Where the Metal Meets the Membrane
Since we launched this publication, our definition of neurotechnology
has been, the intersection of electronics and the nervous
system. Taking this in its most literal interpretation, there
can be no more ideal representation of neurotechnology than the
neural interface, the junction between synthetic device and living
tissue. And thats the topic of our two lead articles this
month (see page 1).
Warren Grills article on advances
in neural interfaces highlights some of the myriad new approaches
researchers and commercial firms are using to transmit information
between living cell and microdevice. In particular, the ability
of neural engineers to dictate where neural cells will grow and
what interconnections they will make is almost mind-numbing. Aside
from the flexibility that comes with creating designer neural
circuits, this promises to deliver a whole new class of device
with a degree of intelligence never before attained in a medical
product. And it brings to mind the admonition of Terry Hambrecht,
former head of the NIH Neural
Prosthesis Program, to go beyond normal.
The accompanying article in this issue on microfluidic
devices points up that there are even more tools and techniques
available to neural engineers than their counterparts in electronic
circuit design ever had at their disposal. Because the nervous system
functions as (or at least can be viewed as) a chemical transmission
system as well as an electrical signaling network, devices that
can transport chemicals and deliver electrical signals would seem
to have a tremendous advantage.
Although biomedical engineers have devised other forms of implantable
drug infusion devices capable of injecting chemicals into the body
on a controllable basis, the degree of specificity possible with
microfluidic/electronic hybrids is unprecedented. Its not
hard to imagine a new class of neuro device capable of injecting
small quantities of several different neurotransmitters or drugs
on demand to the precise brain regions required to treat a disorder
such as Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers disease, or depressionin
addition to electrical stimulation or neuromodulation.
And perhaps this is the greatest immediate potential benefit of
microfluidic research: the ability to attract the interest of the
pharmaceutical industryand the legions of venture capital
firms serving that industry. If these firms saw neurotechnology
as a potential delivery agent for their new drugs and drug candidates,
maybe this would help bridge the great funding gulf between neuro
devices and bio/pharma firms.
And once those new partnerships are formed, our new benefactors
might finally begin to see the value of electrical stimulation and
sensing in the central nervous system.
Editor and Publisher