Regenerative medicine is a promising branch of health science that aims at restoring the physiological function of organs of the human body by rebuilding or replacing the affected areas when canonical treatments have failed. Despite encouraging results, repairing a dysfunctional brain is one of the hardest challenges in health research.
HERMES pursues the long-term vision of healing disabling brain disorders by means of brain tissue transplants, a reality that is only possible to date for other organs of the human body.
The HERMES consortium is joining their efforts to establish a new paradigm in regenerative medicine, aiming at overcoming the biological uncertainty inherent to it. This paradigm is named enhanced regenerative medicine and it is rooted in the establishment of biohybrid neuronics (neural electronics), that is the symbiotic integration of bioengineered brain tissue, neuromorphic microelectronics and artificial intelligence.
enhanced regenerative medicine
In the quest for novel methodologies to defeat brain disorders, research is investigating several strategies. Emerging methodologies are based on regenerative medicine (tissue engineering) or on neural engineering (neuroprostheses) as distinct approaches. However, inherent drawbacks limit their sole exploitation:
- Regenerative medicine aims at repairing the brain anatomic damage, but whereas the intrinsic neuronal plasticity of biological grafts offers an exceptional degree of flexibility, their unpredictable behavior might endanger the patients’ safety unless adequately fine-tuned. The transplanted cells or tissue might inherit the pathological behavior of its hosting brain environment, exhibit pathological function or give origin to brain tumors.
- Neural engineering proposes to replace brain function via highly controllable brain-inspired systems; yet, the flexibility of these tools is still far from brain performance and comes at the cost of the inability of rebuilding brain matter. Further, constantly changing dynamics, typical of the brain, challenge their relatively limited adaptive behavior, i.e., the ability to enforce new rules from the unexpected.
The leading view of HERMES is that regenerative and engineering strategies are distinct yet complementary
We hypothesize that the symbiotic coexistence of biological neurons and an artificial neuromorphic counterpart coordinated by artificial intelligence will counteract biological uncertainty and engineering rigidity and drive graft-host interactions towards healthy integration and dynamic adaptation.
The foundation of our vision stems from five core concepts which define the building blocks and identify the interdisciplinary requirements of HERMES project:
REBUILD – graft nervous tissue may rebuild/repair the damaged/dysfunctional brain circuits.
FUNCTION – the graft nervous tissue should exhibit the required functional features.
INTERACTION – graft and host nervous tissues should establish a functional dialogue.
INTEGRATION – the graft-host interaction should be precisely controlled.
ADAPTATION – the graft nervous tissue should adapt to the host without evolving towards nor being entrained by pathological behavior (functional stability).
Following these assumptions, we identify 3 fundamental components that form the core of biohybrid neuronics:
- the pioneering use of tissue engineering techniques to rebuild disrupted brain circuits.
- emerging neuromorphic engineering to emulate and integrate brain function.
- Artificial Intelligence to understand and guide brain dynamics.
The rationale behind the requirement for blending these key actors together stems in the necessity of overcoming the limitations posed by the lack of a complete mechanistic understanding of many devastating brain disorders. As the exact cause of many of them is currently unknown, HERMES project proposes the exploitation of macroscopic features of brain function (evidence-based approach) rather than diving into more complex cellular and sub-cellular biophysical phenomena (first principles approach), as typically done when attempting to act on the exact cause of a disease.