Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden have created artificial neurons and synapses using organic electrochemical transistors that can be printed onto plastic foil in their thousands. The printed structures can conduct both electrons and ions, helping them to mimic the action potentials generated in biological neurons. So far, the Swedish team integrated the artificial neurons into a living organism, in this case a carnivorous plant called a Venus flytrap, and showed that they could activate the closing mechanism of its leafy trap, even though an insect had not landed inside. The technology may prove very useful for a variety of medical applications, including better integration and control of robotic prostheses and implantable neuromodulatory technologies.
Electronics and biological systems are not usually a match made in heaven, at least in terms of direct contact and interaction. The cyborg revolution, in which humans seamlessly integrate electronic components into our bodies for super-human powers and evil antics, remains the realm of science fiction writers. However, this latest tech could pave the way for easier integration between machines and our nervous system, with a variety of potential uses in medical technologies.
The technology in question consists of organic electrochemical circuits that can be printed on a plastic substrate. The structures can conduct both ions and electrons, and positive and negative charges, allowing them to mimic the action potentials generated by neurons.
“We’ve developed ion-based neurons, similar to our own, that can be connected to biological systems,” said Chi-Yuan Yang, a researcher involved in the study. “Organic semiconductors have numerous advantages — they’re biocompatible, biodegradable, soft and formable. They only require low voltage to operate, which is completely harmless to both plants and vertebrates.”
“We chose the Venus flytrap so we could clearly show how we can steer the biological system with the artificial organic system and get them to communicate in the same language,” said Simone Fabiano, another researcher involved in the study. The researchers can use the artificial neurons to stimulate the leaflet trap to close, despite there being no insects in sight.
The researchers hope that the technology could enhance medical devices where close communication between the device and the nervous system is required, such as in robotic prostheses or neuromodulatory devices.
Study in Nature Communications: Organic electrochemical neurons and synapses with ion mediated spiking
Via: Linköping University