Tiny robots stitch nerves together

Science News has a report on nanoneurosurgery, using super-small, magnetically controlled machines to encourage separated neuron fibers to make new connections:

Engineers Eunhee Kim and Hongsoo Choi, both of the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, and colleagues first built rectangular robots that were 300 micrometers long. Slender horizontal grooves, about the width of nerve cells’ tendrils that exchange messages with other cells, lined the top.

These microrobots were fertile ground for rat nerve cells, the researchers found. As the cells grew, their message-sending axons and message-receiving dendrites neatly followed the robots’ lined grooves.

Once laden with about 100 nerve cells, a microrobot’s objective was to nestle between two separate islands of nerve cells, grown on glass plates, and bridge the gap.

Similar systems could also lead to new ways of studying nerve cell growth, experiments that could ultimately point to therapies for people with nerve injuries. Such precision building could also be useful in computing, allowing scientists to design and build biological computers with nerve cells.