Brain-on-a-chip: Are we there yet?

  • Vincent Daria Australian National University
Keywords: Photonics, Biophysics


In this talk, I will outline our efforts to understand how the brain works via two state-of-the-art technological platforms based on photonics and nanostructured semiconductor devices (a.k.a. Brain-on-a-chip). We focus our efforts to analyse the computational properties of single brain cells (or neurons) and how these cells grow to form networks and eventually function as a circuit. To analyse the function of single neurons, we use light not only to visualize these neurons but also to stimulate and record neuronal activity. We produce light patterns using a programmable hologram, which projects multiple foci from a single laser. Each focus can be used as a light probe to stimulate and/or record neuronal activity. To analyse the development of multiple neurons forming circuits, we artificially grow brain cells on a semiconductor wafer patterned with nanowire scaffolds. From a fundamental perspective, we aim to investigate the structural significance of nanoscale topographies for guiding neurite outgrowth. We show that isotropic arrangements of indium phosphide InP nanowires guide neurite growth and aid in forming circuits with neighboring neurons. Multiple neurons with neurites guided by the topography of the nanowire scaffolds exhibit synchronized network activity, implying intercellular communications via synaptic connections. Photonics in combination with growing brain cells "on a chip" can lead to new insights on the function of individual neurons and how they form and function as neuronal circuits.

About the Speaker

Vincent Daria earned his PhD in Applied Physics from Osaka University, Japan.  From 2001 to 2004 he pursued postdoctoral work at the Risoe National Laboratory (Denmark) where their group pioneered the use of dynamic multi-beam optical tweezers for manipulating arrays of microscopic objects and cells simultaneously.  From 2004, he established a research group at the University of the Philippines to work on ultrafast lasers in combination with spatial light encoding for multi-beam optical tweezers combined with non-linear optical processes. Such technique was applied to fs-laser surgery and manipulation of cells and 3D holographic micro-fabrication via photopolymerization.  In 2007, he joined the physics department at the Australian National University (ANU) where they initially designed a unique microscope capable of probing living cells and neurons in the brain. In 2010, Dr. Daria moved his laboratory to the John Curtin School of Medical Research to fully engage their collaboration with neuroscientists and apply their holographic two-photon microscope for simultaneous photostimulation of synapses and multi-site Ca2+ imaging of neuronal networks in living brain tissue. The success of this venture enabled the group's expansion where they continuously received highly competitive funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. He is currently the group leader of the Neurophotonics Laboratory at the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience at ANU.  He continues to teach optics and laser courses as well as  maintain collaborations with researchers from the Research School of Physics and Engineering at ANU.