09 september 2007

Brain Wires

Today, surgical procedures for implanting electronic devices that stimulate the heart muscle to correct abnormal cardiac rhythms are considered routine. But addressing the brain in this way—and reaching areas deep within the cerebral mass without destroying neurons en route—is another matter. While surgeons have successfully installed electrodes in the brain that have restored a semblance of sight or hearing, stopped the tremors of Parkinson's disease, and cataloged the brain's responses to environmental stimuli, they've always had to break in through the skull. That procedure damages healthy brain tissue, exposes patients to infection, and leaves wires sticking out of their heads. And over time, scar tissue forms around the electrodes, encapsulating them and isolating them from the active brain tissue. Now a promising new procedure has been proposed [see photo]. In a paper that appeared in the 5 July issue of The Journal of Nanoparticle Research, researchers from the New York University Medical Center, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Tokyo demonstrate how advances in nanotechnology could lead to a better way of getting into the brain. The team, led by Rodolfo Llinas, head of the department of physiology and neuroscience at the NYU Medical Center, in New York City, has devised a method for attaching electrodes to small clusters of brain cells—or even individual neurons—using the cardiovascular system as the conduit through which wires are threaded.

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