Carbon nanotubes have a host of interesting properties. They are biocompatible and electrically conductive, so have been investigated as a possible material for growing nerve tissues. To make carbon nanotubes cooperate as desired, novel forms are required and researchers at SISSA (International School for Advanced Studies) and University of Trieste in Italy have now developed a way to cross-link carbon nanotubes into novel meshes that can serve as hosts into which living cells can be seeded for neural networks to develop.
The technology allows scientists to design the shape of the structure of the meshes and to provide appropriate space to place nerve cells. “We have discovered that the chemical process has important effects because through this treatment we can modulate the activity of neurons, in terms of growth, adhesion and survival,” said Laura Ballerini, one of the study leads. “These materials can also regulate the communication between neurons. We can say that the carpet of crosslinked carbon nanotubes interacts intensely and constructively with the nerve cells”.
The researchers noted that the denser the network of cross-links between the carbon nanotubes, the lower the activity within new neurons that grow in that region of the mesh. Therefore it should be possible to create neural tissues that have desired responses. “This is an intriguing result that emerges from the important and fruitful collaboration between our research groups involving advanced research in chemistry, nanoscience and neurobiology,” added Maurizio Prato, another lead researcher involved in the study. “This study provides a further step in the design of future biosynthetic hybrids to recover injured nerve tissue functions.”