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Robotics Science

Robot Brings Patch-Clamping To the Masses 59

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the cat-translator-coming-soon dept.
scibri writes about robots helping neuroscientists dig into the brains of (animal) test subjects. From the article: "Robots designed to perform whole-cell patch-clamping, a difficult but powerful method that allows neuroscientists to access neurons' internal electrical workings, could make the tricky technique commonplace. Scientists from MIT have designed a robot that can record electrical currents in up to 4 neurons in the brains of anesthetized mice (abstract) at once, and they hope to extend it to up to 100 at a time. The robot finds its target on the basis of characteristic changes in the electrical environment near neurons. Then, the device nicks the cell's membrane and seals itself around the tiny hole to access the neuron's contents."
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Robot Brings Patch-Clamping To the Masses

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  • by P-niiice (1703362) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @11:38AM (#41168515)
    one step closer to recording myself into a body not ravaged by television and cheetos
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by davester666 (731373)

      I'm not sure I want to know how your TV has ravaged you...I hope for your personal safety it's unplugged when it ravages you in the future.

    • by macraig (621737)

      Don't they have fat-free diet cheetos now?

  • to neuropyzine is going to suck.

  • Who thinks this shit up? We'll just design this little nanobot that seeks out a neuron, cuts a hole in it and welds itself into place and then it will start injecting shit into your thought patterns. Like it's no problem.

    Just amazing.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Who thinks this shit up?

      In all honesty, my first thought was of William Gibson's Neuromancer [wikipedia.org] and Razorgirl.

      • My first thought was Peter Hamilton's "Commonwealth Saga", or Richard Morgan's "Takeshi Kovacs" series. My second thought was "hurry the hell up".
        • My first thought was Peter Hamilton's "Commonwealth Saga", or Richard Morgan's "Takeshi Kovacs" series. My second thought was "hurry the hell up".

          So you support fascism? Do you really want to be a drone?

          • I think either you read different books than I, or you're focused on the politics not the technology proper. The notion of dispensing with physical peripherals for mental visualization and control, wetware augmentation, the "stack" as a means of enabling conscience (or self) to be communicated from body to body even over interstellar distances are all very intriguing prospects.
      • My first thoughts were of the robot 'Clamps', from 'Futurama':
        http://ochemonline.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/clamps.jpg [wordpress.com]

    • "Can I just come home and think I've been fishing all day or something?"

      "That's really not what I do, Peter."
  • It's a good thing that I renewed my Old Glory Robot Insurance.

  • This is cool, but alone it does not bring electrophysiology to anybody who did not already have it. The robot only handles the easiest part of the experiment--putting an electrode into a brain and sealing onto neurons is standard practice that most electrophysiologists learn with a few days of practice.
    Generally the most difficult parts of these experiments are 1) surgery / dissection, 2) keeping your animal / slice alive, 3) _keeping_ the electrode attached to the cell, and 4) managing racks full of comp
    • by Niedi (1335165)
      Mod parent up, it's spot on! The actual patching is not really hard, especially since it only seems to do "blind" patching (just guided by the electrical response).

      The only things to add are
      - Fighting with your pipette puller to deliver constant results, because either you have your own crappy little puller that is hideously unreliable or you have a fancy one which is shared, meaning there is a high risk of someone messing with the filament and/or settings. And if your pipettes are crap, neither you nor
  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @12:15PM (#41168977) Homepage

    Patch-Clamping To the Masses

    1) Almost nobody on /. knows about or will ever see this technique practiced
    2) BTW, it is done in vitro or in instrumented animal models, not in your head. At least not with any reasonable expectation of safety in the hands of "the masses."
    3) At the moment there are essentially no practical applications of patch clamping "for the masses"

    If I am mistaken, then boy are we in deep shit now.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @12:19PM (#41169021) Journal

      1) Almost nobody on /. knows about or will ever see this technique practiced

      Almost nobody who knows about patch clamping practices it. It's that hard. "The masses" in this case refers to the 90% of neuroscience labs who don't have a patch clamp apparatus because it's an incredibly difficult technique. Putting an automatic patch clamp machine on every lab bench would be a huge boon to neuroscience.

      • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @12:30PM (#41169151) Homepage
        I saw it done in grad school, in Mexico. It definitely looked like it required serious ninja lab skills. On a grander scale, automating such tricky and delicate maneuvers will revolutionize all of the sciences. The great 20th century scientific techniques will be subsumed to an invisible stratum hidden inside machines. 21st century scientists will use those as building blocks and tools. They will each be standing on the shoulders of several generations of scientists. Unbelievably scary, unbelievably cool.
      • by tgibbs (83782)

        Patch clamping isolated cells is not all that hard. It has become the standard method of single-cell recording, and automated devices to do it have been available for years. This device automatically patch clamps neurons in brain slices, which is trickier because it's harder to see what you are doing.

      • 1) Almost nobody on /. knows about or will ever see this technique practiced

        Almost nobody who knows about patch clamping practices it. It's that hard. "The masses" in this case refers to the 90% of neuroscience labs who don't have a patch clamp apparatus because it's an incredibly difficult technique. Putting an automatic patch clamp machine on every lab bench would be a huge boon to neuroscience.

        Neurophysiologist here: patching isn't nearly as hard as it looks and is quite fun. Now-a-days investigators don't even need to build their own amplifiers like in the old days. However, that said, it does take practice and as I like to say, "I've never met anyone who learned how to patch-clamp after getting a Ph.D." Only undergraduates and graduate students have the time and dedication to learn it.

        I should also point out there have been automatic patching machines that cater to high-throughput drug discove

        • However, that said, it does take practice and as I like to say, "I've never met anyone who learned how to patch-clamp after getting a Ph.D."

          I know quite a few (including me) but most of them got their PhDs in physics, EE, or something non-biological before learning to poke at wet things. It didn't take long-- I was doing sharp electrode in about 2 hours, and getting gigaohm seals and action potentials within a few sessions.

          • Actually, you probably have a point because I know a couple bioengineering-related people that probably picked it up after a Ph.D. So, maybe the better distinction is that most 'biologists' won't learn it after a Ph.D. IMO. The people you describe are probably more likely to tinker with a new skill compared to the people I work around who already have the cookbook of experimental techniques they use everyday and don't need/want to devote a lot of time to something new.
      • I got pretty good at it as a hobby trying to work on multi-electrode array stuff with neurons. It's not that hard if you're patient and have a light touch on the controls and can read an oscilloscope. I could do two mouse hippocampal neurons (in a dish) at once pretty reliably, and I tried did 3 a couple of times just to show off. The limiting factor on how many you can do at once is generally the size of the manipulators and amplifiers. Getting 4 in is possible but tricky, more than that starts to get

    • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @12:46PM (#41169347) Homepage Journal
      Don't forget though that patch clamping is useful to a lot of biological sciences beyond neuroscience. Pretty well every cell in a higher eukaryote uses voltage-gated channels for something; I've seen cardiology research groups use it to monitor Na+ ion currents for one but it goes much further than that. As someone already pointed out a big part of what restricts the adoption of patch clamping in other disciplines isn't that it doesn't have an application but rather that it is so immensely difficult to master. If it can be automated that not only makes it available for more types of work but it also increases the confidence on the measurements by making it easier to do a lot of them.
      • It doesn't appear to be actual patch clamping the researchers are referring to. As the wikipedia page states, this seems to be more of a form of (whole) intracellular recording. (See my detail below.) Good for characterizing neural networks and behaviors vs. rigorous ion current measurement.
    • I used to do this for a living, does that mean I'm finally almost somebody?!
    • 3) At the moment there are essentially no practical applications of patch clamping "for the masses"

      Maybe because other types garage research into cell biology are still not happening. At home PCR machines are feasible, at this point you can build one for around $500. I heard of a relatively cheap desktop electron microscope not too long ago. The price of DNA sequencing is falling fast. Microscopes are getting cheaper and more powerful. All the tools seem to be headed in the direction of home experimentation.

      Maybe someone in their garage will harvest some of their own fibroblasts, make their own

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @12:17PM (#41168997)
  • I frequently bash the slahdot editors for terrible choices in front page articles (Timothy for one pro-republican posting after another, samzenpus for conservative spin that makes me want to vomit, etc), this time I'd like to extend a big thank-you to "Unknown Lamer" for his postings. Recently he posted the article on NEMS mass spec as well, so it is nice to see some science coverage on the front page. Heck, "Unknown Lamer" even posted some actual computer hardware stories recently, too - what a concept!
  • sounds like quite an achievement, but I was similarly interested by the way the term "patch clamp", and, specifically, the "clamp" part appears to have diverged from its original meaning.

    When I first learned about neural "voltage clamp" in college, it was a way to maintain a constant voltage across a neural membrane, which is otherwise normally altered by a trans-membrane conduction event. That is, a current is passed in/out of the cell during a conduction event to compensate for it, thus maintaining or
  • ... when they get a robot to perform nipple clamping.

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