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Towards new generations of neuro-implantable devices: engineering NEUROns/carbon NANOtubes integrated functional units

Final Report Summary - NEURONANO (Towards new generations of neuro-implantable devices: engineering NEUROns/carbon NANOtubes integrated functional units)

The NEURONANO project proposed to integrate Carbon nanotubes (CNT) with Multi-electrode array (MEA) technology to develop new generation biochips to help repair damaged Central nervous system (CNS) tissues. The project's approach was to push ahead the application and functionalisation of CNT in the CNS by focusing on CNT chemistry, peptide and surface chemistry and two complex networks in cultures: the brain (hippocampus and neocortex networks) and the spinal cord (locomotor networks). The project was specifically interested in understanding how the components underlying electrical activity were organised when implemented with conductive nano-substrates, and how this organisation changes in the presence of molecular cues or chronic stimulations.

The development of the NEURONANO project has driven to an unprecedented extent, our awareness of the crucial role, in modern nanotechnology applications to biological systems, of the interactions of cognition, language and decision making in the NEURONANO partners, individuals and organisations, and of the central role of the evolution of language when converging technologies have to meet supra-disciplinarity.

The major outcomes of the NEURONANO are scientific and technological (S&T) and include:
- the discovery of CNT ability in (re)engineering neuronal integrative properties at the single cell level;
- CNT exploitation as nanotools to endogenously (re)engineer network connectivity;
- the assessment of MEA devices after non specific and specific patterning of CNT.

Basic neurobiology (physiology) research increasingly applies novel approaches to the study of brain functions by bringing together tools from computational neuroscience, information theory, electronics, electrophysiology, biomaterials, nanotechnologies and tissue engineering, towards understanding, repairing, replacing, enhancing, and exploiting the electrical properties of the nervous system. More recently, major efforts in the field gave rise to neuro-hybrid systems for basic neurobiological research, for high throughput pharmacological screenings, for the construction of 'hybrid computers' and future use to link brain and computers. The interactions between neural tissues and external devices provide a fundamental means for investigating the connectivity and the dynamical properties of neurons.

Ultimately, with the final NEURONANO outcomes, the potential of neuro-hybrid endeavour includes the challenge of using an artificial submicroscopic man-designed device to cooperate to neuronal network activity, generating hybrid structures able to cross the barriers between artificial devices and neurons. To put it in words said by Edoardo Boncinelli (genetist, founding figure in developmental biology, scientific divulgator and 2005 EMBO Awardee for Communication in the Life Sciences) hybrids able of knocking down the barriers between natural and artificial, 'a fantastic crossing between biological evolution and cultural evolution, a shortcut between culture and nature'.