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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering > Carbon Nanotube-based Neural Prosthetics - Where Smaller is Better

Nicolas Tokas
UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and Department of Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Candidate
University at Albany - College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering

Abstract:
A large motivation for biomedical research is driven for the need of understanding the processes of neurological diseases in humans as well as obtaining the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for patients. Presently 5.3 million Americans - approximately 2% of the U.S. population - live with disabilities resulting from a traumatic brain injury. These injuries can occur from injury to the brain or spinal cord. Similarly, neurodegeneration in the brain can lead to a diverse range of motor conditions, including loss of limb control to complete "locked-in" paralysis.

June 30th, 2010

Carbon Nanotube-based Neural Prosthetics - Where Smaller is Better

A large motivation for biomedical research is driven for the need of understanding the processes of neurological diseases in humans as well as obtaining the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for patients. Presently 5.3 million Americans - approximately 2% of the U.S. population - live with disabilities resulting from a traumatic brain injury. These injuries can occur from injury to the brain or spinal cord. Similarly, neurodegeneration in the brain can lead to a diverse range of motor conditions, including loss of limb control to complete "locked-in" paralysis.

Neural prostheses are currently being researched as a means of supplementing or re-establishing lost neurological functions for persons suffering brain injuries in order to significantly improve their quality of life. However, one of the main challenges facing researchers today is the reactive cellular responses that occur following the insertion of silicon neural prosthetic devices in the brain. These biological responses ultimately lead to device failure limiting the long-term use of these devices in patients. When silicon devices are implanted into brain, astrocytes along with microglial cells insulate the device and shield the surrounding nervous tissue that has become locally damaged. This response hinders the long-term use of these neural prosthetic devices for recording or stimulating brain tissue in order to re-establish lost brain functions. Thus there is a critical need for the development of prosthetic devices that can reduce the reactive biological responses to improve the clinical efficacy of neural prosthetic devices

It has been shown that the shape, size, and material composition of neural prosthetic devices influence the biological reactive responses following implantation in the brain. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have consequently come into the biomedical field as a potential material for neural prosthetics due to higher physical, electrical, and mechanical properties than in traditional materials such as silicon and ceramics. CNTs can be synthesized with diameters of 1-10 nm and lengths up to 2 mm. What makes the use of CNTs as novel neural prosthetic devices is size - CNTS can be manufactured to scales thousands of times smaller than the most widely used silicon devices. In a variety of studies CNTs have also displayed an ability to modulate neuronal growth as well as enhance neuronal electrical signaling while retaining their mechanical characteristics; thus allowing them to be ideal for interfacing with brain tissue.

Figure 1. Millimeter-length carbon nanotube bundle for implantation into the brain. Scale bar = 10 microns.


My research in the laboratory of Professor Matthew Hynd at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering is used on the design, development and fabrication of vertically-aligned arrays of millimeter-length CNTs to function as novel neural prosthetic devices. Currently we are evaluating the biocompatibility of CNTs using two types of brain cells - neurons and astrocytes. Using a variety of in vitro techniques we are characterizing LRM55 astroglial and B35 neuronal cell responses as a model system for the brain upon CNT exposure; while determining cell viability, cell proliferation, glutathione levels, metabolic activity, mitochondria activity, singlet oxygen activity, as well as gene expression. In collaboration with Dr. Ji Ung Lee at CNSE we are synthesizing millimeter-long, vertically aligned CNT arrays for in vivo implantation. We have also worked with Karen Smith at the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health for inserting these devices into the adult rat neocortex and are presently looking at the responses of brain tissue following implantation. Findings from this research will allow us to develop a series of CNT-based neural prosthetic devices using nanoscale science. Ultimately these devices will enable more effective treatments for patients suffering from a diverse range of neurological disabilities.

Neural Prosthetics Website

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