Nanowerk : Nanotechnology for Neuroscience

(Nanowerk Spotlight) Notwithstanding the progress neuroscientists have made in understanding the microscale function of single neurons and the macroscale activity of the human brain – a comprehensive understanding of the brain still remains an elusive goal.

The BRAIN Initiative, launched in 2013, seeks to deepen understanding of the inner workings of the human mind and to improve how we treat, prevent, and cure disorders of the brain. Key goals of the BRAIN Initiative are:

Develop new technologies to explore how the brain’s cells and circuits interact at the speed of thought, ultimately uncovering the complex links between brain function and behavior.

Accelerate the development and application of new neurotechnologies.

Enable researchers to produce a dynamic picture of the brain functioning in real time.

Explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information.

Shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior, incorporating new theories and computational models.

Help bring safe and effective products to patients and consumers.

Over the past several years, nanoscale analysis tools and in the design and synthesis of nanomaterials have generated optical, electrical, and chemical methods that can readily be adapted for use in neuroscience and brain activity mapping.

A review paper in Advanced Functional Materials ("Nanotechnology for Neuroscience: Promising Approaches for Diagnostics, Therapeutics and Brain Activity Mapping") summarizes the basic concepts associated with neuroscience and the current journey of nanotechnology towards the study of neuron function by addressing various concerns on the significant role of nanomaterials in neuroscience and by describing the future applications of this emerging technology.

The main focus of this article is to review the implications of these recent findings and raise future research directions to develop nanoscale materials for the advancement of neuroscience applications. Nanoneuroscience is an emerging field that can greatly impact the understanding of neural circuitry and neurological treatment.


"If we are to continue to make great strides in nanoneuroscience, functional investigations of nanomaterials must be complemented with robust toxicology studies," the authors point out. "A database on the toxicity of materials that fully incorporates these findings for use in future schema must be developed. These databases should include information and data on 1) the chemical nature of the nanomaterials in complex aqueous environments; 2) the biological interactions of nanomaterials with chemical specificity; 3) the effects of various nanomaterial properties on living systems; and 4) a model for the simulation and computation of possible effects of nanomaterials in living systems across varying time and space. If we can establish such methods, it may be possible to design nanopharmaceuticals for improved research as well as quality of life."

The marriage of neuroscience and nanotechnology may provide a solution to many central nervous system disorders, from neurodevelopmental disorders to psychiatric disorders and motor and sensory disorders.

"However, challenges in nanoneuroscience are present in many forms, such as neurotoxicity; the inability to cross the blood-brain barrier; the need for greater specificity, bioavailability and short half-lives; and monitoring of disease treatment," the authors conclude their review. "The nanoneurotoxicity surrounding these nanomaterials is a barrier that must be overcome for the translation of these applications from bench-to-bedside. While the challenges associated with nanoneuroscience seem unending, they represent opportunities for future work."

"Future investment in these areas will create ever more sophisticated, increasingly functional and safer platforms for the pursuit of both scientific and clinical endeavours. In parallel, continuing progress is needed in characterizing the fundamental molecular, physiological and pathological features of the nervous system. The greater our basic knowledge of neuronal networks, the stronger the foundation upon which nanotechnology can successfully be applied. Special attention is needed to investment in the generation of safe and sustainable nanomaterials. Ultimately, if these fields are studied in tandem and measures are implemented to meet such challenges, it is only a matter of time before nanotechnology-based interventions for nervous system disorders reach the clinic."

By Michael Berger – Michael is author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:

Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,

Nanotechnology: The Future is Tiny, and

Nanoengineering: The Skills and Tools Making Technology Invisible

Copyright © Nanowerk

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