During epileptic seizures, the brain’s excitatory neurons go haywire, generating extreme amounts of electric activity. There are already electronic devices available that help to prevent and mitigate seizures, but so far they’re only effective in some patients while having all the downsides of a serious implantation. A team of European researchers from Sissa (International School for Advanced Studies) in Italy , and the Universities of Trieste, Manchester, and Strasbourg, have now shown that tiny flakes of graphene may be effective at halting seizures. Moreover, the same particles may end up being used in helping to treat other conditions and as a mechanism in neuroscience research.
The graphene flakes that the team used are less than a micrometer (one millionth of a meter) in size, and it was shown that they are able to interfere with signals passing through excitatory neural synaptic junctions. It may sound crazy to deposit graphene particles, which are 2D sheets of carbon atoms, into the brain, but in animal models the research team demonstrated that the flakes completely left the body within three days.
The injection was done directly into the brain using a syringe, but there was no noticeable increase in inflammation or immune response. Strangely, it was even lower than when compared to saline injections, a matter that should probably be investigated further.
An important point the researchers noted is that the size of the graphene flakes was a critical matter, having to be between 100 and 200 nanometers in diameter. Flakes that are too small probably get washed through, without affecting synapses, while ones that are too big simply can’t get deep inside the synapse.
All this is still in early laboratory research stage. There will be a lot of challenges before graphene flakes become a treatment option, including how to get them past the blood-brain barrier so that direct injections into the brain are unnecessary.