Aug 17, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

Lego-like Therapeutic Brain Implants That Can Be Controlled by a Smartphone

Aug 12, 2019 01:15 PM EDT

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With the objective of uncovering the secrets of brain diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, addiction, depression, and pain, researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology or KAIST and the University of Washington in Seattle have been working together on a therapeutic implant sensor for the brain that is controlled by a smartphone.

The traditional method of drug and light delivery makes use of rigid metal tubes and optical fibers connected to an equipment.  Because of these physical connections, the patient would have limited movement, which as one can imagine, is very disadvantageous.  In addition to lack of mobility, the rigid structure of the tubes and other accessories may eventually cause lesions in the soft tissues of the brain, making them unsuitable if we are looking at long term solutions.  Researchers in the past have made an effort to mitigate this by incorporating soft probes and wireless platforms but these solutions have been limited by their inability to deliver necessary drugs for extended durations.  In addition to that, the control setups for such systems are bulky and complex.

In a publication in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the researchers present a device with replaceable drug cartridges that look like Lego pieces.  The device is also equipped with Bluetooth low-energy to help target specific neurons of interest when using drug and light for prolonged periods. 

Lead author and researcher from KAIST and the University of Colorado Boulder says that the neural device they have invented would enable chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation.  He stated that the device would overshadow traditional methods as described above.

The device would allow neuroscientists to study brain circuits for several months, without worrying about drug shortage.  They first tested the drug cartridges by implanting them in mice brain with a soft ultrathin probe that enabled drug doses and light delivery as needed.  The probe consisted of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs.

With the use of a smartphone, neuroscientists were able to control any specific combination or precise sequence of light and drug delivery, without the need of the subject being inside a laboratory.  In the future, researchers hope to conveniently setup automated studies incorporating their device and look at the effects of the behavior of one animal towards another.

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