New York: US researchers have created tiny micro tubes that could be implanted like stents to promote neuron regrowth at injury sites or to treat disease.
These thin micro tubes could provide a scaffold for neuron cultures to grow which can help researchers study neural networks, their growth and repair - yielding insights into treatment for degenerative neurological conditions or restoring nerve connections after injury.
"This is a powerful 3D platform for neuron culture. We can guide, accelerate and measure the process of neuron growth, all at once," said Xiuling Li, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois in the US.
The biggest challenge facing researchers trying to culture neurons for study is that it is very difficult to recreate the cosy and soft, three-dimensional environment of the brain.
Other techniques have used glass plates or channels carved into hard slabs of material but the nerve cells look and behave differently than they would in the body.
The micro tubes provide a three-dimensional, pliant scaffolding - the way that the cellular matrix does in the body.
The team devised a way to mount the micro tubes on glass slides - the standard for biological cultures.
The micro tubes are transparent so researchers can watch the live neuron cells as they grow using a conventional microscope.
The micro tubes not only provide structure for the neural network but also accelerate the nerve cells' growth.
"And time is crucial for restoring severed connections in the case of spinal cord injury or limb reattachment," said professor Justin Williams from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
For Li's group, the next step is to put electrodes in the micro tubes so researchers can measure the electrical signals that the nerves conduct.
The team published the results in the journal ACS Nano.