Page last updated at 00:25 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Computer chips may 'repair' nerve

Cells growing on a silicon chip
Edinburgh University has developed a technique that allows neurons to grow in fine detailed patterns on the surface of tiny computer chips

Researchers have moved closer to making silicon chips which could one day be used to repair damaged tissue in the human body.

Edinburgh University has developed a technique, which allows neurons to grow in fine, detailed patterns on the surface of tiny computer chips.

Neurons are the basic cells of the human nervous system.

The scientists said the development may eventually enable chips to replace damaged nerve or muscle fibres.

They also said the development could possibly be used in the development of prosthetics in the future.

During the chip manufacturing process, the scientists printed patterns on the smooth silicon surface.

It is going towards the realms of science fiction - there is a definite Incredible Hulk feel about it
Prof Alan Murray
Edinburgh University
The chip was then dipped in a patented mixture of proteins, and neurons grew along the patterns on the surface.

The technique also works with stem cells.

It is hoped the method will eventually enable any type of tissue to be grown on a tailor-made pathway and implanted as prosthetic tissue in the body.

Professor Alan Murray, head of Edinburgh University's School of Engineering and Electronics, who led the research, said: "This is a small but important step on the path towards the long-term goal of many scientists and medical experts - to develop surgical implants using silicon chips.

"We can now make silicon chips with circuitry as well as pathways where cells can grow in the body.

"One of the areas this could be used in is prosthetics - if we can cause cells from damaged tissues to grow where we want.

"It is going towards the realms of science fiction - there is a definite Incredible Hulk feel about it."

He added: "We also hope that, rather sooner than this, the technique will allow better methods of drug discovery and reduce the need for animal testing, as new medicines could be tested on chips rather than in live creatures."

The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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