Technology designed for aerospace could improve Parkinson's therapy

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Mariella Moon
March 27th, 2015

When Rice University chemist Matteo Pasquali set out to to create strong and conductive carbon nanotube fibers, he had aerospace applications in mind. But it turned out his microscopic fibers are also great at communicating with the brain, making them an ideal candidate for therapies that deal with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Pasquali said: "...once we [he and his team] had them in our hand, we realized that they had an unexpected property: They are really soft, much like a thread of silk. Their unique combination of strength, conductivity and softness makes them ideal for interfacing with the electrical function of the human body."

At the moment, hard metal electrodes are implanted into the brain for Parkinson's therapy (they deliver electrical signals to calm tremors), but they're not actually that compatible with the organ's soft tissues. These flexible fibers are more biocompatible -- they're also cheaper and maintain better electrical connection. Plus, the scientists' tests prove they cause little inflammation and are as stable as commercial platinum used on electrodes.

Rice U assistant professor Caleb Kemere who studies Parkinson's disease believes these fibers could lead to self-regulating treatment devices for patients. Those devices will be able to read signals from the brain, analyze the best amount of electrical stimulation needed to calm tremors on a case-by-case basis and automatically administer jolts of electricity. That's the gist of it anyway: if you want to read the team's study in greater detail, bust out your science jargon decoder and check out the paper on ACS Nano.

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