The injected gel becomes an electrode in the brain

X-ray of a Parkinson’s patient with electrodes in the brain.ANP/Science Picture Library

The researchers boast that this could mark the beginning of a “new paradigm in bioelectronics”. For decades, we’ve tried to make electronics that mimic biology. “Now we let biology itself do the electronics for us,” study leader Magnus Berggren of Link√∂ping University said in a media release.

The scientists made a gel of various substances that, once injected into the zebrafish, strung together into electrically conductive strands in about ten minutes, under the influence of, among other things, naturally occurring sugars in the body. Swedes believe that it is ideal, for example, for expelling certain diseases of the brain, stimulating nerves, or tapping into regions and organs of the brain.

About the author

Martin Keulemans, science editor De Volkskrant, specializing in microlife, climate, archeology and genetic engineering. He was named Journalist of the Year for his reporting on the Coronavirus.

Small wounds

A great way to reach vulnerable places in the body that cannot be reached with ordinary electrodes, believes Professor of Bioelectronics Wouter Serdijn (TU Delft). After all, ordinary and harsh electrodes can cause cuts and cause small infections.

Cerdin also sees the limitations of the new technique: ‘It is important to realize that these electrodes are not isolated. So they deal with all the tissues that they are attached to. This leads to electrical losses and loss of accuracy.

Bioelectrodes are already being used on all kinds of areas of the body. One well-known application is deep brain stimulation. In addition, disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, or Tourette’s syndrome are prevented by directing electrical impulses to specific areas of the brain with electrodes inserted deep into the brain.

And by the way, the new electrodes themselves “can’t do anything. They’re a kind of plug, they just make electrical contact,” Cerdin notes. For fully implantable electronics, you also need transistors to amplify weak nerve signals and perform calculations on them, to stimulate nerves Or to be able to communicate wirelessly with the implant.As far as I know, no one has grown transistors and certainly no one has grown circuits in tissue.

Brain paste

The Swedish team tested the electrodes in fish, medical leeches and soft muscles of mammals. The group said the method promises to “blur the distinction between biological and technological or electronic materials and systems”. in the journal Sciences.

But Cerdin still wants to moderate that expectation. The point, he explains, is that brain cells and electronics work very differently. Just connect them together. “These are two different worlds, which by nature do not speak to each other. Technology really has to learn to speak the language of the brain more. And brain cells have to become more receptive to what technology has to offer.”

In the United States, Tesla chief Elon Musk founded the company five years ago neural connection To connect brains with electronics, but so far to no avail. “I once thought: It would be smarter to smear some kind of cerebral putty on your cerebral cortex and let it grow,” Serdigen says. “So you have an accessory that speaks the same language.”

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