Researchers successfully use laser to ‘weld’ neurons together
Posted: 10 February 2016 | Victoria White | No comments yet
The team from University of Alberta is the first ever to find a way to bond neurons and in doing so, has given researchers a powerful new tool…
University of Alberta researchers have developed a method of connecting neurons using ultrashort laser pulses.
They say the breakthrough technique opens the door to new medical research and treatment opportunities.
The team is the first ever to find a way to bond neurons and in doing so, has given researchers a powerful new tool.
“The immediate application is for researchers. They finally have a new tool to do what they have not been able to do before,” said Nir Katchinskiy, a second-year PhD student in Electrical Engineering who led the study. “We’re engineers. We come up with tools that provide potential.”
Katchinskiy had a real-life application in mind when he started the project.
“I was really interested in the nervous system—if you have a severed nerve, you can’t repair it,” he said. “My thought was, what if we could ‘weld’ it back up right after it’s injured?”
Neurons took 15 milliseconds to stick together
To conduct the study, two neurons, put in a special solution that prevents them from sticking together, were brought into contact with each other. Femtosecond laser pulses were delivered to the meeting point of the two cells. Although the outside layer of the cells was partially compromised, the inside of that protective layer remained intact. As a result, the two cells established solid bonds forming a common membrane at the targeted area.
Throughout multiple experiments, the cells remained viable and the connection strong. It took the neurons 15 milliseconds to stick to each other—the process would have taken hours to occur naturally.
The biggest advantage of the discovery is that it gives researchers complete control on the cell connection process. “You can really plan any experiment. The idea is to show that you can use it (femtosecond laser) as a research tool to control what you are attaching,” said Katchinskiy.
“You may not be able to go in and treat the human spine with this, but it brings you closer,” said electrical engineering professor Abdul Elezzabi, who is Katchinskiy’s research supervisor. “But it brings you closer to how these things work.”
So far, the team has applied this method to three types of cells, but the potential of the technique seems limitless. Elezzabi says femtosecond lasers can prove efficient in prostate, brain and ocular cancer research and treatment. Another possible application is in post cancer surgery treatment.