11 Nov 2009   |   News

New IMEC chip can record electrical activity in individual biological cells

The nanoelectronics research centre IMEC has developed a chip that makes it possible to measure electrical activity within living cells.


The nanoelectronics research centre IMEC has developed a chip with microscopic nail structures that enable close communication between electrodes and biological cells, making it possible to measure electrical activity within living cells.

The new chip is a mass-producible, easy-to-use tool for use electrophysiology research, for example, for example, measuring nerve impulse and brain activity.  Each micronail structure acts as a close contact-point for one cell, and contains an electrode that can record and trigger in real-time the electrical activity of an individual cell in a network.

Cells such as cardiomyocytes in the heart or neurons in the brain rely on electrical signals to communicate with one another. Knowledge of the electrical activity of these cells is essential to gain insights in how they communicate, in the cause of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or validate the effect of drugs on electrically active cells.

IMEC says the electrodes in the micronail chip have been shrunk to the same size as cells, and even smaller. They consist of tiny nail structures made of a metal stem covered with an oxide layer, and a conductive tip covered, for example, with gold or titanium nitride. When cells are applied to the chip surface, the cell membranes engulf the nail structures, thereby creating a contact with the electrode. This very close contact improves the signal-to-interference ratio, enabling precise recording of electrical signals and electrical stimulation of single cells.

“We tackled several challenges to realise this micronail chip, such as keeping the cells alive on the chip surface; combining the wet cell solution with the electronics underneath without destroying the electronics; guiding the cell growth so that the cell body is just on top of one individual electrode; and last but not least: bring the cells as close as possible to the chip surface,” said Wolfgang Eberle, Group manager Bioelectronic systems.

“Now, we have a unique instrument to record and interpret the signals of the neurons. We can also stimulate neurons and follow up the consequences to unravel the functioning of our brain.”

For more information, visit the IMEC website.

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