Nerve cell tendrils recently grew through tiny tubes made of semiconductor material in groundbreaking research conducted by University of Wisconsin, Madison graduate students. The research could help scientists in their efforts to regenerate nerve cells damaged due to disease or injury, as well as contribute to the development of nanomedicine, including areas such as brain-computer interface technology.
Graduate student Minrui Yu and biomedical engineer Justin Williams say they first created tubes of different sizes and shapes made out of silicon and germanium. The tubes closely resembled the outer insulating sheath that covers parts of normal nerve cells, both physically and electrically, and were small enough for a nerve cell to clasp onto, but not so big that it could fit all the way inside. The team then coated the fabricated tubes with nerve cells from mice. Yu and Williams say the nerve cells began to send tendrils through the tunnels, and in some cases followed the contours of the tubes, meaning that in theory nerves could be grown into structures.
The researchers now want to set up nerve cells to follow pre-planned paths through tubes and use listening devices to record the electrical emissions between the cells.
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