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.

Lehmans


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





Stories with Recent Comments

Ohio's new drilling rules rely on known earthquake faults
requiring drillers to place seismic monitors when they drill within 3 miles of known fault lines. This comment really upsets me!! What good does an instrument t...

Kasich's gubernatorial ad focuses on his blue-collar roots
John Kasich is the biggest con-man in America. He will say one thing and then do the opposite. He is terribly successful at fooling the public and he is worki...

Cab drivers who refuse to drive Gay Games taxis will be replaced
the irony is that most americans distrust or hate muslims much more than they hate gays!! silly ignorant bigots-GO HOME!!!

New transportation companies come to Cleveland
Ride-sharing companies are breaking laws and regulations every day. From regulatory fee evasion to use of smartphone while driving (and even two smartphones(!) ...

Cleveland anti-poverty agency executive resigns amid financial probe
That committee won't be too independent. He plans to stay on until after the new appointee is chosen.

How can you wipe a criminal record clean?
Great article! NO CLINIC in May 2014, however, because it's graduation month for students For the next dates of the FREE Legal Clinic to help with Expungment,...

Drilling remains suspended while ODNR investigates NE Ohio earthquakes
Flaring and lights, so has all been halted? Also, smell of HS2 and sounds of an auger/drilling/water rushing underground. So, has all been halted? In light of t...

Will the Ohio River carry fracking wastewater?
Texas $ vs. WV citizens . Who will our governor listen to?

McKinley museum launches campaign to buy 'pawned' heirloom
Was the tiara sold or pawned? What is the name of the person who brought the tiara to the Gold

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