Researchers are touting a new material that may help scientists learn more about neurological disorders and accelerate research for brain-machine interfaces.
Three scientists from Purdue University led a study of the material at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and published results in Applied Materials and Interfaces, an American Chemical Society magazine.
Professor of materials engineering Shriram Ramanathan had been working on the material by discovering doping methods for perovskites, while assistant biomedical engineering professor Hyowon “Hugh” Lee and assistant biological sciences professor Alexander Chubykin were seeking new ways to sense neurotransmitters in the brain.
Together, the trio are looking at a perovskite nickelate coated with a nafion layer, which, through a series of tests, was determined to be perfect for tracking glutamate, a chemical used by the brain’s nerve cells to communicate with other cells. Tracking the presence or absence of glutamate could lead to more insight into autism and other disorders, according to a news release.
“Different forms of autism create different changes to glutamate levels in the brain, and understanding them is important,” Chubykin said. “Neural degeneration is marked by a decrease in glutamate. If we can measure that better, it will be very exciting.”
The researchers grew crystals of the new material and analyzed them at the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), while analyzing it through X-rays at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) as well. Both centers are facilities of the U.S. Dept. of Energy at Argonne.
Using two APS beamlines (33-ID-D and 29-ID-D) allowed for the precise imaging of the reactions within the material to observe the presence of various doses of glutamate. Those glutamate-sensing properties were tested in brain slices and in live mice.
The researchers implanted the material into the visual cortex of a mouse under anesthesia and, when the mouse awoke, the scientists were able to track its responses to visual stimuli by showing it pictures, including checkerboard patterns, lines and bars, which the brain responds to most, according to Lee.
Results from this study showed increased sensitivity and faster response time than other glutamate-sensing materials, leading the researchers to seek out the next step of creating smaller microneedles to track glutamate in specific sections of the brain with more specific stimuli to sense different types of neurotransmitters.
“That’s the beauty of this effort,” Lee said. “I had no idea about the existence of this type of material. This has given us all new tools for collaboration and allowed us to create better tools for studying the mechanism of neurological disorders.”