European Project Seeks to Develop Implantable Nanodevices for the Brain to Treat Parkinson’s and Epilepsy

European Project Seeks to Develop Implantable Nanodevices for the Brain to Treat Parkinson’s and Epilepsy
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A three-year project in Europe seeks to develop nanodevices that could be used as brain implants to treat neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

The European Commission is funding the 3-million euro ($3.3-million) project, called Ion Neuromodulation for Epilepsy Treatment (IN-FET), which aims to create new implantable devices to fundamentally modulate the brain’s electrical activity.

Launched last month, the project, led by Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA), zeroes in on ions such as magnesium, potassium and calcium — nerve cell communication messengers.

“Today’s cutting-edge experimental therapies for restoring or repairing brain functions in neural disorders often involve modulating or silencing hyperactive brain circuits,” said Michele Giugliano, director of SISSA’s Neuronal Dynamics Lab, in a press release.

“This can be done by pharmacological or genetic manipulations, or by delivering electrical, magnetic or optical stimuli to the brain. All of them, however, come with serious drawbacks, due to the unnatural means to regulate the activity of nerve cells. Our idea is to use what the brain normally uses to function: ions.”

The plan is to develop implantable devices to alter the concentration of the most common ions on a cellular scale. The hope is that such devices will be able to measure neuronal electrical activity and, if necessary, correct it.

Led by Trieste, Italy-based SISSA, the project is undergirded by advancements in new-generation electronic batteries that use highly efficient electro-activated polymers. In this application — for patients with Parkinson’s or epilepsy — polymers would be used like “molecular machines” to trap or release certain ions into areas enveloping neurons.

“This way we could work on neurons activity by means of their own language, the one they normally use to communicate,” Giugliano said. “With this method, we could treat neurological diseases through a very natural means, which could be much more effective. Compared to the approaches currently used to study and treat neurological diseases, it is a change of perspective.”

By testing the devices on nerve cells in vitro (in a test tube or culture dish), the IN-FET project will attempt to learn whether the perspective is correct.

University of Sheffield and IBM Research scientists will develop the molecular devices, while the University of Geneva and the Inter-University Consortium For Nanoelectronics will build supportive theoretical models. Multi Channel Systems will handle integration and electronic interfacing.

“We are trying to open a truly new road towards a world waiting to be discovered,” Giugliano said. “We will work hard to achieve this, ready to be amazed.”

Nearly one million people are thought to have Parkinson’s in the United States.

Mary M. Chapman began her professional career at United Press International, running both print and broadcast desks. She then became a Michigan correspondent for what is now Bloomberg BNA, where she mainly covered the automotive industry plus legal, tax and regulatory issues. A member of the Automotive Press Association and one of a relatively small number of women on the car beat, Chapman has discussed the automotive industry multiple times of National Public Radio, and in 2014 was selected as an honorary judge at the prestigious Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance. She has written for numerous national outlets including Time, People, Al-Jazeera America, Fortune, Daily Beast, MSN.com, Newsweek, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. The winner of the Society of Professional Journalists award for outstanding reporting, Chapman has had dozens of articles in The New York Times, including two on the coveted front page. She has completed a manuscript about centenarian car enthusiast Margaret Dunning, titled “Belle of the Concours.”
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Ana holds a PhD in Immunology from the University of Lisbon and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Instituto de Medicina Molecular (iMM) in Lisbon, Portugal. She graduated with a BSc in Genetics from the University of Newcastle and received a Masters in Biomolecular Archaeology from the University of Manchester, England. After leaving the lab to pursue a career in Science Communication, she served as the Director of Science Communication at iMM.
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Mary M. Chapman began her professional career at United Press International, running both print and broadcast desks. She then became a Michigan correspondent for what is now Bloomberg BNA, where she mainly covered the automotive industry plus legal, tax and regulatory issues. A member of the Automotive Press Association and one of a relatively small number of women on the car beat, Chapman has discussed the automotive industry multiple times of National Public Radio, and in 2014 was selected as an honorary judge at the prestigious Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance. She has written for numerous national outlets including Time, People, Al-Jazeera America, Fortune, Daily Beast, MSN.com, Newsweek, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. The winner of the Society of Professional Journalists award for outstanding reporting, Chapman has had dozens of articles in The New York Times, including two on the coveted front page. She has completed a manuscript about centenarian car enthusiast Margaret Dunning, titled “Belle of the Concours.”
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