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A microchip will soon be wedded to human neurons
It looks like Canadian researchers are at the threshold of a scientific breakthrough that may pave the way to better meds and superior control of artificial limbs.
Dr. Naweed Syed, a neurobiologist at the University of Calgary, was part of the team that wowed the international scientific world six years ago by successfully fusing mollusc brain cells (in this case pond snails) with a one-millimeter square silicon chip. Now he’s at it again. Dr. Syed, who heads cell biology and anatomy at the U of C, intends to marry human neurons this time around – taken from the brain tissue of a patient undergoing surgery for epilepsy – with the silicon-polymer chip (Biomedical Microdevices).
This will be another step towards being able to not only “listen in on conversations” between synaptic connections as well as ion channels but may lead to more accurate use of drugs. “It means we can track subtle changes in brain activity at the level of ion channels and synaptic potentials, which are also the most suitable target sites for drug development in neurodegenerative diseases and neuropsychological disorders,” says Dr. Syed, who works out of a lab at the U of C's Hotchkiss Brain Institute. The research is also being supported by the National Research Council.
The prototype biochip in its new, more refined state will record messages of excitation and inhibition between neurons. It will also allow for communication between computers and itself. This could mean that future hybrid chips might operate protheses, help improve sight or language after a stroke, and repair malfunctioning neurons for those with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
The current chip is automated, making its use quick and easy, unlike the previous version, but 750 reuseable chips currently cost $300,000 – a definite deterrent for anyone planning to use them to build an Bionic Man.
Posted by David Elkins and others at 3:55 PM
Labels: Biomedical Microdevices, Dr. Naweed Syed, National Research Council of Canada, neurochip, University of Calgary