Scientists wirelessly modulate neurons using x-rays

Researchers have made an important discovery with a method for wireless modulation of neurons using x-rays. The team believes the breakthrough could help treat and improve the lives of people with brain disorders. The technique requires an x-ray source such as a machine found in a dentist's office.Researchers say people worldwide suffer from movement-related brain disorders such as epilepsy, essential tremor, and Parkinson's disease. A new treatment can help alleviate these issues and was invented by researchers at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in cooperation with researchers from four universities. The treatment relies on breakthroughs in optics and genetics and could potentially help treat chronic depression and pain.

Treatment involves the stimulation of neurons deep inside the brain by injecting nanoparticles that light up when exposed to x-rays. The ability to inject the nanomaterial would eliminate intensive brain surgery used today. Researchers believe the high-precision noninvasive approach could be routine using a small x-ray machine of the sort common in a dental office.

Traditionally, deep brain stimulation requires invasive neurosurgery and the implantation of a calibrated pulse generator under the skin. Cords are connected to electrodes inserted into specific areas of the brain to stimulate the surrounding neurons and regulate abnormal impulses in the traditional procedure.

The team's new approach is an alternative to optical genetics using nanooscillators injected into the brain, requiring no implanted electrodes or fiber-optic wires. Lasers used in the traditional treatment are replaced with x-rays which can easily pass through biological tissues. The injected nanoparticles absorb the extra energy converting it into red light. The particles were found to be stable over months and with repeated exposure to high-intensity x-rays. Research is ongoing at this time.