Scientists at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University are well on the way to creating the first artificial nerve cell that can communicate specifically with nerve cells in the body using neurotransmitters. The technology has been published in an article in Nature Materials.
The methods that are currently used to stimulate nerve signals in the nervous system are based on electrical stimulation. Examples of this are cochlear implants, which are surgically inserted into the cochlea in the inner ear, and electrodes that are used directly in the brain. One problem with this method is that all cell types in the vicinity of the electrode are activated, which gives undesired effects.
Scientists have now used an electrically conducting plastic to create a new type of “delivery electrode” that instead releases the neurotransmitters that brain cells use to communicate naturally. The advantage of this is that only neighbouring cells that have receptors for the specific neurotransmitter, and that are thus sensitive to this substance, will be activated.
The scientists demonstrate in the article in Nature Materials that the delivery electrode can be used to control the hearing function in the brains of guinea pigs.
“The ability to deliver exact doses of neurotransmitters opens completely new possibilities for correcting the signalling systems that are faulty in a number of neurological disease conditions”, says Professor Agneta Richter-Dahlfors who has led the work, together with Professor Barbara Canlon.
The scientists intend to continue with the development of a small unit that can be implanted into the body. It will be possible to program the unit such that the release of neurotransmitters takes place as often or as seldom as required in order to treat the individual patient. Research projects that are already under way are targeted towards hearing, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
The research is being carried out in collaboration between the research groups of Professor Agneta Richter-Dahlfors and Professor Barbara Canlon, together with Professor Magnus Berggren’s group at Linköping University. The work falls under the auspices of the Center of Excellence in Organic Bioelectronics, financed by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research and led by Magnus Berggren and Agneta Richter-Dahlfors.
Original publication:Daniel T. Simon et al.; “Organic electronics for precise delivery of neurotransmitters to modulate mammalian sensory function”; Nature Materials, Advance Online Publication, 5 June 2009
This year's Nobel Prizes were awarded to a total of nine scientists. The research areas that have been awarded and the prize winners at a glance:
Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
The Nobel Committee at the Karolinska Institute has awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to t ... more
Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet. For many years we have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal, biological clock that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day. But how does this clock actually work? Jeffrey C. Hall, Mic ... more
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, have developed a nanoparticle technology that can be used to stabilise membrane proteins so that their structure can be studied in a lipid environment. The method makes it possible to access drug targets that previously could not be investigated ... more
Karolinska Institutet is one of the world’s leading medical universities. It accounts for over 40 per cent of the medical academic research conducted in Sweden and offers the country’s broadest range of education in medicine and health sciences. Since 1901 the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska I ... more
Our nerve and muscle cells send signals to each other using ions and molecules. Certain substances, such as the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), are important signal substances throughout the central nervous system. Eighteen months ago, researchers at the Laboratory of Organ ... more
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 k ... more
Common diseases like allergy, diabetes and other immune diseases have increased dramatically in recent decades. This indicates that the environment may have a more important role than genes in explaining this increase.
An international research team led by the Centre for personalized medici ... more
The university has developed several unique educational programmes that transcend traditional academic borders. This approach was manifested in the creation of Sweden’s first MSc programme in Industrial Management and Engineering. Many similar ventures have followed, such as the two program ... more