ANU Researchers Working to Advance Neuroprosthetic Scaffolds
May 17, 2017
Researchers grew the brain cells on a semiconductor wafer patterned with nanowires which act as a scaffold to guide the growth of brain cells. Image courtesy of Stuart Hay, ANU.
Researchers at Australian National University (ANU) have developed a material that allows brain cells to grow and form predictable circuits—a brain on a chip. The researchers grew the brain cells on a semiconductor wafer patterned with nanowires that act as a scaffold to guide the growth of brain cells. The study is the first to show the neuronal circuits grown on the nanowire scaffolds are functional and highly interconnected, opening the potential to apply their scaffold design for neuroprosthetics.
Lead researcher Vini Gautam, PhD, said the scaffold provides a platform to study the growth of the brain cells and how they connect with each other. "The project will provide new insights into the development of neuroprosthetics which can help the brain recover after damage due to an accident, stroke, or degenerative neurological diseases," said Gautam, who is a postdoctoral fellow with the university's College of Engineering and Computer Science and College of Medicine, Biology and Environment
Project group leader Vincent Daria, PhD, from The John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU and fellow, group leader (Neurophotonics Group) with the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, said he hopes to use the brain on a chip to understand how neurons in the brain form computing circuits and eventually process information.
"Unlike other prosthetics like an artificial limb, neurons need to connect synaptically, which form the basis of information processing in the brain during sensory input, cognition, learning, and memory," Daria said. "Using a particular nanowire geometry, we have shown that the neurons are highly interconnected and predictably form functional circuits."
Daria said it was important to build up the appropriate environment where neurons can be predictably connected into functional circuits. "We were able to make predictive connections between the neurons and demonstrated them to be functional with neurons firing synchronously," he said. "This work could open up new research model that builds up a stronger connection between materials nanotechnology with neuroscience."
Editor's note: This story was adapted from materials provided by ANU.