Neural implant controlled by a smartphone

Friday, 23 August, 2019

Neural implant controlled by a smartphone

Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have invented a device that can control neural circuits using a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone.

Using Lego-like replaceable drug cartridges and Bluetooth Low Energy, the device can target specific neurons of interest using drugs and light for prolonged periods. It has been described in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Neuroscientists’ conventional methods typically involve rigid metal tubes and optical fibres 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, previous solutions were limited by their inability to deliver drugs for long periods of time as well as their bulky and complex control set-ups.

To achieve chronic wireless drug delivery, the KAIST scientists had to solve the critical challenge of the exhaustion and evaporation of drugs. To combat this, they 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. These ‘plug and play’ drug cartridges were assembled into a brain implant for mice with a soft and ultrathin probe (with the thickness of a human hair), which consisted of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs (smaller than a grain of salt), for unlimited drug doses and light delivery.

A neural implant with replaceable drug cartridges and Bluetooth Low Energy can target specific neurons.

Controlled with an elegant and simple user interface on a smartphone, neuroscientists can easily trigger any specific combination or precise sequencing of light and drug delivery in any implanted target animal without the need to be physically inside the laboratory. Using these wireless neural devices, researchers can also easily set up fully automated animal studies where the behaviour of one animal could affect other animals by triggering light and/or drug delivery.

“The wireless neural device enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation that has never been achieved before,” said KAIST researcher Raza Qazi, lead author on the study.

LED control using the smartphone application.

The researchers believe their invention is the first wireless neural device capable of indefinitely delivering multiple drugs and multiple colour lights, which neuroscientists believe can speed up efforts to uncover brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addiction, depression and pain. They are now seeking to further develop the technology to make a brain implant for clinical applications.

Top image: A mouse wearing the wireless neural device.

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