Every year, thousands of Europeans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, at great cost to both their quality of life and the economy. With support from the EU, a new, large-scale research project with scientists and experts from six European countries will try to remedy these facts.
Patients with diseases like Parkinson's and epilepsy have deteriorated neurotransmittor levels ie. substances that transmit nerve impulses in the brain. By implanting cells in the brain that produce e.g. dopamine, the brain will be able to self-medicate. That is the idea behind a large-scale international project coordinated by Professor Jenny Emnéus from DTU Nanotech.
DTU Nanotech is heading the project because researchers at DTU are world-leading when it comes to creating new materials and devices applicable for the control of cells' ability to produce dopamine.
The cells are cultured on a scaffold of an optoelectronic carbon fiber and produce dopamine when they are illuminated, hence it may be possible to control the production of dopamine. The idea is that optics and control electronics will be surgically placed in the patient’s brain together with the cells.
With a click on the phone
"Imagine that you have Parkinson’s and feel a bit ill because of a deficit of dopamine in your brain. You take your phone - or other smart device - from your pocket and click a few times. A signal is then sent to an electrode in your brain where dopamine-producing cells are set to trigger an extra dose," Jenny Emnéus explains.
This is the vision of the great Marie Sklodowska Curie ITN project Jenny Emnéus will head and coordinate for the next four years. If successful, the project can be a breakthrough for new types of therapy unavailable today. The project involves partners from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands.
A bit of a puzzle
If the idea is put into practice, it will revolutionise the quality of life of the affected patients and their surroundings.
"This is of course our ultimate, future goal, and we have already come a long way with many of the individual elements needed to make it happen," says Jenny Emnéus.
"We can 3D print the cell structures that are needed. We can manufacture the optoelectronic fibers to encircle the dopamine-producing cells. The optogenetic techniques are now well-established and used by our Swedish partner, so that by using laser light we can send signals to specific genes coded in the cells and start production. New neurotechnologies are on the way, but there are still plenty of challenges for us to make it happen "says Jenny Emnéus.
The project is an innovative training network designed to train 15 new PhD students to develop and optimise the elements that are part of the overall solution.
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