Researchers at Linköping University have developed in collaboration with French colleagues a small device that both detects the initial signal of an epileptic attack and doses a substance that effectively stops it. All this takes place where the signal arises; in an area of size 20×20 μm known as a “neural pixel.”
Neurons, or nerve cells, are the cells in the body that both transmit and receive nerve impulses. The small 20×20 μm device developed by the scientists can both capture signals and stop them in the exact area of nerve cells where they arise. No other part of the body needs to be involved.
The experiments were conducted in the laboratory on slices of brains from mice. The device consists of a sensor that detects nerve signals, and a small ion pump that doses an exact amount of the neurotransmitter GABA, a substance the body itself uses to inhibit stimuli in the central nervous system.
“Signalling in biological systems is based on chemical signals in the form of cations, which are passed between transmitters and receptors, which consist of proteins,” said professor Magnus Berggren. “When a signal is transferred to another cell, the identification of the signal and the triggering of a new one occur within a very small distance – only a few nanometers. In certain cases, it happens at the same point. That’s why being able to combine electronic detection and release in the same electrode is a major advance.”
The small ion pump, which was developed at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics, attracted a great deal of attention when it´s first application as a therapeutic device was published a year ago. The sensor that captures the nerve signal has subsequently been developed by the LiU researchers’ collaborators at the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Gardanne, France. The mouse experiments were performed at Aix-Marseille University.
The entire device is manufactured from conductive, biocompatible plastic.