Carbon nanotubes can be used to construct electrical bypass systems in the brain, according to research published by scientists in Italy and Switzerland.
The study, which is being led by University of Trieste professor Laura Ballerini and Michel Giugliano at the Swiss Ecoles Polytechniques Fédérales de Lausanne, has shown that carbon nanotubes may be an ideal material to correct faulty brain wiring.
The researchers claim that like neurons, carbon nanotubes are highly electrically conductive and can form tight contacts with neuronal cell membranes. However, unlike the metal electrodes that are presently used in research and clinical applications, the nanotubes are able to create shortcuts between the different compartments of the neuron, resulting in enhanced neuronal activity.
Results of this research will contribute to the emerging fields of neuro-engineering and neuroprosthetics. In the future, carbon nanotubes could be used to replace metal parts in treatments for Parkinson’s disease or severe depression.
Henry Markram, head of the Laboratory of Neural Microcircuitry and an author on the paper, said: ‘There are three fundamental obstacles to developing reliable neuroprosthetics: stable interfacing of electromechanical devices with neural tissue, understanding how to stimulate the neural tissue, and 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 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.’