Artificial nerve cells make various medical treatments possible in the future

January 24, 2023 | Biology

An increasingly functional, synthetic nerve cell that mimics 15 out of the 20 neural features characteristic of natural nerve cells has been Simone Fabiano and his team of scientists developing work at Linköping University since  2022. Published in the journal Nature Materials, the newly developed artificial nerve cell is termed “conductance-based organic electrochemical neuron” (c-OECN), and it could imitate the activation/inactivation of sodium and potassium channels which previous models failed to emulate. 

What seems to be one of the vital challenges in the creation of these synthetic neurons is the capacity to incorporate ion modulation. Previous neurons that were made from silicon cannot communicate through ions and this is what makes c-OECN very attractive. Multiple desirable features all of which contribute to a stable device operation include:

  • exceptional sensing capabilities

  • high biocompatibility

  • coupled ionic-electronic transport properties

  • resiliency to disorder 

Odoo text and image block
Odoo image and text block

Collaborating with Karolinska Institute, experiments on the new c-OECN has been conducted where they were connected to the vagus nerve of mice. Vagus nerve is known to play a significant role in the body’s immune system and metabolism and generally, organic semiconductors are the best fit for the job. Findings showed that the artificial neuron remarkably stimulated the mice’s nerves, causing a 4.5 percent change in heart rate. This has massive and essential implications in various forms of medical treatment. Researchers are currently hyperfocused on reducing the energy consumption required for these artificial neurons to function.

Padinhare Cholakkal Harikesh, the main author of the paper, recognized that their scientific effort was a good start in understanding the human brain better, opening a wealth of possibilities for building circuits that are capable of performing intelligent tasks, but that we still have much work to do to replicate nature artificially. 

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