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Scientists Have Developed a Unique New Injectable Brain Implant

This image shows the mesh electronics as they are being injected through a microscopic glass needle. 
(Image: Lieber Research Group, Harvard University)
This image shows the mesh electronics as they are being injected through a microscopic glass needle. (Image: Lieber Research Group, Harvard University)

A team of researchers, including physicists, neuroscientists, and chemists, have manage to implant a rolled-up silky mesh studded with tiny electronic devices in to the brains of mice.

The electronics unfurled and then began to monitor biological activity. This was all done with a simple injection, and shows that’s all it takes to wire up a brain.

Now, with the flexible implantable electronics, it is possible to monitor biological activity in real time. The implant is squeezed into a small needle that has a diameter of 0.1 millimeter. Once it has been injected, it takes approximately one hour before it starts to monitor the activity.

“If eventually shown to be safe, the soft mesh might even be used in humans to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease,” says Charles Lieber, a chemist at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the team. The work was published in Nature Nanotechnology.

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Mesh electronics being injected through a microscopic glass needle. (Image: Lieber Research Group, Harvard University)

According to IFL Science, previous research revealed that electronics like these can be surgically implanted, but so far, it hasn’t been possible to precisely control their delivery to target areas within the body in a non-invasive way.

Currently, flexible electronics are normally flat sheets that are designed to lie on surfaces. This means that when the sheet had to be placed, a slit had to be cut at least as wide as the sheet into the person’s skin or skull. But now with this new rolled up implant, the sheet can be injected.

Charles Lieber, study co-author, a nanoscientist and nanotechnologist at Harvard University, said: “It is difficult yet critical to protect the complex and fragile electronics when it is delivered; traditional procedures all involve surgery that would make an opening equal to the size of the structure,” wrote LiveScience.

Image: Via Nature

Electronic mesh brain implant being injected into a mouse’s skull. (Image: Via Nature)

“We can precisely deliver these ultra-flexible electronics through a common syringe injection into virtually any kind of 3D soft material,” Lieber said.

The injection process and ultra-flexible electronics produce no damage to the targeted structures.

According to Nature, neuroscientists still do not understand how the activities of individual brain cells translate to higher cognitive powers, such as perception and emotion. The problem has spurred a hunt for technologies that will allow scientists to study thousands, or ideally millions, of neurons at once, but the use of brain implants is currently limited by several disadvantages.

So far, even the best technologies have been composed of relatively rigid electronics that act like sandpaper on delicate neurons. They also struggle to track the same neuron over a long period, because individual cells move when an animal breathes or its heart beats.

With this new mesh, the team of scientists has resolved these problems. “There is no scar tissue or immune response around the injected ultra-flexible mesh electronics months after implantation, which contrasts to all work to date with larger and more rigid probes,” Lieber said.

“This could be informative for brain science and medicine.”

This is a real step forward into the study of the brain. Now, there is a chance that researchers could study the activity of large numbers of neurons for a long period of time with only minimal damage.

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