Researchers at Infineon Technologies and the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry have connected a biosensor chip with living nerve cells and read the electrical signals produced by the cells.
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The "neuro chip" development is the focus of a paper that Infineon presented yesterday at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco. The research findings included the first report on measurements of electrical signals from live neurons.
Researchers at Infineon and the Max Planck Institute have recorded signals from the neurons of snail brains.
Infineon developed the technology as a "scientific tool" for researchers to investigate the biologic function of neurons, nerve tissue and organic neural networks.
The neuro chip measures 5mm by 6mm, including the circuitry required to amplify and process the neuron signals and transmit the data. It is based on a standard complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology.
In the area of drug development, the neuro chip will, ultimately, enable scientists to test the effects of pharmaceutical compounds on living neurons.
Using the Infineon technology, scientists can place individual neurons into a nutrient solution above the sensor array, keeping the neurons alive and allowing nerve tissue reconstruction. Research based on neuro chips will allow undisturbed observation of nerve tissue over an extended period, allowing scientists to observe how the nervous system and brain learn, process and store this knowledge.
Instead of sequentially checking every neuron, the neuro chip surveys several neurons at the same time, making more statistically relevant data available.
The chip allows recording of the operating sequence of electrical activity within nerve tissue over a defined time. The chip can record more than 2,000 single values per second for each of its 16,384 sensors. This data can then be turned into a colour picture for visual analysis. Researchers can detect from such data how complete nerve tissues react to electrical stimulation or certain chemical substances over time.