By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk
The definition of Information Society Technologies (IST) is now extending to the brain. A Eur10m pan-European research project has created a pioneering 3D brain probing system that may provide new leads for understanding schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious brain conditions.
The NEUROPROBES ('Development of multifunctional microprobe arrays for cerebral applications') project is part of the IST theme of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) and the probe can sense and activate brain cells both electronically and chemically.
"We know quite well what areas of the brain are implicated in this or that activity. We even know what relatively small regions of the brain are involved in learning and cognitive tasks, for example,' said Dr Herc Neves of the Interuniversity MicroElectronics Center in Belgium. 'But the bridge between that regional activity and activity at the cellular level is still incomplete. That's where it is important to have this kind of probing platform."Future start-up and spin-off companies are expected to manufacture the probes and keep up with international demand, apparently.
He added that one of the main uses for the system will be to provide precise diagnoses prior to brain surgery, such as in the case of a patient with epilepsy. "You have a patient that is about to be operated on, and you want to remove as little tissue as possible. By pinpointing where the seizure is generated, you remove only that tissue. It means safer, less invasive surgery," he said.
The project included:
- Interuniversity MicroElectronics Center (Belgium),
- Leuven University (Belgium),
- Philips (Belgium)
- Collège de France (France),
- Institut für Mikrosystemtechnik (Germany),
- Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Hungary),
- Parma University (Italy),
- Institut für Mikrotechnik und Informationstechnik der Hahn-Schickard-Gesellschaft (Germany),
- Micronit Microfluidics (Netherlands),
- University Miguel Hernández de Elche (Spain),
- Mälardalen University (Sweden),
- Neuchâtel University - IMT (Switzerland),
- University of Cambridge (UK), and
- Cochlear Technology Centre (UK).