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Computer chip technology may be used to repair nerve damage

Posted on Feb. 9, 2009, 8:45 a.m. in Biotechnology Computers and Medicine Medical Microchips

Scientists at Edinburgh University have successfully developed a technique that allows neurons to grow in detailed patterns on silicon chips. According to Professor Alan Murray, head of Edinburgh University's School of Engineering and Electronics, the development may enable chips to be used to repair damaged nerve tissue or muscle fibers. "This is a small but important step on the path towards the long-term goal of many scientists and medical experts - to develop surgical implants using silicon chips. We can now make silicon chips with circuitry as well as pathways where cells can grow in the body," says Prof. Murray, who led the research.

The technique involves the printing of patterns on the surface of tiny computer chips and then dipping the chips into a patented mixture of proteins. The neurons grow along the patterns printed on the surface. The same technique was also used successfully with stem cells. Scientists hope that down the road, they will be able to grow any type of tissue on a "tailor-made pathway," which can then be implanted into the body.

According to Prof. Murray, another potential area of use is in the development of prosthetic devices. "One of the areas this could be used in is prosthetics - if we can cause cells from damaged tissues to grow where we want.  It is going towards the realms of science fiction - there is a definite Incredible Hulk feel about it."

Scientists also believe that the technique could lead to improved methods of developing new drugs and could decrease the need for animal testing. "New medicines could be tested on chips rather than in live creatures," says Prof. Murray.

News Release: Computer chips may ‘repair' nerve  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/7867724.stm February 4, 2009

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