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'Seeing' robot learns tricky technique for studying brain cells in mammals

Imperial scientists have successfully taught robots to perform a challenging brain technique only previously mastered by a handful of humans.

Whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology, or whole-cell recording (WCR), is the gold-standard technique for studying the behaviour of brain cells called neurons under different brain states such as stress or learning.

The procedure has been used in mammals since it was developed in the 1970s. It helps scientists to understand brain function and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. They do this by looking at the electrical activity of individual neurons in a live mammal brain to build a bigger picture of its function as a whole organ. This information is used to understand the role of electrical function in human brain disorders.

However, WCR is notoriously challenging to perform because of the small scale of the equipment and the microscopic nature of the cells involved. It also requires very precise movements to find neurons and record their electrical currents accurately. Therefore only a small number of laboratories worldwide specialise in the technique.”

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