Carbon nanotubes could be the new ‘’smart” brain material

December 22nd, 2008 - 5:05 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 22 (ANI): Carbon nanotubes might turn out to be the ideal “smart” materials for the brain, according to scientists in Italy and Switzerland.

Conducted in the Laboratory of Neural Microcircuitry at EPFL in Switzerland, and led by Michel Giugliano and University of Trieste professor Laura Ballerini, the study may be a major step in the search to find ways to “bypass” faulty brain wiring.

In the study, the researchers showed that carbon nanotubes, which, like neurons, are highly electrically conductive, form extremely tight contacts with neuronal cell membranes.

The nanotubes, quite unlike the currently used metal electrodes, can create shortcuts between the distal and proximal compartments of the neuron, thus leading to enhanced neuronal excitability.

“This result is extremely relevant for the emerging field of neuro-engineering and neuroprosthetics,” Nature magazine quoted Giugliano as saying.

He also speculated that the nanotubes could be used as a new building block of novel “electrical bypass” systems for treating traumatic injury of the central nervous system.

Carbon nano-electrodes could also be used to replace metal parts in clinical applications such as deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson’’s disease or severe depression.

Also, they show promise as a whole new class of “smart” materials for use in a wide range of potential neuroprosthetic applications.

Henry Markram, head of the Laboratory of Neural Microcircuitry and an author on the paper, adds: “There are three fundamental obstacles to developing reliable neuroprosthetics: 1) stable interfacing of electromechanical devices with neural tissue, 2) understanding how to stimulate the neural tissue, and 3) understanding what signals to record from the neurons in order for the device to make an automatic and appropriate decision to stimulate.

The new carbon nanotube-based interface technology discovered together with state of the art simulations of brain-machine interfaces is the key to developing all types of neuroprosthetics — sight, sound, smell, motion, vetoing epileptic attacks, spinal bypasses, as well as repairing and even enhancing cognitive functions.”

The study appears the online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology. (ANI)

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