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Lab Rats Given 'Sixth Sense' Via Brain Implant [VIDEO]

Update Date: Feb 17, 2013 06:53 PM EST
Screenshot from a video originally published in Nature Communications

Researchers at Duke University have successfully given lab rats a kind of "sixth sense."

The researchers place an implant in the brains of the mice and through that, they were able to create animals that could "touch" infrared light, according to the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers say that, in theory at least, a human with a damaged visual cortex might be able to regain sight through a device implanted in another part of the brain.

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The rats were placed in a chamber with three infrared light sources. They were then taught to choose which light was switched on by poking their nose on the right hole. If they were successful they were given a sip of water as a reward.

Through the implant in their brains, the rats were able to see the infrared light which is normally invisible to them. After a month, the rats were able to associate the infrared light with the signals in their brains ,said the Guardian.

According to Miguel Nicolelis, of the Duke University Medical Center and the lead author of the paper, this study was the first time that machines allowed the brain to create a new sense in adult animals. In addition, the study showed, for the first time, that a part of the brain can take on a new task while still maintaining its old job.

Nicolelis said the possibilities aren't limited to infrared spectrum either. "We could create devices sensitive to any physical energy," Nicolelis says. "It could be magnetic fields, radio waves, or ultrasound. We chose infrared initially because it didn't interfere with our electrophysiological recordings." The technology could someday lead to improved neuroprosthetics to help blind people see.

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