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A team of researchers at Lund University in Sweden has developed a new type of nanowire material which may help to improve brain implants. Meanwhile another team from Lund has made a breakthrough for electrode implants in the brain.
There are certain persistent problems associated with today’s brain implants which have made them less effective than they could be. One problem is that the body interprets the implants as foreign objects, resulting in an encapsulation of the electrode, which in turn leads to loss of signal.
A nanowire structure developed by a team at Lund University attempts to address this issue. The new substrate, in which neurons can grow and thrive, is made from the semiconductor material gallium phosphide where each outgrowing nanowire has a diameter of only 80 nanometres (billionths of a metre).
‘Our nanowire structure prevents the cells that usually encapsulate the electrodes – glial cells – from doing so’, says Christelle Prinz, researcher in Nanophysics at Lund University, who developed this technique together with Maria Thereza Perez, a researcher in Ophthalmology.
Prinz continues, ‘I was very pleasantly surprised by these results. In previous in-vitro experiments, the glial cells usually attach strongly to the electrodes.’
The team avoided the encapsulation problem by developing a small substrate where regions of super thin nanowires are combined with flat regions. While neurons grow and extend processes on the nanowires, the glial cells primarily occupy the flat regions in between. ‘The different types of cells continue to interact,’ Prinz adds. ‘This is necessary for the neurons to survive because the glial cells provide them with important molecules.’ So far, tests have only been done with cultured cells (in vitro) but the researchers hope that they will soon be able to continue with experiments in vivo.
Meanwhile, another research team at Lund University also reported a potential breakthrough for brain research just last week. This team, led by Professor Jens Schouenborg and Dr Lina Pettersson, has developed implantable electrodes that can capture signals from single neurons in the brain over a long period of time - without causing brain tissue damage.
Medicalxpress.com reports that this technology would make it possible to understand brain function in both healthy and diseased individuals. According to Professor Schouenborg, the research may lead to more effective treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's disease and chronic pain conditions.