November 9, 2009 – Original Source: New Electronics
IMEC has developed a structure featuring microscopic nails that enables close communication between the electronics and biological cells. The device, said to be mass producible and easy to use, will find application in fundamental research into brain function.
Each micronail structure, which serves as a contact point for one cell, contains an electrode that can record and trigger in real time the electrical activity of an individual electrogenic cell in a network.
Electrogenic cells such as cardiomyocytes (heart cells) or neurons (brain cells) rely on electrical signals to communicate with one another. Knowledge of the electrical activity of these cells is essential to gain insights in the communication process of these cells, to unravel the cause of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or validate the effect of drugs on cardiac cells.
“We tackled several challenges,” said Wolfgang Eberle, group manager bioelectronic systems, “such as keeping the cells alive on the chip surface; combining the wet cell solution with the electronics underneath without destroying the electronics; guiding cell growth so the cell body is just on top of one individual electrode; and bringing the cells as close as possible to the chip surface. Now, we have a unique instrument to record and interpret the signals of the neurons. We can also stimulate neurons and follow up the consequences to unravel the functioning of our brain.”
The electrodes, downsized to the size of cells, consist of nail structures made of a metal stem covered with an oxide layer and a conductive tip. When cells are applied on the chip surface, their membrane engulfs the nail structures, creating an intimate contact.