The Inquirer-Home

Microchips can detect nerve regrowth chemicals

Semiconductors to fight paralysis
Wed Oct 13 2010, 17:44
boffin-watch

REGROWING NERVES could be possible thanks to microchip technology that identifies drugs that can do the job.

Boffins at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology used the new technology to rapidly perform laser surgery, deliver the drugs and image the resulting neuron regrowth in thousands of live animals. Using this technique researchers have already identified one promising class of neuron regenerators.

But when they say animals they mean worms, not fluffy bunnies. If fluffy bunnies were lasered and drugged and tested for nerve regrowth perhaps with a small hammer strike to the knee, the mammalist animal rights lobby would be up in arms already.

Instead this ignored worm hell involves testing drugs on the species C. elegans, which is often used in studies of the nervous system apparently. This is because some human nervous systems are apparently as simplistic as those of worms, or they just have them.

Rather like semiconductors and the world of humans, the strengths of this microchip technology for live worm vivisection lie in productivity.

With the technology the tiny worms can be moved rapidly from their warm and cosy "incubation wells," or jails as we call them, to an imaging microchip. But how it images we have no idea. On the magical imaging chip the terrified worms are immobilized somehow and laser surgery is performed on their neurons and axons and other bits of their nervous system. It is all too horrifying to contemplate.

This all takes only about 20 seconds, meaning that by the time you have read this article a couple of dozen worms have been experimented on. Perhaps needlessly if the drugs didn't work.

But the upside is that this productivity can see huge numbers of different drugs tested for their effectiveness in regrowing nerves. The ultimate outcome of which might be people paralysed by nerve damage being able to move and walk again. But will the worms' sacrifice be remembered? µ

 

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