The neurons in your brain are exquisitely designed to transmit signals—as many as 1 trillion bits per second, according to some estimates. The cells use chemical neurotransmitters to pass the signal from one to the next. To treat neurological disorders, scientists have only been able to hack this signal with electric stimulation or imprecise chemical changes from medications. Now a team of Swedish researchers has developed a synthetic neuron that is able to communicate chemically with organic neurons, which could change the neural pathways and better treat neurological disorders, according to a study published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
The artificial neurons work just like the neurons in your brain right now: they detect chemical signals, transmit them electrically from one end of the “cell” to another, then release chemical neurotransmitters in response. But the artificial neurons are the size of a fingertip and made of organic bioelectronic polymers. To test their device, the researchers put one end of the artificial neuron in a petri dish with chemicals that the device could detect, then used a machine to monitor the electrical changes that it generated, then determine from there how much of a chemical signal to produce on the other end.
The researchers hope that artificial neurons like these could help repair issues of neuron signal transmission in brains impaired by disease or trauma. The researchers hope to make the device smaller in the future so that it can be implanted and tested in a real brain.