The research team of the CResPace project has recently announced a futuristic and ground-breaking achievement in the field of bio-electronics. For the first time, brain cells have been accurately reproduced in a silicon chip, opening new avenues for the treatment of several severe conditions, such as heart failures and degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer.
A historic result in the field of bio-electronic medicine has been achieved by CResPace, a Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Proactive project, now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot. A team of the University of Bath (UK), has coordinated a multidisciplinary consortium of six universities from UK, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands and Czech Republic, with the presence of two industrial partners.
A recent publication on Nature Communications has unveiled the massive breakthrough: for the first time the electrical properties of neurons have been successfully reproduced in a bionic silicon chip that can mimic the behaviour of biological neurons. This responsive microchip could be implanted in patients suffering conditions in which neurons are not working properly, such as heart failures or degenerative diseases.
Alain Nogaret, from the University of Bath, has commented enthusiastically the achievement:
Until now neurons have been like black boxes, but we have managed to open the black box and peer inside. Our work is paradigm changing because it provides a robust method to reproduce the electrical properties of real neurons in minute detail.
The discover is particularly disruptive because the researchers have managed to model with high certainty the parameters that control the hugely complex and unpredictable behaviour of neurons in their non-linear responses to electrical stimuli. A condition like heart failure, for instance, is the result of a malfunctioning communication between the neurons in the brain and the nervous system feedback of the heart, which does not receive the right signals, and thus starts pumping incorrectly.
Designing a silicon-based solution has been a huge challenge, not only for the complexity of the neurons’ behaviour, but also for the hurdles of developing a micro-chip that requires only a little amount of power. This latter obstacle has been overtaken by opting for an analogue device, which only consumes one-billionth the power of a digital microprocessor.
The result has quickly received large media exposure in the first days after the publication of the article, with 477 pieces of coverage across radio, online and print. UK outlets such as BBC News, Financial Times, The Times, The Guardian, Telegraph, Mail Online, Independent and Express have reported the story, as well as many other national papers worldwide (in Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Russian, Hungarian and French) and specialist science outlets including The Engineer, IFL Science & MIT Technology Review.
The achievement of CResPace is the evidence of what the support to fundamental research can generate, both for the competitiveness of Europe and for all European Citizens. As put by Alain Nogaret: “The commitment of the FET program to support ambitious visionary research over the long term has been critical to developing the fundamental science and inter-disciplinary cross-fertilisation that are now putting European research at the forefront in providing much needed therapies for chronic disease”.