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.