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@patcherBot: completely unattended, walk-away automation of in vitro patch-clamping

May 2019—

For decades, a laboratory technique called patch clamping has been the gold standard for measuring the electrical properties of individual cells.

The process, which has been particularly useful in neuroscience, involves bringing a pipette filled with electrolyte solution and a recording electrode connected to an amplifier, into contact with the membrane of a single cell. So basically, researchers can eavesdrop on the furtive chattering of neurons in the ongoing effort to unlock the brain’s secrets.

“Thousands of people practice this technique every day around the world,” says Craig Forest, a researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech. “But it is painfully tedious and time consuming.”

Forest’s lab has been working on iterations of the patcherBot for at least six years, developing an image guidance version to target cells and automation technology to create a tight seal between the glass pipette (one micron in diameter) and the cell membrane, which provides a direct electrical connection to the inside of the cell.

“Traditionally, a researcher could do five to 10 recordings a day, and that’s if they’re really good,” Forest says. “Our idea was to clean the pipette automatically after each recording, so we could tell the robot to go back to cells over and over. You don’t even have to be in the room, just set it up and leave, and when you come back to the lab, you’ve recorded about 100 cells.”

In the video below, watch the @patcherBot at work!







Read more here: PatcherBot (Journal of Neural Engineering)
Ref: Blog reference

Successful in vivo image-guided autopatching achieved

Utilizing autopatching, MIT engineers have devised a way to monitor neurons in a living brain using a computer algorithm that analyzes microscope images and guides a robotic arm to the target cell. By combining several imaging processing techniques, the researchers came up with an algorithm that guides the pipette to within about 25 microns of the target cell. At that point, the system begins to rely on a combination of imagery and impedance, which is more accurate at detecting contact between the pipette and the target cell than either signal alone. Amazingly, the success rate is comparable to that of highly trained scientists performing the process manually.

In this image, a pipette guided by a robotic arm approaches a neuron identified with a fluorescent stain.













“It’s almost like trying to hit a moving target inside the brain, which is a delicate tissue,” Suk says. “For machines it’s easier because they can keep track of where the cell is, they can automatically move the focus of the microscope, and they can automatically move the pipette.”

Read more here:


MIT News – Engineering on the brain

MIT News

Learn about the birth of a new field – called neurotechnology – which some believe is in its infancy and will spawn enormous companies and rival the size and scope of the existing biotechnology industry.  “There’s not a lot of precedent for neurotechnology entrepreneurship,” says Dr. Ed Boyden from MIT. “That’s part of the fun, because there isn’t a cookbook to follow.”

Boyden and Bonsen believe that neurotechnology is poised to take off, much as biotechnology was two decades ago. “We haven’t yet seen the founding of the Biogen or Genzyme of the neurotech field,” Bonsen says. “But I fully suspect that analogs to those companies are being born or blossoming now.”

MIT News April 2013 – “Students have engineering on the brain”

CBS News – Brain Initiative Announcement

CBS News

Announcing his “brain initiative,” President Obama said in his proposed 2014 budget he will call for investing $100 million in a project to speed up the development and application of technologies that will help researchers create dynamic brain imaging. “As humans we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter sitting between our ears,” he said.

CBS News April 2013 – “Obama: Brain Initiative is “the next great American project”

The Scientist – Brains in Action: Worms, Fish, Flies, and Mice


The Scientist explores the latest technology that researchers are using for brain monitoring in four organisms: worms, fish, flies, and mice. Specifically, automated whole-cell patch clamping is highlighted, which could serve as the foundation for the execution of high-throughput experiments—recording from hundreds of neurons, or even dozens of animals, in real time.

The Scientist Feburary 2014 – “Brains in Action”

Wired November 2012 – “Seeing the light: Ed Boyden’s tools for brain hackers” Ed Young


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