Current therapies for neurological disorders are based on traditional medication and electric stimulation. Here, we present an organic electronic biomimetic neuron, with the capacity to precisely intervene with the underlying malfunctioning signalling pathway using endogenous substances. The fundamental function of neurons, defined as chemical-to-electrical-to-chemical signal transduction, is achieved by connecting enzyme-based amperometric biosensors and organic electronic ion pumps. Selective biosensors transduce chemical signals into an electric current, which regulates electrophoretic delivery of chemical substances without necessitating liquid flow. Biosensors detected neurotransmitters in physiologically relevant ranges of 5–80 µM, showing linear response above 20 µm with approx. 0.1 nA/µM slope. When exceeding defined threshold concentrations, biosensor output signals, connected via custom hardware/software, activated local or distant neurotransmitter delivery from the organic electronic ion pump. Changes of 20 µM glutamate or acetylcholine triggered diffusive delivery of acetylcholine, which activated cells via receptor-mediated signalling. This was observed in real-time by single-cell ratiometric Ca2+ imaging. The results demonstrate the potential of the organic electronic biomimetic neuron in therapies involving long-range neuronal signalling by mimicking the function of projection neurons. Alternatively, conversion of glutamate-induced descending neuromuscular signals into acetylcholine-mediated muscular activation signals may be obtained, applicable for bridging injured sites and active prosthetics.
If the above reads like the long lost Sumerian language, no worries: the upshot of the article is that the basic function of neurons (chemical-to-electrical-to-chemical signal transduction) can now be achieved achieved by hooking up (man-made) enzyme-based amperometric biosensors with organic electronic ion pumps.
This, according to the research paper, plainly demonstrates the potential of the organic electronic biomimetic neuron in therapies.
The researchers intend to use the technology to complement or replace traditional electrical stimulation with the man-made neuron-lite chemical signals in treatment of neurologial disorders.
One of the papers’ authors, Agneta Richer-Dahlfors, says “Next, we would like to miniaturize this device to enable implantation into the human body.”
So, yeah – we’re possibly looking at one of the first steps toward becoming the Borg.