Researchers in Glasgow are taking part in a major project to test whether inserting tiny magnets into the brain could offer new way of treating neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.
The cross-Europe collaboration is setting out to develop microscopic injectable magnets which they believe could help restore function to damaged neurons through a form of deep brain stimulation.
Scientists involved in the four-year BRAINSTORM project hope that their research could treat, or even cure, conditions like depression, panic attacks, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
The first phase will see them develop nanoscale-size magnets – nearly a third of the width of a human hair – which can then be injected into rodents’ bloodstreams.
In a pre-clinical study, these magnets would then be controlled using external magnets to deliver neurostimulation to specific neurons in the mice brains.
Neurostimulation, which uses electrical currents or magnetic fields to modulate the activity of nerves or neural circuits, is already in use to treat a variety of brain-related conditions, often accompanied by surgeries to implant the electrodes which deliver the treatments.
Researchers from Glasgow University will partner with colleagues from Germany, Italy, Spain and Finland for the project, which is supported by €3 million (£2.57m) from the European Innovation Council’s Pathfinder program.
The Pathfinder program provides funding for researchers to develop emerging breakthrough technologies.
Hadi Heidari, Professor of Nanoelectronics at the James Watt School of Engineering, is leading the Glasgow University team.
He and his team at the School’s Microelectronics Lab will develop a wearable helmet-like device that will use magnets to control the positioning of nanomaterials, enabling neuromodulation treatments to be precisely targeted in the brain.
He said: “Neuromodulation is a treatment that has shown a great deal of potential for treating many conditions.
“However, our present methods of delivering neuromodulation can require invasive surgeries to implant electrodes, which can be expensive, painful and expose patients to an increased risk of infection.
“BRAINSTORM is an exciting new opportunity to rethink how wireless neuromodulation is delivered.
“It builds on recent advances in magnetic coil nanofabrication, materials science and medicine to allow us to find new ways to precisely ‘switch on’ or ‘switch off’ neuronal activity for therapeutic effects.
“I’m pleased to be working with my colleagues across Europe on this research, and I’m looking forward to developing some of the key technologies which will help patients benefit from new treatments in the years to come.”
BRAINSTORM is led by Professor Danijela Gregurec of the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany.
Researchers from CIC biomaGUNE in Spain, Tor Vergata University in Italy, and the University of Helsinki in Finland are contributing to the project along with the University of Glasgow.
Source: heraldscotland.com, Helen McArdle