|Posted on March 22, 2016 at 4:30 PM|
Since its discovery in 2004, graphene has intrigued us because of its extraordinary properties It is a million times thinner than a human hair, has great tensile strength and impressive electronic properties. These qualities can be employed to make our computers faster, batteries more powerful and solar cells more efficient. But Laura Ballerini, a professor of Physiology at the University of Trieste, Italy, and her post-doc., Alessandra Fabbro, are using graphene in a totally unique way. (Fabbro A., et. al. ‘Graphene-Based Interfaces do not Alter Target Nerve Cells.’ ACS Nano (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b05647 - See more here.) In collaboration with U.K.’s Cambridge Graphene Center, her group recently showed that pristine graphene-based materials – produced using common synthesis methods like liquid phase exfoliation (LPE) or ball milling (BM) -- can be used to stick to nerve cells without hurting them and providing electrodes that could restore sensory function to amputees and those with Parkinson’s disease.
(At nanoscience school in Cape Town together with other famous female scientists (from left: Laura Ballerini, Silvia Onesti, Loredana Casalis and Viola Voegel).
Ballerini said of this work: "For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly. We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties, unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials."
(During a photo shoot in the lab by Fabrizio Giraldi (a photographer) this picture is taken from backstage by one of her students.)
In addition to the obvious advantages of excellent conductivity and flexibility that this 2-D material provides, it is highly receptive to neurons’ electrical impulses and is biocompatible with minimal cytotoxic effects. This has opened new avenues for scientist all over the world to play around with different forms of graphene in order to develop highly specialized bio-devices that can be directly implanted inside a human brain. These devices offer promise to help cure neurological disorders like epilepsy or Parkinson's disease. Read more here.
(Credit: Modified by Susanna Bosi from image licensed from ktdesign/shutterstock.com).
Prof. Ballerini holds a joint appointment as full professor of Physiology from SISSA-ISAS (the Biophysics Sector of the International School for Advanced Studies) and the University of Trieste. Alessandra Fabbro’s batchelor’s degree was in biological sciences from the University of Trieste, Italy and a PhD in neuroscience from the International School for Advanced Studies in 2006. She was a post-doc with Prof. D. Peitrobon at the University of Padova, Italy, studying neurotransmission in cortical neurons of mice to understand a rare form of migraine. Since 2009, Alessandra has been working with Prof. Ballerini as a post-doc to study the bio-compatibility of carbon nanotubes and graphene with human neuronal cells.
- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy
(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Laura Ballerini.)