Plenty of materials have medical applications that are yet to be discovered.
Normally applied to detect minute defects in materials, Magistretti, along with DHM pioneer and EPFL professor in the Advanced Photonics Laboratory, Christian Depeursinge, decided to use DHM for neurobiological applications.
In the study, their group induced an electric charge in a culture of neurons using glutamate, the main neurotransmitter in the brain. This charge transfer carries water inside the neurons and changes their optical properties in a way that can be detected only by DHM. Thus, the technique accurately visualizes the electrical activities of hundreds of neurons simultaneously, in real-time, without damaging them with electrodes, which can only record activity from a few neurons at a time.
A major advance for pharmaceutical research
Without the need to introduce dyes or electrodes, DHM can be applied to High Content Screening—the screening of thousands of new pharmacological molecules. This advance has important ramifications for the discovery of new drugs that combat or prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, since new molecules can be tested more quickly and in greater numbers.
"Due to the technique's precision, speed, and lack of invasiveness, it is possible to track minute changes in neuron properties in relation to an applied test drug and allow for a better understanding of what is happening, especially in predicting neuronal death," Magistretti says. "What normally would take 12 hours in the lab can now be done in 15 to 30 minutes, greatly decreasing the time it takes for researchers to know if a drug is effective or not."