Robot evaluates brain cells faster, more accurately

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Researchers, led by Simon Schultz and Luca Annecchino at Imperial College London, have developed a new method of whole-cell recording (WCR) to record electrical currents in the brain.

Currently, WCR requires small scale equipment that is only available in a small number of laboratories around the world. This study outlined how researchers developed a system to complete WCR without human intervention.

"To understand the brain as a whole organ, we need to know how neurons work and communicate with one another,” said Schultz. “Neurons in themselves are complex structures that use electrical and molecular signals to send information to neighboring neurons, and the brain as a whole structure. Neurons also act differently depending on whether they are healthy or not fully functioning due to certain brain disorders. The WCR technique is a way to eavesdrop on these cells and how they communicate with their neighbors.”

The new method of WCR includes a robot and computer program that guide micropipettes to specific neurons in the brain to record electrical currents. Researchers evaluated the method in the brains of live mice and were able to study the behavior of brain cells under stress. When comparing the new technique to conventional WCR, researchers found the robot was faster and more accurate than human professionals.

"Structures that cannot be seen with the naked human eye require very precise and accurate ways to measure them,” said Schultz. “We have managed to do so successfully so far, but now we have taught robots to 'see' the neuron and perform the procedure even better. This means WCR can now potentially be performed on a much larger scale, which could speed up our learning about the brain and its disorders."