Is it neuroscience? Chemistry? Art? Wulff Lecture exhibits flexibility, diversity in elements science | MIT News

A pivotal moment in Polina Anikeeva’s occupation was when she looked at an MRI scan of Parkinson’s condition affected person, about a 10 years in the past.

Now professor of resources science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, Anikeeva had recently worked on optoelectronics, units that can detect and manage mild, and her get the job done was applied to illuminate the quantum-dot displays on Samsung TVs. But Anikeeva’s investigation passions begun to stray into biology and neuroscience, disciplines outside her rapid orbit.

“I wanted to apply my information as a elements scientist and engineer to difficulties that have been unsolved, to gadgets that did not exist,” mentioned Anikeeva on April 22, while offering the Office of Products Science and Engineering’s 2 times-annually Wulff Lecture.

She identified those complications in nervous procedure conditions these kinds of as Parkinson’s. In Parkinson’s disorder, neurons that develop the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain start off to die off. Patients usually have trouble managing or initiating motion, and symptoms get even worse more than time. Medications support, but halt operating following quite a few yrs.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) remedy is frequently the last vacation resort. It has promising effects individuals who bear DBS often can better control their motion. But the procedure, involving placing electrodes into the brain, can have profound facet results, including a change in identity. There are two difficulties: the initial is dimensions. Electrodes are a thousand times more substantial than the mind cells they’re striving to encourage. Complexity is an even greater difficulty, Anikeeva reported: distinctive cells have various features. “And if you might be stimulating all of them at when, you never know what is heading to transpire.”

Anikeeva and her investigation team draw from disciplines as numerous as materials science, neuroscience, and telecommunications to make improvements to therapy for anxious process diseases. In pursuit of that target, they’ve produced neural probes that match the brain’s physiology, so they can encourage brain cells with no leading to injury to fragile tissues.

At final month’s general public function, qualified towards initial-12 months students, Anikeeva was launched by DMSE office head Jeff Grossman, who gave a quick introduction to supplies sciences and engineering. “We create make a difference from the atom up,” he claimed. The target is to develop materials with much better homes and effectiveness. “And we think about how to do that from a actually broad variety of other disciplines and methods of pondering.”

The Wulff Lecture sequence, produced in 1977, honors John Wulff, a longtime MIT materials science professor who spearheaded the popular training course 3.091 (Introduction to Good Condition Chemistry). The thought of the collection is to “inspire any individual who’s fascinated in understanding what our willpower does, what our self-control is about, why it’s exciting and impactful,” Grossman explained.

Outside the house support

Through her lecture, Anikeeva credited any impression her get the job done could have on society on the interdisciplinary character of products science — the willingness to appear to other fields for answers to tough-to-crack difficulties.

For case in point, figuring out how to induce the appropriate neuron would occur from microbiology. Anikeeva turned to the work of a Stanford University bioengineering group that utilized proteins from a microorganism termed Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a solitary-cell algae that employs light-weight to propel hairlike appendages referred to as flagella and swim. That identical, light-driven system can be used to stimulate a specific neuron. It’s a neuroscience investigate approach recognized as optogenetics.

“We can now manipulate neurons that we want by working with light and go away the relaxation — bystander neurons — on your own, staying away from side consequences,” Anikeeva stated.

The trouble of size would involve a distinctive variety of contemplating. For a substance that could snake as a result of the squishy softness of an organ like the brain — Anikeeva introduced a food items-quality brain from the butcher to exhibit — she turned to telecommunications. Fiber-optic cables like those people applied to make long-distance calls were engineered to supply electrical, optical, and chemical signals to the mind. But the product that would make up such fibers is rigid and could destruction mind tissue.

Place for Jell-O?

As it turns out, the hydrogels that give the dessert its jiggly texture are related to the elastic properties of the mind.

“Those are polymers that can take up important quantities of h2o and swell and suppose the mechanics of the mind rather specifically,” Anikeeva stated. Researchers can tune the materials to mimic “every sort of neural tissue.”

But to push a fiber with the assets of a “wet noodle” into the mind demands nevertheless an additional disciplinary detour — this time into the art earth. Believe of a paint brush, Anikeeva stated. Its gentle bristles could not puncture something, under no circumstances intellect a mass like a brain.

When dipped into paint and permitted to dry, however, its bristles harden and can serve as a wedge to penetrate soft tissue. This is just the way Anikeeva’s hydrogel-fiber product performs in lab experiments on mice. On getting into the brain, “it re-hydrates, and now assumes the mechanics of the brain and can go stealthily alongside one another with the brain, producing no problems.”

One more piece of Anikeeva’s study examines the way cells respond to thermal stimulation, which could guide to new kinds of therapeutic treatments. First, minuscule nanoparticles are injected into the human body then they’re heated up with a magnetic area. That opens up channels in close by neurons, activating them.

Figuring out how to do that, again, demanded functioning throughout numerous fields. For example, using warmth to encourage neuronal activity comes from information and application of mobile biology — “You consume incredibly hot tea, your tongue burns. You go out for Thai foodstuff, your tongue burns,” Anikeeva said, because the protein that responds to heat also responds to the spice in warm peppers. To make certain that nanoparticles can dissipate warmth effectively, Anikeeva’s team depends on components chemistry and know-how of crystal structure — the ordered arrangement of atoms in their makeup — to engineer their magnetic responses.

Combining it all

The combine of disciplines on check out was what introduced Catherine Track to the occasion. She went to Princeton College as an undergraduate and moved to the Boston spot to work at Massachusetts Common Medical center in a neurology lab.

“In undergrad I did a whole lot of natural chemistry — which is amazing, but I felt a ton of the movement in that is toward drug improvement and wanting at precise enzymes and metabolic pathways,” claims Tune, who is thinking about accomplishing graduate operate in interdisciplinary investigate. “I seriously like the granular facet of investigation and chemistry and materials, but how to incorporate all that is really remarkable.”

To start with-year undergraduate pupils Mishael Quraishi and Karen Lei ended up also drawn to the lecture’s multifaceted topic. Quraishi, a recently declared products science main, listened to in the communicate evidence that she’s in the appropriate location of analyze.

“I’m interested in not only supplies challenges but also how they can be utilized to higher social challenges, so well being-treatment spheres — entrepreneurship is also some thing I’m interested in,” Quraishi suggests. “All of these interdisciplinary issues I truly feel like DMSE will allow me to examine various of all those passions.”

Lei, who alongside with Quraishi also attended the Wulff Lecture in Oct showcasing Section of Organic Engineering head Angela Belcher, pointed out the current development of connecting disciplines particularly with biology.

“If you looked at the 1900s, biology was really significantly more pure science — molecular biology wanting into DNA framework, RNA,” says Lei, who’s majoring in physics. “Now, more and a lot more men and women are on the lookout at biology as a new type of frontier exactly where you combine it with engineering, you combine it with products science, integrate it with electronic engineering as properly.”

Adds Quraishi: “It also tends to be far more about innovation and style and design fairly than discovery. After you learn the concluded DNA, how can you iterate on it?”