How Scientists Could Watch Brain Chemicals Through The Skull

One team is trying to develop a non-invasive way of tracking neurotransmitters as they move through a living brain.

Neurons

Nick Kaloterakis

Researchers have discovered a way to see chemicals at work behind bone. In the future, they hope to develop their technique as a way of watching chemical messages as they blip through the brain, underneath the skull.

The work is still preliminary. So far, the researchers have tested their method in… a cut of lamb shoulder. A team of chemists and bioengineers from Northwestern University injected chemically modified gold nanoparticles inside their raw lamb meat, then shined laser light at the bone on the other side of the injection. Using Raman spectroscopy methods, the scientists found they could detect the gold through the bone, Chemical & Engineering News reports.

If this technique does work in living brains, scientists would have to get the gold particles to attach to the brain chemicals they want to study. That way, when the laser detects the gold particles, it would be detecting the brain chemical, too. The Northwestern team plans to try to attach the neurotransmitter dopamine to their nanogold, Chemical & Engineering News reports.

Another important consideration? Making sure such injections are safe for the living creatures that will get them, whether lab animals or people.