The University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine scientists who proved it is possible to cultivate a network of brain cells that reconnect on a silicon chip—or the brain on a microchip—have developed new technology that monitors brain cell activity at a resolution never achieved before.
Developed with the National Research Council Canada (NRC), the new silicon chips are also simpler to use, which will help future understanding of how brain cells work under normal conditions and permit drug discoveries for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The new technology from the lab of Naweed Syed, in collaboration with the NRC, is published online this month in the journal, Biomedical Devices.
“This technical breakthrough means we can track subtle changes in brain activity at the level of ion channels and synaptic potentials, which are also the most suitable target sites for drug development in neurodegenerative diseases and neuropsychological disorders,” says Syed, professor and head of the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and advisor to the Vice President Research on Biomedical Engineering Initiative of the U of C.
The new neurochips are also automated, meaning that anyone can learn to place individual brain cells on them. Previously it took years of training to learn how to record ion channel activity from brain cells, and it was only possible to monitor one or two cells simultaneously. Now, larger networks of cells can be placed on a chip and observed in minute detail, allowing the analysis of several brain cells networking and performing automatic, large-scale drug screening for various brain dysfunctions.
This new technology has the potential to help scientists in a variety of fields and on a variety of research projects. Gerald Zamponi, professor and head of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, says, “This technology can likely be scaled up such that it will become a novel tool for medium throughput drug screening, in addition to its usefulness for basic biomedical research”.
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