New technique could rewire and grow new neurons

A new technique will potentially create new neurons and allow them to reconnect in people with central nervous system damage.

A research team led by McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute has created new functional connections between neurons for the first time.

These artificial neutrons grow 60 times faster, but are identical to naturally growing neurons in the human body.

(Courtesy of: McGill University)

“It’s very exciting, because the central nervous system doesn’t regenerate”, said Montserrat Lopez in a statement, a McGill post-doctoral fellow who spent four years developing, fine-tuning and testing the new technique. “What we’ve discovered should make it possible to develop new types of surgery and therapies for those with central nervous system damage or disease.”

To make healthy neuronal connections that transmit electrical signals in the same way that naturally grown neurons do, precise manipulation and specialized instruments are needed. This amount of precision is due to the minute size of the neurons, which are 1/100th of a single hair strand. An atomic force microscope is used to stretch the transmitter part of a neuron and reconnect with the part of the neuron that acts as a receiver.

Margaret Magnesian, a neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and an author on the paper “Rapid Mechanically Controlled Rewiring of Neuronal Circuits,” says ”this technique can potentially create neurons that are several [millimetres] long, but clearly more studies will need to be done to understand whether and how these micro-manipulated connections differ from natural ones.”