Neuroscientists and engineers have been trying to uncover the secrets of the human brain for decades. Science fiction films have created this understanding that it is possible to hack into the human brain. However, one team might have actually achieved the way to hack the human brain functions. Researchers from the University of Chicago made use of tiny, light-powered silicon wires to reshape the working of the brain and its responses. It can be used to treat the brain disorders one day.
The research falls under the technique called optogenetics. This technique uses the light to shape the neural activity. The problem with this technique was that any procedure which was performed involved the manipulation of genes at some stage. The University of Chicago team used a different method in their research. Instead of genetics, they started looking into the technology and went forward to use nanowiring. This was originally designed for solar cells. They combined the nanowires with two types of silicon which would create an electrical current whenever it was exposed to light.
The Assistant professor Bozhi Tian was leading the researchers while they were performing the work on the rat neurons growing in the lab. Tian said, “When the wire is in place and illuminated, the voltage difference between the inside and outside of the cell is slightly reduced. This lowers the barrier for the neuron to fire an electrical signal to its neighboring cells.” The team used p-type core and n-type shell with a surface of atomic gold. The metals were hit with light later on and the photoexcited carriers travel through the wires. They separate at the core and at the shell’s junction point. Tian explained, “These electrons then participate in cathodic electrochemical reactions in a surrounding electrolyte solution, generating a cathodic current. When we then interface the coaxial nanowires with a target neuronal membrane, this current depolarizes the membrane, mimicking the effect of a nerve impulse and causing the neuron to fire an action potential.”
The researchers discovered that they can trigger neurons to fire the signals to their neighboring cells. It will only take a single nanowire to startup this neuron firing. First author and graduate student Ramya Parameswaran said, “The nice thing about it is that both gold and silicon are biologically compatible materials. Also, after they’re injected into the body, structures of this size would degrade naturally within a couple of months.” Silicon played a critical role in the whole process, especially when compared to other technologies which were attempting to stimulate the response.
Tian said, “This tool could be used for both fundamental single bioelectric studies and clinical therapeutics. Silicon strongly absorbs light in the near-infrared, a wavelength of light that deeply penetrates biological tissue, which means that the nanowires could be used to stimulate peripheral nerves (lying as far as 1 cm below the skin) if injected into the tissue. This could ultimately allow for non-invasive treatment of diseases characterized by severe neuropathic pain, such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy, for example.” In the next steps, the team will be carrying out experiments on the animals and will observe the effects of the nanowires and light on the living beings. This can clue them to see how to treat Parkinson’s and other brain-based abnormalities.