Synapse and neurons in the human brain. Sending chemical and electrical signals, human nervous system. 3D illustration, 3D rendering

Scientists have long been searching for a way to implant electrodes that interface with neurons into the human brain.

Grafeno

Graphene has been directly connected to Neurons. If successful, the idea could have major implications for treating Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. Last month, a team of researchers from Italy and the United Kingdom took a major step forward by showing that the world’s most popular wonder material, graphene, can be successfully linked to neurons.

Previous experiments by other groups using treated graphene had created an interface with a very low signal-to-noise ratio. However, an interdisciplinary collaboration between the University of Trieste and the Cambridge Graphene Centre has developed a significantly improved electrode that uses untreated graphene.

Toma nota

“For the first time, we have directly connected graphene to neurons,” says Professor Laura Ballerini of the University of Trieste in Italy. “We then tested the ability of the neurons to generate electrical signals known for brain activity and found that the neurons kept their neuronal signaling properties unchanged. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene-based materials.”

Before experimenting with graphene-based substrates (GBS), the scientists implanted tungsten- and silicon-based microelectrodes. The proof-of-concept experiments were successful, but these materials seem to suffer from the same fatal flaws. The body responded to the insertion trauma by forming scar tissue that obstructed clear electrical signals. The structures also tended to detach, due to the stiffness of the materials, which were unsuitable for a semi-fluid organic environment.

Is Graphene Promising?

Pure graphene is promising because it is flexible, nontoxic, and does not interfere with other cellular activities.

The team’s experiments on rat brain cell cultures showed that the untreated graphene electrodes interacted well with neurons and transmitted electrical impulses normally, without the negative responses previously observed.

The biocompatibility of graphene could enable the fabrication of graphene microelectrodes that could help measure, use, and control impaired brain functions. This could restore lost sensory function to treat paralysis, control prosthetic devices such as robotic limbs for amputees, and even control or reduce the effects of the out-of-control electrical impulses that cause motor disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

“We are currently involved in cutting-edge research in graphene technology for biomedical applications,” said Professor Maurizio Prato of the University of Trieste. “In this scenario, the development and implementation of high-performance graphene-based biodevices in neurology requires exploring the interactions between graphene nanosheets and microsheets with the sophisticated signaling machinery of neurons. Our work is just the first step in this direction.”

Nota final

The results of this research were recently published in the journal ACS Nano. The research was funded by the Graphene Flagship, a European initiative that aims to link theoretical and practical fields and shorten the time graphene products spend in laboratories before they reach the market.