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Andrew Brownstein’s Human Brain Implant Research Suspended At Major University

May 31, 2012


Human Brain Implant Research Suspended At Major University
by Andrew Brownstein, Staff Writer The Albany Times Union 8-25-99 – Albany — Professor whose work is at issue has focused on surgically inserted mind-control devices The University at Albany has shut down the research of a psychology professor probing the “X-Files” world of government surveillance and mind control. At conferences, in papers and research over two semesters, Professor Kathryn Kelley explored the claims of those who say they were surgically implanted with communications devices to read their thoughts. According to colleagues, Kelley has privately claimed the university is violating her academic freedom. She declined to discuss the matter with a reporter. Kelley’s research and the controversy surrounding it echoes the experience of John Mack, a renowned Harvard psychiatrist who wrote the 1994 best seller “Abductions: Human Encounters with Aliens.” By lending credence to the stories of those who claimed they were abducted and molested by space aliens, the book led to an unprecedented inquiry by the Harvard Medical School. A school committee eventually chastised Mack for engaging in unorthodox research and “affirming the delusions” of his patients.

But unlike Kelley, Mack has an international reputation. He earns hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia. And while Harvard challenged Mack’s conclusions, the investigation at UAlbany is focused on methods. Last week, university spokeswoman Mary Fiess released this statement on the matter: “The university imposed the suspension because of serious concerns that the experiment did not meet the standards governing such projects on campus. While we’re working to gather all the facts in this case, we cannot comment further.” A memo sent to all psychology professors and graduate students last week instructed them to refer calls “looking for information on any psychological research conducted in our department” to the university’s public relations office. According to three sources — two faculty members and a graduate student — the school’s Institutional Review Board, which monitors human research, closed the project when a student complained late last spring. The student, sources said, was not allowed to leave a lecture that was part of Kelley’s experiment. Refusal to allow a subject to leave an experiment violates National Science Foundation guidelines.

Despite the inquiry, Kelley, a fully tenured professor who earned $67,000 last year, is slated to teach two graduate courses in the fall. The department became aware of Kelley’s theories as early as the spring of 1998, when a note on her office door announced a lecture called “The Psychology of Invading the Self.” The note described implant research funded by the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense with an annual budget of $2 billion. The “uninformed, unconsenting subjects” of these devices were typically “federal prisoners and political dissidents,” the note said. At the same time, Kelley won approval from the review board to conduct research on “advances in technology that affect interpersonal communication.” In a 16-page outline to the board, Kelley said she wanted to look at the uses of technology for “monitoring and control.” She proposed presenting a lecture to research subjects and then having them respond to 60 questions about how the case study she would describe affected their views.

The interest in technology marked an extreme departure for Kelley, a professor at UAlbany since 1979. Kelley, who earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University, was a professor at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin before joining the psychology faculty at UAlbany. Her previous research dealt with issues like health, date rape and risk-taking. With her ex-husband, distinguished psychology professor Donn Byrne, she co-authored a textbook on gender differences. The shift in the focus of her research puzzled many. Gregory George, a graduate student who has since left the university, said he was part of a team assigned to lay the factual foundation for the implants research. To his astonishment, he found several firms had developed “trans-tympanic transducers,” instruments that function as mini-telephones, sending voice messages to the inner ear. Companies declined to market the product for fear of bad transmissions causing deafness, he said. George believed the point of the research was to look at how people would perceive those with the implants, and whether there might be a social stigma attached.

“Kathryn has never been one to go traditional,” said George. “But some of us wondered why we were looking at the social stigma of something that hadn’t been developed yet. Why not look at the stigma of using something more common, like a wheelchair?” Papers Kelley delivered at two recent conferences suggest that she was becoming fascinated with the subject of mind control. At the annual conference of the Eastern Psychological Association in Providence, R.I. — attended by several UAlbany graduate students — she delivered a paper that looked at implant claims as “one of the indicators of schizophrenia.” Yet many colleagues began wondering to what extent Kelley believed that such implants were actually occurring. “A lot of people wonder where she draws the line,” said one graduate student, who asked not to be named. “Is it hypothetical? Or is it fact?” In a more detailed treatment she gave at a conference earlier this month in Orlando, Fla., Kelley lent more credence to the phenomenon. She described how a subject might be implanted with the device during anesthesia, perhaps leaving tiny stitches visible in the ear. She called the devices RAATs, short for radio wave, auditory, assaultive, transmitting implants.

“When (short-wave) operators transmit to or scan RAAT implants in victims, they can talk to the victims remotely and anonymously, and hear the victim’s speech and thoughts,” Kelley wrote. The paper noted that the National Institutes of Health denied any governmental role in such research. The EPA is a respected psychological organization. But few professors had heard of the groups behind the Orlando meeting: the World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, and the International Conference on Information Systems Analysis and Synthesis. The Web site for the organization, based in Venezuela, said it is devoted to cybernetics, which it describes as integrating various disciplines into “a whole that is permeating human thinking and practice.” The current investigation into Kelley’s work is considered highly sensitive at the university, coming four years after a gunman who claimed the government planted microchips in his body held a class of 37 students hostage and shot one student during a struggle. Ralph Tortorici, the gunman, recently hanged himself in his state prison cell. Without commenting on specifics, sociology Professor David Wagner, outgoing chair of the review board, said that shutting down a professor’s research was “quite rare.” Some faculty members said the last time they remember the board making such a move was in the early 1970s.

Source: The UCLA Violence Project

next generation of implants – “…We’ve seen a few newsworthy brain implants in the last few years, including one designed to treat epilepsy and others that allow motor neurons to control computer cursors. But all of these devices were in the experimental phase of development. Medtronic’s DBS implants have been FDA approved for more than a decade (for some conditions) and such devices have been used tens of thousands of times. That’s beyond ‘experimental’, we’re reaching ‘well-tested’. If the number of patients treated with these devices continues to climb as it has in the past few years (we were at only 35,000 or so back in 2007) brain implants are going to become much more common in the next few years. Keep in mind that these first generation devices are still rather crude. The best Medtronic has to offer has just eight electrodes (4 per lead), and scientists can only roughly target the desired areas needed to alleviate symptoms for disorders like Parkinson’s. In many ways DBS implants are basically just pace-makers with wires leading into your head. Still, they’ve shown to reduce movement dysfunction in patients with Parkinson’s and dystonia, and to alleviate some cases of chronic pain. They’re also relatively safe, especially considering that you’re placing electrodes in the brain – the mortality rate is less than 1% And these devices are getting better. We’ve seen how the next generation of DBS implants for Parkinson’s will be able to actively monitor and respond to brain activity. In the future, optogenetics will allow doctors to use light, not electricity, to stimulate parts of the brain (as we’ve seen with rodents). How widespread might these types of devices become when they have the precision to target just a few neurons at a time, and can respond autonomously to treat patients on their own?…” (80,000 and Counting, Brain Implants on the Rise World Wide).

hippocampus for long-term memory – “…For this first hybrid circuit, they followed the lead of neurology pioneers such as Eric Kandel and used neurons from snails. These unappealing invertebrates are popular among neuroscientists, because their neurons are an order of magnitude larger than ours, and because circuits consisting of only a few cells can already display a measurable biological function. As a substrate to grow the cells on, the researchers designed a specific chip with 14 two-way junctions ( ie areas that can both send signals to neurons and receive signals back) arranged in a circle of about 200 μm diameter. Typically, they planted five to seven snail neurons onto such junctions and cultivated them for a few days, hoping that at least some would form electrical synapses with others. The experiment succeeded in producing a few such pairs of linked neurons that could build a bridge between a signal emitter and receiver in the silicon chip. Earlier this year, the equivalent achievement was also reported with a chemical instead of an electrical synapse. However, the process was much too inefficient and random to enable the construction of well-defined larger networks. If a complex and well-defined neuronal network cannot be generated on the chip directly, maybe the chip can be interfaced with a pre-existing network, for instance a brain? Following this line of research, Fromherz and Michael Hutzler have recently presented the first successful connection between a chip of the kind described above, containing capacitors to stimulate and transistors to sense nerve action, and a brain slice containing well-characterised neuronal connections. Specifically, the researchers turned their attention to the rat hippocampus, a brain region associated with long-term memory. It is known that in this part of the rat brain, a region known as CA3 stimulates the CA1 to which it is connected by extensive wiring. Brain slices can be prepared such that the cut runs alongside the CA3 to CA1 connection and makes this entire communications channel accessible to experiments. Using such slices, Hutzler and Fromherz demonstrated that their chip can (via its capacitor) stimulate the CA3 region such that these brain cells pass on the signal to CA1, where it can be recorded with the chip’s transistors…” (Plugging brains into computers).

Brain implants, often referred to as neural implants, are technological devices that connect directly to a biological subject’s brain – usually placed on the surface of the brain, or attached to the brain’s cortex. A common purpose of modern brain implants and the focus of much current research is establishing a biomedical prosthesis circumventing areas in the brain that have become dysfunctional after a stroke or other head injuries. This includes sensory substitution, e.g. in vision. Other brain implants are used in animal experiments simply to record brain activity for scientific reasons. Some brain implants involve creating interfaces between neural systems and computer chips. This work is part of a wider research field called brain-computer interfaces. (Brain-computer interface research also includes technology such as EEG arrays that allow interface between mind and machine but do not require direct implantation of a device.) Neural-implants such as deep brain stimulation and Vagus nerve stimulation are increasingly becoming routine for patients with Parkinson’s disease and clinical depression respectively, proving themselves as a boon for people with diseases which were previously regarded as incurable…In 1870, Eduard Hitzig and Gustav Fritsch demonstrated that electrical stimulation of the brains of dogs could produce movements. Robert Bartholow showed the same to be true for humans in 1874. By the start of the 20th century Fedor Krause began to systematically map human brain areas, using patients that had undergone brain surgery. Prominent research was conducted in the 1950s. Robert G. Heath experimented with aggressive mental patients, aiming to influence his subjects’ moods through electrical stimulation. Yale University physiologist Jose Delgado demonstrated limited control of animal and human subjects’ behaviours using electronic stimulation. He invented the stimoceiver or transdermal stimulator a device implanted in the brain to transmit electrical impulses that modify basic behaviours such as aggression or sensations of pleasure. Delgado was later to write a popular book on mind control, called “Physical Control of the Mind”, where he stated: “the feasibility of remote control of activities in several species of animals has been demonstrated […] The ultimate objective of this research is to provide an understanding of the mechanisms involved in the directional control of animals and to provide practical systems suitable for human application.” In the 1950s, the CIA also funded research into mind control techniques, through programs such as MKULTRA. Perhaps because he received funding for some research through the US Office of Naval Research, it has been suggested (but not proven) that Delgado also received backing through the CIA. He denied this claim in a 2005 article in Scientific American describing it only as a speculation by conspiracy-theorists. He stated that his research was only progressively scientifically-motivated to understand how the brain works…(Wikipedia).

Related Reading:
Brain–computer interface
Making the connection between a sound and a reward changes brain and behavior
Implant could free power of thought for the paralyzed
LBS-Neurons for Treating Stroke
Implant breakthrough helps paraplegic man stand, step with assistance, move legs voluntarily
Ethical and Policy Issues in Research Involving Human Participants
The BrainGate

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