Studying the brain in depth thanks to light, to discover the mechanisms of diseases such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's and tumors: this is what the new minimally invasive optical probes equipped with innovative light modulators developed by a coordinated international research group will allow to do. by the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and described in the Advanced Optical Materials magazine.
The study was carried out in collaboration with the University of Salento, the Polytechnic of Bari and Spain, through its Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO).
The researchers started with a tapered optical fiber, thinner than a hair, equipping it with structures a few millionths of a millimeter (nanometers) large that resonate in response to a light stimulus driven by the same fiber to the deep regions of the brain.
The nanostructures were made by covering the microscopic tip of the probe with a thin layer of gold;
then, using a beam of gallium ions like a chisel, a grid of optical elements composed of fine lines about 100 nanometers was modeled, whose characteristics were validated in a series of microscopy and optical spectroscopy experiments.
Thanks to this technology it is possible to obtain a controlled modulation of the light beam of the probe and of the local electric field, on surfaces comparable to the size of brain cells: this allows to study the interaction between the light beam and neuronal structures, even in areas deeper than the brain.
The research was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and within two competitive projects of the European Horizon 2020 framework program (MODEM, NanoBright and DEEPER projects) as well as a grant from the US National Institutes of Health.