New technique automates difficult process to observe living brain cells
Researchers at MIT and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new automated process to get a glimpse at the inner workings of brain cells. The researchers demonstrated that a robotic arm guided by a cell-detecting computer algorithm can identify and record from neurons in the living mouse brain faster and more accurately than a human experimenter. They automated a 30-year-old technique to record electrical activity within a cell, called whole-cell patch clamping, which usually takes a graduate student or postdoc several months to learn. The research team developed the process of using a robotic arm to lower a glass pipette into the brain of an anesthetized mouse. Electrical impedance -- how difficult it is for electricity to flow out of the pipette -- is measured 10 times per second to guide the arm. Once a cell is detected, the arm stops instantly, preventing breakage of the cell membrane. The robotic system can detect cells with 90 percent accuracy.
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