dean of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the Universidad de Chile, Professor Francisco Martínez, emphasized that “this is caused by technological change and the faculty cannot but try to follow this path as advanced as possible, as far as possible, on the frontier, questioning and contributing to technological progress. We have seen how to intervene and obtain information from the brain, how to overcome health problems associated with brain activity with technology, and part of the technology has to do with signal analysis, where mathematics, biology, electronics and many other fields are also involved. It is a fascinating challenge and I hope this will motivate the students, captivate them and open their minds to find new challenges”.

Meanwhile, the founder and CEO of SK Godelius, Fernando Bracco, said that “the things we do are very close to the frontier of available technology and, therefore, basic sciences are essential to produce those results. We were just talking about the emergence of robotics in unstructured fields. This robotics that has to make decisions goes hand in hand with the advances in artificial intelligence and the advances in artificial intelligence, by the way, go hand in hand with basic sciences in general, but also with examples such as the one we have just seen, of directly neurobiological applications, where the sources of inspiration cross each of the lines of the projects we are working on”.

By Alonso Farías Ponce, CMM journalist.

Posted on Aug 30, 2023 in News