Micheal Barros Research

Biocommunications with Nanonetworks for Biomedical Applications

Nanomedicine is an attempt to revolutionize current methods for diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases that integrates fields such as molecular biology, biotechnology as well as nanotechnology. One envisioned application is sensing and actuation capabilities at the molecular scale using nano scale devices, namely nanomachines. While numerous examples of these applications have been tested in vivo as well as animals, the real deployments are far from reality. This is mainly due to limitations in controlling as well as monitoring their performance. At the same time, the miniature scale of nanomachines means their computational capabilities is also limited. However, integrating communication and networking functionalities can provide new opportunities for sensing and actuation applications of nanomachines. One form of communication that has been recently introduced to realise this vision is Molecular Communications. Many natural molecular communication systems are found inside the human body. The current challenge is to 1) utilize these natural systems to create artificial biocompatible communication networks that can interconnect multiple nanomachines and 2) provide a further understanding of these biological communication systems with information and communication theory. Such nanonetworks can represent a new type of communication network that can also be connected to the Internet, enabling fine granular sensing deep inside the organs and tissues inside the human body.The presented research contribution will have a great impact on the area of molecular communication, as well as the fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology. Creating artificial communication systems that are embedded in the tissues, can lead to new forms of smart tissues.​

Application of Control Theory in Molecular Communication for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Approximately 24 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, of which 60% is due to Alzheimer’s disease [2]. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death for all ages and the fifth leading cause of death for those 65 years of age and older, with an annual cost of approximately $226 billion in the U.S. alone. But its treatment remains with symptom-preventing drugs that neglect the diseases progression or do not cure the disease. The blood-brain barrier also prevents the effectiveness of current Alzheimer’s drugs, blocking the flow of drug molecules to the brain by the central nervous system. Researchers have found that nanoparticles can potentially bypass the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, nanotechnology alongside with biotechnology is an exciting approach that not only provides new drugs and treatments to Alzheimer’s, but can also enable a cure for the disease.Alzheimer’s main cause is the lack of *glutamate in the tripartite synapses (three way molecular communication between neurons and astrocytes), which leads to poor synaptic transmission and therefore lack of memory, bad sleep, depression, and so on. The control of the concentration of glutamate can therefore increase the synaptic quality, providing a new and potentially more efficient way to treat Alzheimer’s.

Since, glutamate release is controlled by the intracellular Ca2+ signalling in the astrocytes of the tripartite synapses, providing desired levels of Ca2+ can result in the desired regulation of glutamate. The goal of this research proposal is to investigate a potential way of obtaining such an outcome. We use the feed-forward feedback control theory, combined with communication theory and synthetic biology, to regulate the internal Ca2+ signalling of astrocytes in the tripartite synapses, providing sufficient levels of glutamate to control the quality of the synaptic transmission. This is not only applicable to Alzheimer’s but also to other neurodegenerative diseases, because it enables a new way of maintaining the stability and health of the brain tissues using nanotechnology and engineering principles. We believe that such a control system can be implemented using nanoparticles. The whole approach can also be designed as an effective drug delivery system that can bypass the blood-brain barrier. This interdisciplinary approach will cause a significant impact on biotechnology, nanotechnology, Alzheimer’s disease and drug delivery system research fields with also an important economic potential effect.

This work is funded by the Irish Research Council under the grant GOIPD/2016/650.