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Chips that mimic neurons could help in the fight against chronic diseases

by Shawn Gupta

A recent breakthrough in the fight against chronic diseases was made on December 3rd, 2019, when a study was published on the development of artificial neurons. This was the first time in which the electrical properties of biological neurons were successfully replicated on a chip. This study was published in the Nature Communications journal, and the authors of this study were from the University of Bath in England. 

The researchers first derived equations that describe how neurons respond to electrical stimuli from other nerves (bundles of neurons). They then used the parameters of these equations to build silicon chips which accurately modeled the electrical properties of biological neurons. Finally, they found that their chips precisely responded the same as living neurons to a wide range of stimulations. The type of neurons that the researchers were successfully able to replicate were the respiratory neurons and hippocampal neurons from rats. 

Previous attempts at developing artificial neurons involved the use of microprocessors. This team was able to develop artificial neurons that only need 140 nW (nanowatts), a billionth of the power a microprocessor needs to operate. Therefore the power these chips use makes these chips ideal to be used as electronic implants to treat chronic diseases. 

The development of this chip can make a huge difference in the fight against diseases. As a result of this chip responding to electrical signals just like real neurons do, researchers believe these chips could cure chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

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