News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Knight Foundation

Don Drumm Studios


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Health and Medicine




Exploradio - The sea cucumber and the brain
Science sometimes moves in mysterious ways - for example, a lesson learned from the sea cucumber may someday help spinal cord patients.
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
The sea cucumber is a relative of the starfish. The chemistry behind its defense mechanism is being borrowed to build better brain probes in Cleveland.
Courtesy of F. Carpenter
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University are developing a better way to communicate with the human brain by studying how a simple sea creature defends itself.

In this week’s Exploradio, how chemistry borrowed from the lowly sea cucumber allows bioengineers to build a better brain probe.

Exploradio - The sea cucumber and the brain

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (3:33)


(Click image for larger view.)

From the sea floor to the surgical suite

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University are improving brain studies thanks to an attribute of the sea cucumber.  

This starfish relative looks a lot like its namesake -  a sand-sifting pickle on the sea floor.  And the sea cucumber is on a lot of predator’s menus.  That’s why biomechanical engineer Jeff Capadona says the creature developed two ways to defend itself. The first makes it unpalatable by suddenly stiffening its outer layer through a change in the chemistry of its skin –

“…and that’s the mechanism that we’re really trying to play on.  The other is that it spits out its internal organs and becomes toxic.  We’re not trying to replicate that.”

Brain researcher and team leader Dustin Tyler, who today has a bit of laryngitis, recalls a conversation years ago where a colleague from another department wondered –

“What if we made a material like this”   …A material that, like the sea cucumber, could become stiff or soft with a chemical command.  It became Tyler’s goal.

“We know how the sea cucumber worked but to take it from the biologic model, which is incredibly complex, to what we could functionally utilize has been many years and many steps to do that.”

Now Tyler and Capadona have developed brain probes using a synthetic version of the sea cucumber’s skin.

“So this grew out of just a bunch of us sitting around a table throwing out ideas about what we wanted to do.”


Building a better brain probe

Tylers brain lab looks like a high tech-surgical suite, but his patients are rats. 

He fires up the machines used to put the subjects to sleep, and the sensitive electrical equipment he uses to communicate with individual neurons inside the rat’s brain. 

“We can manipulate for example the whisker, and we can implant where we know that is.  As you vibrate that, that cell will start to activate more.”

In his work, Tyler inserts a tiny probe inside the animal’s brain to measure the minute electrical impulse that fires when he moves a rat’s whisker.  

“The analogy of the human would be: I want to find out what sensation area of the skin, like I touched your finger. Where in the brain is that responding? That’s what we’re doing on a model that we understand.”

Tyler and his team are using this research to help doctors at Cleveland’s VA hospital develop new therapies for spinal cord-injury patients.  The brain probes will allow doctors to bypass the damaged spinal cord to allow conscious movement. 

“We can record that thought from you brain, translate it to a device that we can stick in your arm to actually control the muscle that controls your hand.”

Which brings us back to the sea cucumber.

Dustin Tyler has found that brain probes coated with synthetic sea cucumber skin are stiff enough to push into the brain, but then become soft, which means less scarring.  Less scarring allows for better communication between the neuron and the sensitive probe.

Jeff Capadona , who came to Case from Georgia Tech to develop the sea cucumber probe with Tyler, now specializes in biocompatible materials.

“Because, as Dustin always says, everything exciting happens at the interface, whether it’s between disciplines, or between the body and a device, or anything else.”

The Case team published its findings in the online edition of the Journal of Neural Engineering.

 

I’m Jeff St. Clair with this week’s Exploradio.


Related Links & Resources
Case Western neural engineering center

Jeff Capadona's biomaterials lab


Related WKSU Stories

Exploradio - The Kinect connection
Monday, November 21, 2011

Exploradio - The papyrus window
Monday, November 7, 2011

Exploradio - The art of the skull menders
Monday, October 31, 2011

Listener Comments:

that's very good


Posted by: lylva liman (dumaguete city) on February 19, 2012 2:02AM
Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Support for Exploradio
provided by:








Stories with Recent Comments

Will Ohio's marijuana initiative follow casinos' lead?
We just ask to have marijuana legalized and here comes some nimrod trying to rob us of our rights and make us buy it from some legalized new type DRUG DEALER th...

Fancy dinners from humble beginnings at The Blue Door
Grandma of Chris Miller moved to Florida in a retirement community but I sure miss the Falls and the Blue Door, and the fine service and the true friendship of ...

The Black Keys guitar tech's moment in the spotlight
Nice job, Vivian. It's always nice to hear about the unsung heroes getting their due! Thank you, Chuck Johnston (Full disclosure - I'm a friend of the Carney fa...

A guide for gift-shopping for older Ohians
I'll never be to old for peanut brittle.

Akron's Tuba Christmas: A resounding blast of holiday spirit
Nice piece, Vivian! Looking forward to hearing you move from flute to tuba on Saturday. Love hearing your interviews and this seemed extra special since I kno...

Cleveland Hugo Boss workers are fighting for their jobs again
Bro. Ginard; I support your effert to keep your jobs, I understand all about concesions, I was a Union offical from 1965 until 1991 and the company th...

Asian Carp control could benefit from bill passed by House, heading to the Senate
help me fight the battle against invasive carp by method of harvest

Ohio's Portman supports lifting limits on party political money
If Portman was legitimately concerned about outside groups influence on elections he would have supported the DISCLOSE act. Instead he helped block it being bro...

Study shows trade with China has cost more than 3 million U.S. jobs
I disagree with James Dorn! If we don't change the playing field and make it a fair competition the whole US industry will be weaker and weaker. Eventually all ...

Copyright © 2014 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University