In Brief
Scientists have found that graphene electrodes in the brain can conduct impulses, and they have no side effects on neurons.

Scientists have been experimenting with graphene ever since its discovery. And that’s not too surprising, as the material is rather remarkable.

Graphene, an atom-thick layer of carbon that is structured in a honeycomb pattern, has unique properties. It was the thinnest material in the world, yet it had a strength 150 times over that of steel. More interestingly, its unique structure also gives it an incredible capacity to conduct and transmit electrons up to 250 times that of silicon.

Its ability to be able transmit electrical charges across its structure led scientists to investigate whether it can be used in neurosurgery operations in tools and implants. Another important factors in whether a material is eligible for medical implants is its biocompatibility.

A biocompatible material simply means that the material will not harm any nearby tissue. But complicating things is the fact that our bodies respond to foreign objects inserted into our body. Some of the more common responses are inflammation and the build up of scar tissue around the object.

That build up of scar tissue is significant because it is able to hamper and erode the conductive properties of implants in the brain. To account for these, scientists often treat the graphene implant with another biocompatible material. Data from experiments conducted with this implant shows that signal-to-noise ratio was low (meaning that differentiating impulses sent by a neuron from that of the background is more difficult).

In a new study, published at ACSNano, scientists have found that untreated graphene electrodes were able to interface well with neurons.  By using rat brain cultures, they were able to determine that the connected neuron retained its fundamental ability of transmitting impulses and observe the transmission of the corresponding electrode. More importantly, adverse reactions that could cause the development of scar tissue did not occur.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to the researchers, they plan to investigate whether differing the layers of graphene on the implant will be able to affect the neurons and whether they can use the properties of graphene to modify excitability of neurons and its impulses.

And their research may revolutionize neurosurgery as we know it.

Most scientists use electrodes to measure electrical impulses to recover sensory functions. This can be used for a variety of purposes, such as restoring sight to a blind person or providing motor skills via robotic implants to amputees. Furthermore, by developing electrodes that can interface with the brain, scientists may soon be able to obtain data that may lead to better lives for patients suffering from electrical impulse disorders such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy.