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Carbon nanotubes show promise for artificial vision, hearing

We have yet another advance on the road to retinal and cochlear implants, this time in the realm of nanotechnology.

A group of scientists at Stanford University have used carbon nanotubes to construct electrodes that successfully stimulate neurons in rats. The promise here is that such neuron stimulation is individual in nature, suggesting that not only can success be duplicated in the human body but also that such a practice can fire individual neurons in the pursuit of artificial eyes and ears.

Blindness and deafness are often caused by cells and neurons that decay and die. Retinal and cochlear implants are being designed to focus on individual neurons, with the intent being to stimulate artificial nerve cells to bypass the dead parts of the seeing and/or hearing process and send signals directly to the brain.

Efforts so far have run into stumbling blocks due to the metals in current electrodes, which are large and insufficient for focusing on specific neurons as well as being much more prone to damaging the surrounding tissue. The Stanford efforts would seem to have solved that problem by resorting to carbon nanotubes to make much smaller electrodes. The result may well be successful creation of artificial retinas and more effective cochlear implants.

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