We all know the importance of neurons, the basic units of the brain and nervous system. Responsible for receiving sensory input from the outside world and transforming and transmitting electrical signals to our muscles. For this reason it is essential find a way to preserve them and, perhaps, even replace them.
In new research, published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the professor. Orit Shefi and Dr. Reut Plen, of the “Kofkin Faculty of Engineering” of the Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, have developed a new technique to overcome this challenge, using nanotechnology and magnetic manipulationsas one of the most innovative approaches to building neural networks.
The authors assumed that neurons are made up of three main parts: the cell body, the dendrites and finally the axon (a long, thin extension responsible for communicating with other cells).
When neurons are damaged by degenerative disease or injury, they have little or no ability to heal on their ownTherefore, to restore the neural networks and their normal function, the researchers hypothesized to inject iron oxide magnetic nanoparticles into the neural progenitor cells, thus transforming them into independent magnetic units.
After having succeeded in this first step, the study authors exposed the progenitor cells (which have the ability to develop into neurons) to a series of pre-regulated magnetic fieldsremotely directing their movement within a three-dimensional multilayered collagen substrate, capable of mimicking the natural characteristics of body tissue.
Through all these magnetic manipulations, they finally created three-dimensional “mini-brains”.. Real functional and multilayer neural networks that best simulate the fundamental elements of the mammalian brain.
The results were very promising. In a few days, the cells evolved into mature neuronsformed extensions and connections, exhibiting electrical activity and growing further into the collagen gel, for at least another 21 days.
Dr. Reut Plen enthused: “This method paves the way for the creating a custom scale 3D cellular architecturefor use in bioengineering, therapeutic and research applications, both inside and outside the body”.
“Since the 3D neural networks we’ve created simulate the innate properties of human brain tissuecan be used as true experimental ‘mini-brains’, so as to serve as a model for the study of drugs, to investigate communication between tissues and as a method to build future artificial networks for interfaces between engineering and biological components”he added.
He also explained Dr. plen: “The model also suggests another interesting prospect. The possibility of injecting such a gel, which in its liquid state contains cells, in the nervous system so as to organize them into the correct structure with the assistance of magnetic forces. Indeed, the advantage of using such a method is that magnetic fields can affect deep-lying cells within the body non-invasively”.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has already approved the use of magnetic nanoparticles for diagnostic, imaging and serious injury purposes. So there are i right prerequisites for advancing this technology towards future clinical use.
Staying on topic, here are 8 things about our brain that you didn’t know. Also, see how our thinking moves inside the brain. Fascinating right?