Neural Pixel

A biochemical system for reducing epileptic activity (experimentally generated chemically) in mice hippocampus brain tissue. The miniature “neural pixel” device (bottom) sensed the epileptic attack and then delivered the natural calming neurotransmitter GABA via PEDOT:PSS electrodes, which also recorded the subsequent electrophysiological activity to confirm effectiveness. Credit: Amanda Jonsson et al./PNAS

Our understanding of the brain progresses rapidly. We started to understand that the brain has some functional areas, each controlling a certain part of the body, then we discovered areas where processing of certain data streams occur, like visual, aural.... and then areas where some cognitive processing takes place. 

We are now getting closer to identify neural circuits where specific activities take place. And we are starting to learn how to "intrude" in these circuits to alter their processing. 

Advances in both knowledge and technology are fuelling this making the goal of interacting with a single neurone to alter some undesired behaviour without affecting other behaviours. 
Researchers at the Linköping University in Sweden in cooperation with colleagues in France have managed to create a neurone size implant that acts both as a sensor and as a releaser of a specific drug (GABA) to block an epileptic attack even before its symptoms starts.

The researchers have been using a polymer that has a 10 times better conductivity than gold (which is already better than copper) as sensing part and an organic electronic ion pump to release GABA molecules. This system has been proven very effective when implanted in a mouse hippocampus slice of brain. The GABA molecules reach the targeted neurone quickly without affecting nearby ones.

Of course it remains the issue of implanting it precisely in the right place (and in turns to know where is the "right" place). According to the researchers it may take ten more years to have this result used in human brains. The difficulties ahead are huge, but just five years ago nobody would have dreamed that something like this could a day become possible.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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