Broken neuronal connections are the cause of paralysis, organ failure, and other serious conditions. There have been attempts to bypass such injuries, with limited success, but now researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada have developed a technique that uses lasers to essentially weld neurons together. There’s still a ways to go in using the technology in clinical applications, but the breakthrough is certainly very promising for treating chronic disabilities and various debilitating conditions.
The laboratory work involved placing pairs of neurons in a solution that keeps them separated from each other. Then the neuronal axon and soma of the two neurons were pushed against each other as femtosecond laser pulses were fired at the site. The laser raised the temperature of the neurons to their melting point, which caused the neurons to fuse and form a common membrane.
Because the laser purses were so short, they did not heat up the interior of the neurons enough to cause visible damage. The researchers tried the technique on three different cell types, demonstrating the applicability of it in different applications. Because the new method can be used to precisely target the exact location where fusion is to take place, researchers now have a powerful tool for lab use, which we hope they will be able to soon transfer into clinical practice.
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