Calgary scientists are working on developing a 'neurochip', which is capable of monitoring the dialogue between brain cells and silicon chip.
Researchers at the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute are to announce Tuesday that they have made a key advance in connecting brain cells to a newly designed silicon chip, crafted with the National Research Council of Canada, that allows them to "hear" the conversation between living tissue and an electronic device as never before.
"It used to be like seeing two people talking at a distance. ... You didn't know what they were saying or even what language they were speaking. But now it's like putting a microphone beside them," the Globe and Mail quoted Professor Naweed Syed, head of the university's department of cell biology and anatomy, who has led the work on the so-called neurochip, as saying.
The latest Calgary work makes it immediately possible to use a neurochip to screen drugs for patients with brain disorders and determine which ones are likely to work based on what the brain cells "say."
Brain cells talk to each other in a language of electrical and chemical signals that prompt each neuron to either fire up or relax. Chemical signals pass between an array of nerve fibres, known as synaptic connections, that look much like tree branches under a microscope. Electrical signals pass through gateways on the cell surface called ion channels.
But the chip doesn't come cheap, Syed admitted, estimating that for now the cost would run at 30,000 dollars for 750 reusable chips.
It is published online this week in the journal Biomedical Microdevices.