David Kirkpatrick

August 12, 2008

Nanotubes improve brain readouts

Nanotechnology is really making strides in medicine, particularly in cancer treatment (find links to my most recent three nanotech/cancer posts here, here and here)

This breakthrough is a little different and involves coating metal neural electrodes with carbon nanotubes.

Here’s an excerpt from the PhysOrg.com article:

Keefer compared the improvement in nanotube-coated electrodes over standard electrodes to the difference between watching your favorite show on a 13-inch black-and-white television with a broken antenna or a brand-new 60-inch, high-definition, satellite-fed model.

“For an electrophysiologist, that is the difference the nanotube-coated electrodes make in what we can see on our oscilloscopes,” he said.

The electrodes they tested were commercial varieties made of tungsten and stainless steel wire, which are thin and sharp. In two animal samples—the motor cortex of rats under anaesthesia and the visual cortex of awake rhesus macaque monkeys—the group took readouts with a nanotube-coated electrode and a non-coated electrode, and compared the results.

In both cases, the coated electrodes produced much better readings. The performance was further enhanced when the group used a coating made of a combination of carbon nanotubes and a conducting polymer material.

Additionally, scanning electron microscope images showed that the coating on the electrodes used for the monkeys had not been damaged by the tough outer brain layer, called the dura mater.

Besides performance, the coated electrodes have other advantages. Scientists have already documented the properties and performance of metal-coated electrodes used in other applications, such as electronics, and nanotubes appear to be nicely biocompatible. For example, scientists have had success using carbon nanotube substrates as supports for the growth of neurons.

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