Researchers from the University of Cambridge have published a study in the journal ACS Nano detailing the successful interaction between graphene material and nerve cells in the brain – of course without hurting the integrity of these neurons in any way.
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The study was the result of a combined project between the University of Trieste in Italy and the Cambridge Graphene Centre, and the research was funded by the Graphene Flagship – a European initiative that promotes the translation of graphene from academic books into applicable use within the society.
The researchers are glad with their study because it shows that electrodes made of graphene can be used for brain implants later in the nearest future, and this would enable the restoration of sensory functions for paralyzed or amputated patients, while persons suffering from Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy among other motor disorders would benefit largely from the research.
"For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly," said Professor Laura Ballerini of the University of Trieste in Italy. "We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials."
Scientists had always embedded electrodes into the brain to interact with neurons, but the problem is that the electrodes must be able to transmit measured electrical impulses within the brain without altering the conditions of the tissue they are tracking or shifting within the organ.
The use of silicon has made this more possible due to its flexibility, biocompatibility, conductivity, and stability within the body. The researchers had however carried out their experiments on rat brain cell cultures.
"We are currently involved in frontline research in graphene technology towards biomedical applications," said Professor Maurizio Prato from the University of Trieste.
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"In this scenario, the development and translation in neurology of graphene-based high-performance biodevices requires the exploration of the interactions between graphene nano- and micro-sheets with the sophisticated signalling machinery of nerve cells. Our work is only a first step in that direction," he added.