Researchers have achieved a major milestone in the further development of a neurochip − a microchip with the ability to monitor several functions of the brain.
In previous studies, researchers developed a neurochip that could directly stimulate and record brain cell activity. Now, Orly Yadid-Pecht and Naweed Syed have successfully developed a novel lab-on-a-chip technology that, through an ultra-sensitive component built directly on the microchip, also enables direct imaging of activity in brain cells.
The current study used snail brain cells and researchers hope to use human brain cells in the next step.
“This simple technology will not only accelerate the development of novel technologies for imaging brain cell activities but will also put Alberta at the forefront of innovation for new approaches to drug screening devices,” says Syed, who is a member of the university’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute, head of the department of cell biology and anatomy, and an advisor to the vice-president of research on biomedical engineering.
Because of its compact and efficient design, the neurochip is expected to advance brain-machine interfacing technologies being pioneered at the University of Calgary. It will also likely aid in the development of drug screening devices for neurodegenerative diseases and disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.
For instance, Syed says, “researchers could potentially, in a laboratory setting, stimulate a neurological disorder in individual brain cells and use the neurochip to monitor its response to specific drugs.”
In addition, imaging isolated neurons could become less expensive as there would be less need for expensive microscopes and imaging software.
“The novel filter enables deposition on any sensor, and when compared with state-of-the-art dichroic filters used in commercial microscopes for imaging neurons, demonstrates superior performance. This filter seems most appropriate for enabling compact contact imaging for lab-on-chip applications,” says Yadid-Pecht, iCORE/ AITF professor of Integrated Sensors and Intelligent Systems at the Schulich School of Engineering. “This technology enables imaging of brain cell activity non-invasively and over an extended period time and provides a cheaper and higher performance alternative to currently available, cumbersome and time-consuming approaches.”
This technology will be targeted at researchers who are trying to understand how the brain develops and functions under normal and various pathological conditions.
The findings are published in the August 2012 issue of the peer-reviewed IEEE Photonics Journal. The study was funded by NSERC Strategic Grant, iCORE/ AITF and the CIHR.