Scientists have found a way to attach artificial neurons onto silicon chips which they believe could be used to help cure a number of chronic diseases.
The artificial neurons have been developed to mimic the neurons in our nervous system, crucially copying their electrical properties.
Making artificial neurons that respond to electrical signals from the nervous system has been a long-time goal in medicine but it is challenging because of complex biology and difficulty in predicting the way neurons respond.
Researchers hope their work could be used in medical implants to treat conditions such as heart failure and Alzheimer’s as it requires so little power – only about one billionth the power required for a microprocessor.
“Until now neurons have been like black boxes, but we have managed to open the black box and peer inside,” said Professor Alain Nogaret, from the University of Bath, who led the project.
“Our work is paradigm-changing because it provides a robust method to reproduce the electrical properties of real neurons in minute detail.
“But it’s wider than that, because our neurons only need 140 nanowatts of power.
“That’s a billionth the power requirement of a microprocessor, which other attempts to make synthetic neurons have used.
“This makes the neurons well suited for bio-electronic implants to treat chronic diseases.”
The research – carried out in collaboration with Universities of Bristol, Zurich and Auckland – is published in the Nature Communications journal.