Our brain has a lot to say and not only when we think, speak and move. 86 billion or so neurons contained within a 1.4 kg organ are in a constant state of firing, sending inputs, receiving outputs and integrating information from all over our bodies, to shape how we view and interact with the world around us.
Due to the creation of small electrical currents by varying the concentration of ions such as of potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium: our muscles can contract, our hearts beat and our brains can think. In the brain so many processes are controlled in this way from temperature regulation, to sleep, arousal and emotional behaviour but what happens when this signalling is disrupted?
In cases of stroke, traumatic brain injury and sub-arachnoid haemorrhage, the brain’s normal processes are perturbed by a catastrophic event. Though potentially disastrous on its own, the knock-on effects from the damage can lead to repetitive short-circuiting of the brain. This short-circuiting is triggered by brain tsunamis, vast waves that spread across the brain, depolarising (making more positive) the insides of electrically active cells so that they can no longer send their information. A large body of evidence shows that these waves lead to worse outcomes for patients when observed.
But there is hope. By combining state of the art flexible devices, made by nanotechnology and neurosurgical procedures, technologies can be developed that can monitor these electrical signals, their chemical nature and their effect on the functioning of tissue around at-risk zones. My research mixes together bioelectronics, microfluidics and microdialysis to create sensing technologies that monitor brain tissue in real time and can be used by clinicians to make informed decisions about the health of severely brain injured patients. Our brain has a lot to say, I’m developing the tools so that we can listen.
NanoDTC Associate, a2019