Thursday, 26 June, 2008
Scientists integrate living brain cells into organic semiconductors
Bionics a word formed from biology and electronics has become a quickly expanding research field, exploring ways and materials to bridge the interface between electronics and biology
Basically, there are three levels of biocommunications where electronics and biology could interface: molecular, cellular and skeletal. For any implanted bionic material it is the initial interactions at the biomolecular level that will determine longer term performance. While bionics is often associated with skeletal level enhancements, electronic communication with living cells is of interest with a view to improving the results of tissue engineering or the performance of implants such as bionic ears or eyes.
Researchers have been trying for more than 20 years to interface neurons and silicon devices. They are experimenting with individual neurons from different parts of the brain by cultivating them and trying to establish ex vivo neural networks. The goal is to stimulate neurons with electric signals and observe how the live network reacts and modifies itself. These studies could result in valuable findings that improve our understanding of how a neural network modifies its structure during the learning phase and the rules that govern the way synapses and neurites grow. Analysis of the electro-physiological activity of neurons could one day enable scientists to develop artificial prostheses for bypassing injured zones and restore brain functionality, or to realize neuro-diagnostic tools for monitoring the reaction of biological neurons to selected chemical species or newly developed drugs.(...)