Neurodegenerative diseases and heart disease have long been a major cause of concern for countless patients and their families across the globe. People who suffer from Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative disorders, as well as heart failure face insurmountable challenges that can, at times, be impossible to overcome.
However, hope might be on the horizon!
Artificial neurons - a new discovery that might help fight heart ailments
Source: University of Bath
An international team of scientists, led by a unit at the University of Bath in England along with other collaborators, has invented what is being called tiny "brain chips". These are basically artificial nerve cells – the first of their kind in the world – on silicon chips that will help fight chronic ailments like Alzheimer's, heart failure and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The researchers have explained that these artificial neurons could help replace the neurons that have been lost to degenerative diseases. This is primarily the case in people who use medical implants to treat conditions like heart failure and Alzheimer's.
The team successfully modeled and obtained equations to explain how neurons respond to electrical stimuli from other nerves. This is a complicated process as the responses are non-linear. Then they went on to design silicon chips that precisely imitated real, living neurons and responded to a vast series of stimulations.
The research team accurately duplicated the entire dynamics of hippocampal neurons and respiratory neurons in rats. This was performed under a broad range of stimuli.
"Until now, neurons have been like black boxes, but we have managed to open the black box and peer inside," research lead Alain Nogaret was quoted as saying to the press. "Our work is paradigm-changing because it provides a robust method to reproduce the electrical properties of real neurons in minute detail,” he added.
How will artificial neurons help fight different health conditions?
It is being said that these artificial neurons will behave like the real thing, meaning that they will replicate what nerve cells do naturally. Neurons carry nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body. The neurons in people who have dementia generally decay or die. That is where these artificial neurons could help replace those decaying neurons and potentially cure or bring some relief to those patients.
Artificial neurons will have the ability to repair the infected bio-circuits by duplicating their healthy function and responding to biological feedback to revive bodily functions.
For instance, in some cases of heart failure, the neurons in the human brain fail to respond to the feedback from the nervous system. The heart thus doesn’t receive the proper signals from the nervous system and doesn’t pump the way it should. The artificial neurons’ ability to replicate healthy functions of the bio-circuit will help in transferring feedback to the nervous system, in this case, and respond in a way as when this brain to heart connection was healthy.
The same will also apply in case of a spinal cord injury where the neurons' processes have been cut off, and the artificial neurons will be able to reconnect the neural pathways in the place of injury.
How feasible are these artificial neurons?
The researchers are now working on developing smart pacemakers which, with the help of these artificial neurons, will help in stirring the heart into action. Basically, pacemakers will use the artificial neurons to react to the immediate pressure being put on the heart.
At present, the focus of the researchers is on heart failure as they believe that this new technology will offer significant improvements in the life of heart patients.
"Beyond heart failure any neurodegenerative disease or disease of ion channels would naturally benefit from artificial neurons. Seizures, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease are diseases that come to mind and where there is a need for novel solutions in the medical community,” they added.
Interestingly, these chips require only 140 nanoWatts of power - that's only one billionth of the power of a microprocessor which makes them highly convenient for implants.
To know more about artificial neurons and how they may help heart attack patients, watch the video below.
This could be a revolutionary step in modern science and medical devices. It also opens up various horizons for people who suffer from neurological ailments and particularly those who have suffered from heart failure. Here is hoping that this would eventually genuinely help in making life easier for heart attack patients and others with degenerative diseases.