July 5, 2022

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You are Your Only Limit

Is it neuroscience? Chemistry? Art? Wulff Lecture reveals versatility, range in components science | MIT News

6 min read

A pivotal second in Polina Anikeeva’s profession was when she seemed at an MRI scan of Parkinson’s ailment patient, about a decade back.

Now professor of materials science and engineering and mind and cognitive sciences at MIT, Anikeeva experienced recently worked on optoelectronics, gadgets that can detect and regulate gentle, and her perform was utilized to illuminate the quantum-dot shows on Samsung TVs. But Anikeeva’s research passions commenced to stray into biology and neuroscience, disciplines outdoors her instant orbit.

“I required to utilize my awareness as a components scientist and engineer to problems that ended up unsolved, to products that did not exist,” mentioned Anikeeva on April 22, though offering the Office of Elements Science and Engineering’s two times-yearly Wulff Lecture.

She discovered all those troubles in nervous process diseases this sort of as Parkinson’s. In Parkinson’s disease, neurons that generate the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain get started to die off. Patients typically have issues managing or initiating movement, and indications get even worse above time. Medicines assistance, but prevent doing the job just after numerous yrs.

Deep mind stimulation (DBS) remedy is often the previous resort. It has promising success people who go through DBS often can much better handle their movement. But the treatment, involving inserting electrodes into the brain, can have profound facet effects, which includes a alter in character. There are two challenges: the to start with is dimensions. Electrodes are a thousand instances larger than the mind cells they’re trying to stimulate. Complexity is an even more substantial dilemma, Anikeeva said: different cells have distinct functions. “And if you might be stimulating all of them at after, you do not know what is heading to come about.”

Anikeeva and her research crew attract from disciplines as assorted as elements science, neuroscience, and telecommunications to make improvements to procedure for anxious process problems. In pursuit of that goal, they’ve developed neural probes that match the brain’s physiology, so they can encourage brain cells with no creating hurt to delicate tissues.

At very last month’s public function, qualified toward first-12 months learners, Anikeeva was launched by DMSE department head Jeff Grossman, who gave a quick introduction to supplies sciences and engineering. “We make issue from the atom up,” he explained. The intention is to establish elements with much better properties and effectiveness. “And we think about how to do that from a really broad variety of other disciplines and approaches of considering.”

The Wulff Lecture collection, developed in 1977, honors John Wulff, a longtime MIT resources science professor who spearheaded the popular system 3.091 (Introduction to Stable Point out Chemistry). The notion of the sequence is to “inspire anyone who’s interested in comprehending what our self-control does, what our self-control is about, why it is enjoyable and impactful,” Grossman mentioned.

Outside enable

Through her lecture, Anikeeva credited any affect her function could have on modern society on the interdisciplinary character of products science — the willingness to glance to other fields for answers to difficult-to-crack troubles.

For case in point, figuring out how to trigger the ideal neuron would arrive from microbiology. Anikeeva turned to the operate of a Stanford University bioengineering staff that applied proteins from a microorganism called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a solitary-mobile algae that takes advantage of light-weight to propel hairlike appendages referred to as flagella and swim. That exact, light-pushed system can be applied to stimulate a specific neuron. It’s a neuroscience study process recognized as optogenetics.

“We can now manipulate neurons that we want by making use of mild and depart the relaxation — bystander neurons — on your own, staying away from aspect results,” Anikeeva reported.

The dilemma of sizing would need a diverse variety of thinking. For a substance that could snake as a result of the squishy softness of an organ like the brain — Anikeeva brought a meals-grade mind from the butcher to display — she turned to telecommunications. Fiber-optic cables like these utilized to make extensive-distance calls have been engineered to provide electrical, optical, and chemical alerts to the brain. But the product that would make up these kinds of fibers is rigid and could damage mind tissue.

Place for Jell-O?

As it turns out, the hydrogels that give the dessert its jiggly texture are identical to the elastic houses of the mind.

“Those are polymers that can soak up major quantities of drinking water and swell and think the mechanics of the brain rather precisely,” Anikeeva mentioned. Researchers can tune the substance to mimic “every kind of neural tissue.”

But to press a fiber with the home of a “wet noodle” into the brain needs still a different disciplinary detour — this time into the artwork world. Believe of a paint brush, Anikeeva explained. Its soft bristles couldn’t puncture anything at all, under no circumstances mind a mass like a mind.

When dipped into paint and permitted to dry, however, its bristles harden and can serve as a wedge to penetrate soft tissue. This is exactly the way Anikeeva’s hydrogel-fiber device operates in lab experiments on mice. On coming into the brain, “it re-hydrates, and now assumes the mechanics of the brain and can transfer stealthily collectively with the mind, developing no injury.”

One more piece of Anikeeva’s investigation examines the way cells reply to thermal stimulation, which could lead to new types of therapeutic treatment options. Initial, minuscule nanoparticles are injected into the human body then they’re heated up with a magnetic industry. That opens up channels in nearby neurons, activating them.

Figuring out how to do that, yet again, necessary doing work across several fields. For illustration, making use of heat to promote neuronal exercise will come from expertise and application of cellular biology — “You consume scorching tea, your tongue burns. You go out for Thai foods, your tongue burns,” Anikeeva mentioned, because the protein that responds to heat also responds to the spice in scorching peppers. To guarantee that nanoparticles can dissipate heat successfully, Anikeeva’s workforce relies on materials chemistry and information of crystal structure — the ordered arrangement of atoms in their makeup — to engineer their magnetic responses.

Combining it all

The blend of disciplines on watch was what introduced Catherine Music to the function. She went to Princeton University as an undergraduate and moved to the Boston region to perform at Massachusetts Typical Healthcare facility in a neurology lab.

“In undergrad I did a great deal of natural and organic chemistry — that is cool, but I felt a ton of the motion in that is toward drug progress and seeking at certain enzymes and metabolic pathways,” claims Music, who is wondering about performing graduate operate in interdisciplinary investigation. “I actually like the granular part of investigation and chemistry and elements, but how to incorporate all that is actually interesting.”

Initial-calendar year undergraduate students Mishael Quraishi and Karen Lei had been also drawn to the lecture’s multifaceted subject matter. Quraishi, a newly declared resources science important, listened to in the discuss evidence that she’s in the ideal space of review.

“I’m fascinated in not only materials issues but also how they can be used to bigger social difficulties, so health-treatment spheres — entrepreneurship is also a thing I’m intrigued in,” Quraishi says. “All of these interdisciplinary items I sense like DMSE allows me to take a look at various of individuals passions.”

Lei, who alongside with Quraishi also attended the Wulff Lecture in Oct showcasing Section of Organic Engineering head Angela Belcher, famous the the latest pattern of connecting disciplines particularly with biology.

“If you seemed at the 1900s, biology was really significantly much more pure science — molecular biology on the lookout into DNA composition, RNA,” states Lei, who’s majoring in physics. “Now, a lot more and extra persons are on the lookout at biology as a new sort of frontier in which you integrate it with engineering, you integrate it with components science, integrate it with digital engineering as very well.”

Provides Quraishi: “It also tends to be additional about innovation and structure fairly than discovery. When you explore the finished DNA, how can you iterate on it?”

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