By harnessing quantum dots–tiny light-emitting semiconductor particles a few billionths of a meter across–researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have developed a new and vastly more targeted way to stimulate neurons in the brain. Being able to switch neurons on and off and monitor how they communicate with one another is crucial for understanding–and, ultimately, treating–a host of brain disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and even psychiatric disorders such as severe depression.
Stimulating cells by using light is a non-invasive technique that provides flexibility in probing different locations while minimizing unintended effects on the system. We propose a new way to make cells photosensitive without using genetic or chemical manipulation, which alters natural cells, in conjunction with Quantum Dots (QDs). Remote switching of cellular activity by optical QD excitation is demonstrated by integrating QDs with cells: CdTe QD films with prostate cancer (LnCap) cells, and CdSe QD films and probes with cortical neurons. Changes in membrane potential and ionic currents are recorded by using the patch-clamp method. Upon excitation, the ion channels in the cell membrane were activated, resulting in hyperpolarization or depolarization of the cell.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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