Engineers Have Found a Way to Weld Neurons

Connecting neurons with laser pulses could lead to advances in repairing nervous system damage.

Engineering researchers have successfully connected neurons for the first time ever. This could lead to new approaches in repairing damaged nervous tissue, which is normally irreversible.

The researchers placed two neurons in a special solution to prevent them from sticking together and brought them into contact with one another. Femtosecond laser pulses, occurring every 10-15 seconds, were then delivered to the point of contact.

Anatomy of a typical neuron.

Anatomy of a typical neuron.

Although the outer layer of the cells was partially damaged, the inside of the protective layer remained intact. As a result, the two cells maintained solid bonds forming a common membrane at the targeted area.

The time needed to create the connection between the neurons was only 15 milliseconds, a process that takes hours to occur naturally. Repeated experiments showed positive results: the cells remained viable and their connection appeared strong.

“You may not be able to go in and treat the human spine with this, but it brings you closer,” said electrical engineering professor Abdul Elezzabi from the University of Alberta.

More specifically, femtosecond lasers could be used for research and treatment of prostate, brain and ocular cancers.

This is only the beginning and there is potential for testing the myriad of cells existing in the human body.

UAlberta electrical engineering Ph.D. student Nir Katchinskiy led a research project that was able to

University of Alberta electrical engineering Ph.D. student Nir Katchinskiy led a research project that was able to “weld” neurons together using a femtosecond laser. (Image courtesy of University of Alberta Engineering.)

“The immediate application is for researchers,” said Nir Katchinskiy, a PhD student in electrical engineering. “They finally have a new tool to do what they have not been able to do before.”

The research is published under the title “Novel Method for Neuronal Nanosurgical Connection” in Scientific Reports.