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Scientists have created a tiny silicon chip that is small enough to be placed on the fingertips and functions almost exactly the same as the biological nerve cells in the human body. The team believes the low-power chip can be used in bioelectronics and implants, providing a new way to treat diseases that affect the nervous system, such as Alzheimers disease or spinal cord injury.
Nerve cells or neurons spread all over the brain and nervous system, and quickly send electrical signals through long and thin synapses, and transmit information from the brain to the body and back. Their signal activity requires ion channels to convert mechanical or chemical signals into electrical signals. Its a complex dance hidden under all our nerve impulses, but this complexity makes it difficult to figure out how cells respond to certain stimuli.
So far, neurons are like black boxes, but weve managed to turn them on and peek inside, said Alain nogaret, a physicist at the University of bath who co authored the study. Our work is changing patterns because it provides a reliable way to reproduce the electrical details of real neurons.
The new technology can replicate the electrical properties of neurons on microchips. The team was able to replicate the dynamics of a single nerve cell (hippocampal neuron) needed for memory and a single nerve cell (respiratory neuron) needed for respiration in the brain. This artificial neural chip has many synthetic ion channels, which are responsible for simulating electrical impulses in nerve cells.
The research team compared these signals generated by the chip with those found in hippocampal neurons and brainstem neurons of rats. The chip received 60 different stimulation schemes and simulated these reactions, and found that each chip can reproduce the real cell responses.
Although this study shows the future of biomedical implants, the authors point out that other features of nerve cells need to be considered.
The chip works like a single nerve cell, but nerve cells also need to send signals from one cell to another through dendrites. The team believes their model allows the complete dynamics of a biological neuron to be integrated into the chip, but new devices are needed to show the activity of dendrites.
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