Hybrid Systems: The Integration of Cells with Silicon Devices in the Development of In Vitro Functional Neuronal Circuits

Stephen Lambert PhD

The guiding principle of prosthetic design is to improve integration between the patient and the prosthetic device.  Functionally, the goal is to provide a device that is interfaced with the host nervous system allowing for fine motor control with the necessary sensory feedback.   The hybrid interface between the host nervous system and the device presents a number of challenges to the bioengineer, including: 1) To generate protocols that encourage and support the regeneration of functional host nervous tissue into the hybrid environment, 2) Optimization of biomaterials for the hybrid environment to allow for patterned long-term viability, such that neuronal processes can be guided to sites of interaction with Bio-MEMS (microelectromechanical) devices and defined neuronal circuitry can be engineered, 3) The use of Bio-MEMs devices that are sensitive to and operate within the range of single cell activity, and 4) The integration of other cell types such as glia that can provide neurotrophic support as well as altering neuronal conduction.  These challenges also need to be addressed when developing in vitro models of neuronal circuits.

The monosynaptic reflex arc, although one of the simplest neuronal circuits in the body, is perhaps one of the most pertinent to emulate when considering prosthetic development.  It utilizes not only motor control of target muscles from neurons originating in the CNS, but also inhibitory sensory feedback from ‘stretch’ sensors within the target muscle. In this presentation, we will discuss progress towards a hybrid in vitro model of the reflex arc.  Mammalian neuronal and muscle tissue is integrated with patterned artificial surfaces and chemically defined media, as well as Bio-MEMs devices to produce a controlled model of this important circuit. This could be used as a test-bed for high throughput drug development as well as the basis for a hybrid interface between patient and prosthetic device.

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Last modified: December 22, 2010 15:21:43