Researchers in Nanophysics and Ophthalmology at Lund University in Sweden have developed a new type of nanowire material in which neurons thrive and grow.
According to scientists, the results might improve both neural and retinal implants, and reduce the risk of them losing their effectiveness over time.
Researchers points out that there are severe drawbacks associated with today's brain implants, or neuro-prostheses. One of the issues is that the body interprets the implants as foreign objects, resulting in an encapsulation of the electrode, which in turn leads to loss of signal.
"Our nanowire structure prevents the cells that usually encapsulate the electrodes - glial cells - from doing so. Also, I was very pleasantly surprised by these results. In previous in-vitro experiments, the glial cells usually attach strongly to the electrodes," says Christelle Prinz, researcher in Nanophysics at Lund University in Sweden, who developed this technique together with Maria Thereza Perez, a researcher in Ophthalmology.
To avoid the result of the previous study, the researchers have also developed a small substrate where regions of super thin nanowires are combined with flat regions. While neurons grow and extend processes on the nanowires, the glial cells primarily occupy the flat regions in between.
"The different types of cells continue to interact. This is necessary for the neurons to survive because the glial cells provide them with important molecules," the researchers said.
So far, tests have only been conducted with cultured cells (in vitro) but scientists hope that they will soon be able to continue with experiments in vivo.