Wiring Your Brain with Nanotubes

Could your extant network of neurons be somehow boosted, helping you think faster?

In addition to the process of cognitive stimulation through focused games and exercises, a biochemical process; the physical sciences may intrude in the form of inlays of molecular-scale carbon nanotubes, according to European researchers.

Research done by scientists in Italy and Switzerland has shown that carbon nanotubes may be the ideal 'smart' brain material. Their results, published December 21 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, are a promising step forward in the search to find ways to “bypass” faulty brain wiring.

The research shows that carbon nanotubes, which, like neurons, are highly electrically conductive, form extremely tight contacts with neuronal cell membranes. Unlike the metal electrodes that are currently used in research and clinical applications, the nanotubes can create shortcuts between the distal and proximal compartments of the neuron, resulting in enhanced neuronal excitability.

The study was conducted in the Laboratory of Neural Microcircuitry at EPFL in Switzerland and led by Michele Giugliano (now an assistant professor at the University of Antwerp), University of Trieste professor Laura Ballerini and Maurizio Prato, also from the University of Trieste. "This result is extremely relevant for the emerging field of neuro-engineering and neuroprosthetics," explains Giugliano, who hypothesizes that the nanotubes could be used as a new building block of novel "electrical bypass" systems for treating traumatic injury of the central nervous system. Carbon nano-electrodes could also be used to replace metal parts in clinical applications such as deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease or severe depression. And they show promise as a whole new class of "smart" materials for use in a wide range of potential neuroprosthetic applications.

What is envisioned might be a mechanism for re-creating a powerful creative brain with dynamic activity, attributed in the past to top artists and scientists such as Einstein and Tesla. Certainly this is an area for more exploratory research.

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