Soft neural implant manipulates brain cells via smartphone

August 09, 2019 //By Julien Happich
Soft neural implant manipulate brain cells via smartphone
Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a soft neural implant that can be wirelessly controlled using a smartphone, and whose payload (drugs and light impulses) can be adapted indefinitely.

Using Lego-like replaceable drug cartridges and a low-energy Bluetooth data link, the implant can target specific neurons of interest using drugs and light for prolonged periods. The study lead by Professor Jae-Woong Jeong was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

“This novel device is the fruit of advanced electronics design and powerful micro and nanoscale engineering,” explained Professor Jeong. “We are interested in further developing this technology to make a brain implant for clinical applications.”

This technology is claimed to significantly overshadow the conventional methods used by neuroscientists, which usually involve rigid metal tubes and optical fibers to deliver drugs and light. Apart from limiting the subject’s movement due to bulky equipment, their relatively rigid structure causes lesions in soft brain tissue over time, therefore making them not suitable for long-term implantation.

Although some efforts have been made to partly mitigate adverse tissue response by incorporating soft probes and wireless platforms, the previous solutions were limited by their inability to deliver drugs for long periods of time as well as their bulky and complex control setups.

To achieve chronic wireless drug delivery, scientists had to solve the critical challenge of the exhaustion and evaporation of drugs. To combat this, the researchers invented a neural device with a replaceable drug cartridge, which could allow neuroscientists to study the same brain circuits for several months without worrying about running out of drugs.

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