How a Synthetic Neuron Could Improve Brain Function

A new study published in Nature Materials by Scientist Yang and his team at Harvard University showed, for the first time, that the brain could accept a “fake” neuron. The neural probe is placed directly into brain tissue, and the device subsequently sends back scientific data to researchers. The researchers can now receive firsthand data on important metrics like frequency of neural fire from a device situated inside the brain 24/7. Information being currently collected could provide the knowledge needed to better understand neuronal communication.

So, you may be wondering, how exactly is the probe injected into the brain?

Currently, the technology is only being tested on mouse brains. The scientists inject 16 of the probes into the hippocampus. The hippocampus, as noted in my regions of the brain page, is the hub of learning and memory in the brain. This region is incredibly important in the pathology of diseases like Alzhimers. 

In prior attempts to make this technology possible, the brain identified the fake neurons. When the implants were first placed in the brain, the brain immediately sensed the change and neurons departed from the area. of injection The brain started working towards getting rid of the un-known object. For the example, the brain starting becoming more inflamed, an attempt to destroy and isolate the synthetic neuron.

Yet, eventually, the researchers were able to create an implant that the brain accepted post implantation. 

This particular “neuron” worked for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s size closely resembled that of a real neuron. In addition, the shape resembles a real neuron. The scientists have also been able to make the probe 5-20 times more flexible than other probes being researched. This flexibility increases the chance the brain will indentify the probe as one of its own neurons. So, the technology affirms to age old saying: “fake it till you make it.” 

And, as indicated above, the technology… worked! The probe successfully transitioned into a mouse brain and sustained there for months after the initial injection. The scientists have been able to track data ever since successfully. 

While the technology is promising, more research is needed before it can be utilized in a real human brain. Until then – make sure to subscribe to the Neuro Bureau to receive more in-depth updates, like this, about advancements made in the brain research. Subscribers are sent an email notification every time a new post is uploaded. Also make sure to follow and like my twitter account for fun brain related updates here. 

Source: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/03/harvard-neuronlike-brain-implants-may-help-treat-disease-mental-illness/.

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