Earlier this month I had a fascinating interview with Dr. Naweed Syed, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, head of University of Calgary Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy. Dr. Syed is one of the lead researchers behind neurochip − “a microchip with the ability to monitor several functions of the brain.“Neurochip is “a novel lab-on-a-chip technology that, through an ultra-sensitive component built directly on the microchip, also enables direct imaging of activity in brain cells.”
In one fascinating part of the interview, Dr. Syed talked about Parkinson’s patients who have really bad tremors and don’t respond to drugs anymore. Currently, surgeons insert a deep brain stimulation electrode to allow the patients to stimulate the electrode themselves which release dopamine to stop the tremors. Unfortunately, the electrode can continue to stimulate the brain cells beyond the limit. Resulting in what is known as excitotoxicity. (Too much dopamine constantly being produced and brain cells being over excited.) In essence, nobody is there to tell the electrode when the stimulation is enough and can be stopped to avoid damage because there is no loop going back to tell it. Dr. Syed suggests implanting a two-way link where machines (capacitors and transistors) and the brain cells can talk to each other to better control the stimulation loop and avoid/reduce the problem of excitotoxicity.
As an alumnus of University of Calgary, it makes me really proud to see cool research done in Calgary, Alberta. At the same time, near the end of the interview, I asked Dr. Syed about the challenges of getting the required funding for the research program to succeed and to keep doing cutting edge researches right here in Calgary. Given the achievements his team has made so far, I would hate to see any of these world class scientists leaving Canada to go to United States/China, etc because our three level of governments and private industry partners are not putting in the needed funding to keep doing these ground-breaking researches that can lead to better medical devices, better drugs, etc right in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
On a personal note, a very close friend has Parkinson’s and I hope the device Dr. Syed talked about can be developed, tested, and approved soon so that my friend and other Parkinson’s patients can benefit.
University of Calgary, UToday “New advances for neurochip”
CTV News (with video), “U of C researchers achieve major milestone”