A breakthrough technique, where scientists are able to connect neurons using ultra-short laser pulses, has been developed by a team of researchers from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta; a discovery which has significant implications for new medical research.
This is the first time that scientists have been able to find a way to bond neurons, the cells in the nervous system that transfer information between the brain and the rest of the body, and the discovery provides immediate opportunities for researchers to carry out studies which, without this technique, would have been impossible.
The study came about after lead researcher, PhD student Nir Katchinskiy, wanted to learn more about the nervous system, and whether it would be possible to ‘weld’ severed nerves back together. Using two neurons, which were put into a solution that prevented them from sticking together, the researchers brought the neurons into contact with each other. They then concentrated ultra-short laser pulses on the point where the neurons met.
The two cells were bonded together, the process took milliseconds in comparison to the several hours it takes naturally
While the outside layer of the cells was partially damaged, the inside remained intact, and the two cells were bonded together with a common membrane in the area where the laser had been concentrated. This whole process took less than 15 milliseconds, in comparison to the several hours it would have taken to occur naturally. Katchinskiy repeated the experiment several times; each time the cells stayed viable and the connections made by the laser were strong.
Katchinskiy sees the biggest advantage of this discovery as being the ability to completely control the cell connection process. While it’s not yet possible to treat severed nerves in humans, it does bring scientists a step closer, and gives them a greater understanding of how such processes work. So far¸ the team has had successful results with three different kinds of cells, however the potential of this technique is, in fact, limitless. The technique has already been adopted by two of the biggest cancer researchers, and it’s hoped that it will prove useful for prostate, brain and ocular cancer research and will lead to treatments for these conditions.
The findings were published in the recent edition of the flagship journal, Nature Scientific Reports.
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