With Magnetic Nanoparticles, Scientists Remotely Control Neurons and Animal Behavior (w/ Video)

Jul 06, 2010
Research on magnetic nanoparticles by UB doctoral student Heng Huang (right) and UB physics professor Arnd Pralle could lead to disease treatments that remotely manipulate proteins or cells.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Clusters of heated, magnetic nanoparticles targeted to cell membranes can remotely control ion channels, neurons and even animal behavior, according to a paper published by University at Buffalo physicists in Nature Nanotechnology.

The research could have broad application, potentially resulting in innovative cancer treatments that remotely manipulate selected proteins or cells in specific tissues, or improved diabetes therapies that remotely stimulate to release insulin.

The work also could be applied to the development of new therapies for some neurological disorders, which result from insufficient neuro-stimulation.

"By developing a method that allows us to use magnetic fields to stimulate cells both in vitro and in vivo, this research will help us unravel the signaling networks that control animal behavior," says Arnd Pralle, PhD, assistant professor of physics in the UB College of Arts and Sciences and senior/corresponding author on the paper.

The UB researchers demonstrated that their method could open calcium ion channels, activate neurons in cell culture and even manipulate the movements of the tiny nematode, C. elegans.

"We targeted the nanoparticles near what is the 'mouth' of the worms, called the amphid," explains Pralle. "You can see in the video that the worms are crawling around; once we turn on the magnetic field, which heats up the nanoparticles to 34 degrees Celsius, most of the worms reverse course. We could use this method to make them go back and forth. Now we need to find out which other behaviors can be controlled this way."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Group of c. elegans worms prepared by UB team with nanoparticles at their sensory neurons respond to the application of a magnetic field.

The worms reversed course once their temperature reached 34 degrees Celsius, Pralle says, the same threshold that in nature provokes an avoidance response. That's evidence, he says, that the approach could be adapted to whole-animal studies on innovative new pharmaceuticals.

The method the UB team developed involves heating nanoparticles in a by exposing them to a radiofrequency magnetic field; the heat then results in stimulating the cell.

"We have developed a tool to heat nanoparticles and then measure their temperature," says Pralle, noting that not much is known about heat conduction in tissue at the nanoscale.

"Our method is important because it allows us to only heat up the cell membrane. We didn't want to kill the cell," he said. "While the membrane outside the cell heats up, there is no temperature change in the cell."

Measuring just six nanometers, the particles can easily diffuse between cells. The is comparable to what is employed in magnetic resonance imaging. And the method's ability to activate cells uniformly across a large area indicates that it also will be feasible to use it in in vivo whole body applications, the scientists report.

In the same paper, the UB scientists also report their development of a fluorescent probe to measure that the were heated to 34 degrees Celsius.

"The fluorescence intensity indicates the change in temperature," says Pralle, "it's kind of a nanoscale thermometer and could allow scientists to more easily measure temperature changes at the nanoscale."

Pralle and his co-authors are active in the Molecular Recognition in Biological Systems and Bioinformatics and the Integrated Nanostructure Systems strategic strengths, identified by the UB 2020 strategic planning process.

Explore further: Technique for quantification of erythrocyte zinc protoporphyrin IX and protoporphyrin IX

Related Stories

New Nanoparticle Structure Boosts Magnetic Properties

Dec 19, 2005

Magnetic nanoparticles have shown promise as contrast-enhancing agents for improving cancer detection using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as miniaturized heaters capable of killing malignant cells, and as targeted drug ...

Magnetic nanoparticles: Suitable for cancer therapy?

May 28, 2008

A measuring procedure developed in the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) can help to investigate in some detail the behaviour of magnetic nanoparticles which are used for cancer therapy.

Nanoparticles Unlock Tumor Identity

Mar 28, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Using nanoparticles designed to recognize specific sugar-binding molecules on the surfaces of cells, a team of investigators at Michigan State University has developed a process that uses magnetic resonance ...

Recommended for you

A new way to make microstructured surfaces

Jul 30, 2014

A team of researchers has created a new way of manufacturing microstructured surfaces that have novel three-dimensional textures. These surfaces, made by self-assembly of carbon nanotubes, could exhibit a ...

Tough foam from tiny sheets

Jul 29, 2014

Tough, ultralight foam of atom-thick sheets can be made to any size and shape through a chemical process invented at Rice University.

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2010
I smell scary military applications...or simply distributing this in the drinking water supply could give any government a potentially unbreakable hold on the citizenry.
plasticpower
not rated yet Jul 07, 2010
I'll be the first to say. That girl in the picture is HOT!

Now with that said, what if you just heat a plate of worms to 34 C so their body temperature rises, wouldn't that yield the same result? That's pretty cool that it's activated with a magnetic field though.
KronosDeret
not rated yet Jul 07, 2010
calm down antialias... there is no conspiracy to control people ok? The goverment and milatary is not a single EVIL mind out there to get you. They are people same as you.
JamesThomas
not rated yet Jul 07, 2010
@ KronosDeret.
Like most large organizations or corporations, the military -- though made up of people -- is an entity unto itself. An entity with no heart or soul. An entity with huge amounts of money, and with the goal to find new ways to kill, destroy, and control. They would be on top of this one - big time. It's likely they funded a significant percentage of these studies.
brick_walker
5 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2010
This is great research. It would be interesting to see if later this technique could be combined with vision restorations projects to create less invasive, higher resolution methods of restoring vision to people with damaged retinas...
xamien
not rated yet Jul 07, 2010
OHNOES, MKULTRA IS BAAAACK!...

... wait, wrong conspiracy. Sorry.

Seriously, this is really cool. I could see applications for this in sleep research, as well as other applications in the brain.