MAR 16, 2015 9:40 PM PDT

Magnetic Brain Stimulation

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
Researchers at MIT have developed a method to stimulate brain tissue using external magnetic fields and injected magnetic nanoparticles - a technique allowing direct stimulation of neurons, which could be an effective treatment for a variety of neurological diseases, without the need for implants or external connections.

The research, conducted by Polina Anikeeva, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, graduate student Ritchie Chen, and three others, has been published in the journal Science.

Previous efforts to stimulate the brain using pulses of electricity have proven effective in reducing or eliminating tremors associated with Parkinson's disease, but the treatment has remained a last resort because it requires highly invasive implanted wires that connect to a power source outside the brain.

"In the future, our technique may provide an implant-free means to provide brain stimulation and mapping," Anikeeva said.

In their study, the team injected magnetic iron oxide particles just 22 nanometers in diameter into the brain. When exposed to an external alternating magnetic field - which can penetrate deep inside biological tissues - these particles rapidly heat up.

The resulting local temperature increase can then lead to neural activation by triggering heat-sensitive capsaicin receptors - the same proteins that the body uses to detect both actual heat and the "heat" of spicy foods. (Capsaicin is the chemical that gives hot peppers their searing taste.) Anikeeva's team used viral gene delivery to induce the sensitivity to heat in selected neurons in the brain.

The particles, which have virtually no interaction with biological tissues except when heated, tend to remain where they're placed, allowing for long-term treatment without the need for further invasive procedures.

"The nanoparticles integrate into the tissue and remain largely intact," Anikeeva said. "Then, that region can be stimulated at will by externally applying an alternating magnetic field. The goal for us was to figure out whether we could deliver stimuli to the nervous system in a wireless and noninvasive way."

The new work has proven that the approach is feasible, but much work remains to turn this proof-of-concept into a practical method for brain research or clinical treatment.

The use of magnetic fields and injected particles has been an active area of cancer research; the thought is that this approach could destroy cancer cells by heating them. "The new technique is derived, in part, from that research," Anikeeva said. "By calibrating the delivered thermal dosage, we can excite neurons without killing them. The magnetic nanoparticles also have been used for decades as contrast agents in MRI scans, so they are considered relatively safe in the human body."

The team developed ways to make the particles with precisely controlled sizes and shapes, in order to maximize their interaction with the applied alternating magnetic field. They also developed devices to deliver the applied magnetic field: Existing devices for cancer treatment - intended to produce much more intense heating - were far too big and energy-inefficient for this application.

The next step toward making this a practical technology for clinical use in humans "is to understand better how our method works through neural recordings and behavioral experiments, and assess whether there are any other side effects to tissues in the affected area," Anikeeva said.

This is "a completely novel approach for deep-brain stimulation," said Bianxiao Cui, an assistant professor of chemistry at Stanford University who was not involved in this research. "The new method is significant in that it is relatively more easily administered and induces less brain-tissue responses as compared with electrode implantation. More importantly, the stimulation could be remotely controlled, a highly appealing feature for deep-brain stimulation."

Source: MIT
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
NOV 23, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 23, 2019
Drug Seeks To Target Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy
Ever imagined a world where you cannot shower alone, drive by yourself, and even go to work in fear of having the next seizure that can incapacitate you? U...
DEC 31, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 31, 2019
How PTSD Develops in the Mind
Close 1 in 4 people who experience severe trauma develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now, a recent study has identified how these traumatic expe...
JAN 14, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
JAN 14, 2020
New Links Between Cannabis, Anxiety, and Stress
A delicate balance of signaling in the endocannabinoid system could be responsible for anxiety symptoms as a result of stress. At least for mice. A new stu...
JAN 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 17, 2020
Soybean Oil Found to Change Gene Expression in the Brain
Soybean oil is used for frying and for making foods like margarine and salad dressing. It's the most commonly produced and consumed edible oil in the US....
JAN 21, 2020
Health & Medicine
JAN 21, 2020
Another Study Links Aluminum Exposure to Alzheimer's Disease
A new study, published earlier this week in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, supports a 40-year theory suggesting an association between human exp...
FEB 26, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 26, 2020
Optogenetic Techniques Provide Insight Into ALS
In humans, motor neurons link thoughts with the motion of the body. Now researchers have learned more about how they are impacted by ALS....
Loading Comments...