Swiss Federal Institute of Technology scientists found that carbon nanotubes offer the potential to establish functional links between neurons that could fight disease and enhance our brains.
The human brain contains about 10 billion neurons, each connecting to other nerve cells through 10,000 or more synapses. Neurons process signals from these connections, then produce output commands that stimulate biological functions, everything from breathing to thinking to kissing.
Many scientists consider our brain similar to a massive parallel processing system, a supercomputer. However, when that computer breaks down we can lose memory or worse, develop sicknesses such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Unfortunately, we can’t take our brain down to Wall Mart or Fry’s for an upgrade; however, what if we could put something in our brain that would enhance the signal processing capabilities of individual neurons. Swiss scientists say they’ve done just that with carbon nanotubes.
The forward-thinking research team; led by Michel Giugliano, now a professor at the University of Antwerp, created carbon nanotube scaffolds, which serve as electrical bypass circuitry, to not only repair faulty neural networks, but also enhance performance of healthy cells.
Although there are still some engineering hurdles to overcome, the scientists see huge potential for strengthening neural networks with carbon nanotubes. This procedure could allow brain-machine interfaces for neuroprosthetics that process sight, sound, smell and motion.
Such circuits might be used, for instance, to veto epileptic attacks before they occur, perform spinal bypasses around injuries, and repair or enhance normal cognitive functions. In the not-too-distant future, non-biological nano-neurons could enable our brains to process information much faster than today’s biological brains can.