Hope for a new treatment
Scientists have invented an imaginative new technique in their quest to map components of the brain to specific movements and behaviors. This technique is the use of magnetic pulses to regulate the movements of genetically-engineered mice. The technique is termed magneto-thermal stimulation. With it, scientists can force the mice to move, turn round, even lose management of their limbs. In some unspecified time in the future, they hope their remote-mice experiments can unlock a cure for brain disorders like Parkinson’s.
The team at the University of Buffalo, led by Arnd Palle, used magnetic pulses to stimulate specific brain cells by warming them. First, the mice were genetically prepared. Unique polymer strands were inserted into certain neurons, manufacturing a heat-activated particle channel in them.
Next, the Buffalo researchers arranged a fragile skin of magnetic nanoparticles on these same neurons. The nanoparticles were created with a core of cobalt-ferrite and an outer shell of the manganese-ferrite. Applying an alternating field of force switched the nano particles’ magnetization, causing them to heat up, gap the particle channels, and successively activate the neurons.
How the mice reacted
Palle’s team tested their technique on three completely different components of the eutherian mammal brain. They could target groups of brain cells that measured one hundred micrometers across. They found that by stimulating the cells within the motor region, the mice would run. Firing magnetic pulses at the basal ganglion would make the mice turn. And if they sent the pulses deeper into the brain, the mice would freeze, unable to use their limbs.
The future regarding Parkinson’s
It might appear to be the researchers were enjoying games at the expense of the mice. However, the results, printed in Elife, may in some unspecified time in the future cause a cure for Parkinson’s, and this sickness that isn’t a joke to the millions in the world that have it. To treat brain diseases like Parkinson’s, it’s necessary that scientists learn the way different components of the brain communicate.
This means mapping the brain, and discovering what sets of neurons are responsible for which emotions and behaviors. Parkinson’s affects specific sets of neurons. Other brain disorders that target specific neurons are peripheral dysfunction and brain disease. The analysis undertaken by Palle and his team might in some unspecified time in the future find a cure for these diseases as well.
Other nanoparticle-based techniques that stimulate the brain use more invasive means. For example, patients with Parkinson’s are usually treated by deep brain stimulation, and DBS involves implanting wire electrodes. These provide a little but continuous current into deep structures of the brain.
Optogenetics is another in-style technique for new neurons, using light instead of magnetism. But for optogenetics to work, small fiber-optic cables likewise need to be planted deep inside.
Magneto-thermal stimulation operates remotely and is way less invasive than any other method. No brain injury was detected in any of the mice used in the study. Magneto-thermal stimulation offers Science a real hope in the future of understanding how the brain works on a cell by cell basis.
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