High-Speed Electronic Pump Mimics Neural Signaling

Our neurons pass messages thirty times as fast as the blink of an eye. In roughly 10 milliseconds, one neuron releases a chemical from its cell membrane and a receptor on a neighboring cell scoops it up. Message sent.

To date, researchers have been unable to mimic that speedy chemical signaling—not even with microfluidics. Now, a team at Linköping University in Sweden has designed and created an electrically controlled ion pump able to deliver neurotransmitters at close to the same speed as live neurons.

The new device is an improved version of an older organic electronic ion pump (OEIP) created by the same lab. The device relies on electric fields to move charged particles across a thin film without requiring the flow of any liquid. The two-and-a-half-centimeter-long pump is made of metal and polymer channels patterned onto glass via photolithography, and is connected to an electrical source.

The original device moved ions (these could be any type of small, charged particle: neurotransmitters, protons, metal ions, etc.) horizontally along a channel from a source to a target region.…[Read more]