University of Calgary Neuro Chip Offers Hope for Treating Neurological Disease

Could lead to personalized medication for people with epilepsy and Parkinson's

neuro chip
Researchers place a sample of brain tissue in the chip, which can record the activity of neurons for weeks at a time in great detail. (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

Scientists at the University of Calgary have developed a neuro chip that could one day be used in the treatment of Parkinson’s, epilepsy and other neurological diseases.

neuro chip
Lead author of the study, Pierre Wijdenes, is a PhD student in the University of Calgary’s Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program. (Jocelyn Boissonneault)

The “bionic hybrid neuro chip” is able to record activity in animal brain cells for long periods of time, and in much greater detail than other existing technologies, according to lead researcher Pierre Wijdenes.

That, he says, creates the opportunity to develop highly personalized medication in hard-to-treat epilepsy cases, for example.

“If you start to have seizures and you go your doctor … the doctor will try different drug combinations on you. That will work for 50 to 60 per cent of patients, but for the other ones, this medication may not work,” Wijdenes told CBC News.

In that case, one of the only options left for patients is surgery, in which the neurosurgeon would remove the part of the brain that is responsible for the seizures, he added.

“We can take a sample of this tissue and do some drug testing … right next to the O.R., and be able to test different drug compounds [and] find out the best medication that works [for this particular patient],” Wijdenes said.

“So we’re actually getting closer to personal medication in a sense.”

Wijdenes said the new chip is a “baby step” along the path to developing that kind of treatment, which could still be decades away.

Chip tricks brain cells into a relationship

The technological advancement was published in the journal Scientific Reports this month.

The chip works by mimicking the natural biological contact between brain cells, essentially tricking the brain cells into believing that they are connecting with other brain cells.

“We simulated what Mother Nature does in nature, and provided brain cells with an environment where they feel as if they are at home,” said study co-author Naweed Syed, of the university’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“This has allowed us to increase the sensitivity of our readings and help neurons build a long-term relationship with our electronic chip,” Syed added in a statement.

For now, the researchers are working on brain tissue from snails and mice.

But the increased resolution and the ability to make long-term recordings is bringing the technology a step closer to being effective in the recording of human brain cell activity, researchers said.