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Neuralink: Scientist says progress cannot be stopped – 03/02/2024 – Science

Neuralink: Scientist says progress cannot be stopped – 03/02/2024 – Science

Elon Musk's company, Neuralink, has caused some concern with its first clinical test using a brain implant that theoretically allows a paralyzed patient to move a computer cursor with his or her mind.

Since the announcement of the surgery that took place on January 28, there has been no news about the volunteer’s health condition.

The lack of transparency raises ethical questions, but for many researchers, despite these problems, the initiative is positive. This is what Alon Chen, a neuroscientist and head of the Weizmann Institute in Israel, said.

“It's an important concern, but for the most part, with every big leap in knowledge, we're going to have ethical questions to resolve. Whether we should slow it down or stop it, my personal feeling is that you can't impede progress.” There will also be great advantages with these developments,” the neuroscientist said in an interview with the British newspaper “Daily Mail”. BoundThis was during a quick visit to Brazil this week. “I think it's very exciting, actually, from a scientist's point of view.”

To him, the ability to have electrodes interact directly with the brain has uses beyond Neuralink's current experiments. “Today, for example, take Parkinson's disease. There are similar concepts of implanting electrodes that can fire and activate neurons at a specific frequency and people will not suffer from the associated tremors.”

However, Chen realizes that Musk's ultimate goal — developing an interface capable of effectively reading and transmitting complex ideas — is still a ways off. “It's something much more complex, and in a way it will be an extension of our mind. We still need to understand it better before we can implement it.”

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As head of the prestigious Israeli Research Institute, Chen has a panoramic view of the work in the various fields of science in which Weizmann works – he passed through Brazil to discuss collaboration projects with local researchers, before heading to Chile, where he will visit the construction works of the GMT (the English abbreviation for the Giant Magalhaes Telescope), It is a cutting-edge project in astronomy with Brazilian participation as well, through Fapesp (São Paulo State Research Support Foundation).

But his specialty area is neuroscience, particularly the study of stress and its effects on the brain – something he sees significant progress in recently.

“We have learned a lot recently, especially about the relationship between our inability to control and regulate our response to stress, whether it is traumatic stress or mild but chronic stress, and the emergence of different types of diseases, and it is not limited to mental health alone. It is not limited to anxiety or Depression or post-traumatic eating disorders that have a strong relationship with stress, but also immune-related metabolic syndromes and even cancer.

Chen points out that there is a genetic component, in addition to environmental conditions, that is important for the emergence of these diseases, but stress also plays a dominant role. “This is probably the most important environmental factor that can affect your health.”

Despite this, concerns about stress do not usually feature prominently in prevention policies. “I think people worry less, because, you know, if a virus attacks you now, you're going to get sick in a couple of days. When you're exposed to mild stress on a chronic basis, whether it's work, a boss, traffic, or it doesn't seem to have Any effect, but it accumulates and after 20 years it turns into diabetes, depression, so people should be aware and think about how to reduce the level of stress by doing simple things like physical activities, and maybe meditation. There are many things that can reduce “Stress without medication, and I’m talking about this before it becomes a disease.”

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Regarding treatments, currently there are options for chemical interventions – medications – and psychotherapy. Either way, according to Chen, the success rate is the same, although you never know in advance what will work and for whom. “The success rate of psychotherapy after one year is practically identical to the success rate of any medication on the market – 67%,” he says. “And what happens after a year is that if you stop taking your medication, you have a good chance of getting back to feeling that way. And if you stop psychotherapy, because you've learned about the processes, you're more likely to be OK.”

He highlights that the situation of stress management has become more complex recently, especially with children and adolescents, due to the Covid pandemic. Of course, war conflicts around the world don't help either. “We have seen a significant increase in the number of people suffering from depression and anxiety, and we are seeing an increase in suicidal ideation. And now in Israel, in the war, we have a 30% increase in prescriptions for anxiety and depression.”

The world is going through difficult times. Is there a special role for scientists in this? For Chen, there is no doubt. “It is sad that there are not enough scientists who want to become politicians. I think this world would be very different if there were enough scientists. Science is very collaborative, and it sees no boundaries. Even between countries that are hostile to each other,” it does not happen. This is never within the scientific community. “They are cooperative by nature.”

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“The solution to these problems that affect all of humanity – the environment and medicine – will only come through international cooperation and partnerships and the exchange of data and knowledge,” he continues. He added: “So I think scientists have a very important role, and if you ask me what role model children and teenagers should be, they want to be the Messi of today, but they must want to be scientists – these are the people who will impact the world.” The future of society and humanity.”