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Scientists have been able to use nanotubes to successfully transmit electrical signals to nerve cells in a laboratory environment

Researchers at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have announced that they have been able to send electrical signals to nerve cells using nanotubes.

Nanotubes are tiny hollow carbon filaments measuring 1.3nm, and are showing considerable promise across multiple fields of study including biomedical and semiconductor research.

 "As far as I know, we're the first group to show that you can have some kind of electrical communication between these two things, by stimulating cells through our transparent conductive layer," said Todd Pappas, director of sensory and molecular neuroengineering at UTMB's Center for Biomedical Engineering and one of the study's senior authors.

The research group used two different types of cells in their experiments, neuroblastoma cells, commonly used in test-tube experiments and neurons cultured from laboratory rats. The cells were placed on ten-layer-thick "mats" of single-walled carbon nanotubes that had been deposited on a transparent plastic substrate. This enabled the researchers to use a microscope to position a tiny electrode next to individual nerve cells and record their responses to electrical pulses transmitted through the nanotubes.

The researchers also studied the effects on nerve cells using different types of nanotubes, "Native carbon nanotubes support neuron attachment and growth well -- as we expected, better than the two types of functionalized nanotubes we tested," Pappas said. "Next we want to find a way to functionalize the nanotubes to make neuron attachment and communication better and make these surfaces more biocompatible."

The researchers also want to find out whether nanotubes are sensitive enough to record ongoing electrical activity in cells. "Where we want to get to is a device that can both sense and deliver stimuli to cells for things like prosthetic control," Pappas said.

 





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