SAN JOSE, Calif. The IMEC research center in Leuven, Belgium, has developed a chip with microscopic nails that can interface with an individual heart or nerve cell. The device is geared for in vitro medical research and is ready for mass production, IMEC said.
Each micro-nail structure in the IMEC chip contains an electrode that can record and trigger real-time electrical activity of an individual heart or nerve cell. The nails are made from a metal stem covered with an oxide layer and a conductive gold or titanium nitride tip.
Cell membranes engulf the nail structures as part of a typical biological response when they are applied to the device. The close contact improves the signal-to-interference ratio enabling recording of electrical signals and electrical stimulation of single cells.
Information about the electrical behavior of individual cells and their reactions to drugs is a major focus for research in cardiac and neural ailments such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. IMEC demonstrated work on the current chip in October.
To make the device effective, IMEC researchers had to overcome several hurdles. They found ways to keep cells alive on the chip surface. They also had to combine the wet cell solution with the electronics underneath without destroying the electronics.
In addition, IMEC found ways to guide cell growth so that the cell body is on top of one individual electrode.
"Now we have a unique instrument to record and interpret the signals of the neurons," said Wolfgang Eberle, manager of IMEC's bioelectronic systems group. "We can also stimulate neurons and follow up the consequences to unravel the functioning of our brain," he said