Science 3 min read

Scientists Manipulate Brain Cells Using Smartphone-Controlled Implant

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

A team of scientists from the United States teamed up with researchers from Korea to develop a device that can control the brain’s neural circuits. The approach uses a brain implant controlled by a smartphone.

According to their publication in Nature Biomedical Engineering, such a device could help health professionals quickly diagnose brain diseases, including depression, addiction, Alzheimer‘s, Parkinson‘s, and pain.

Thanks to a combination of powerful Bluetooth low-energy and lego-like drug cartridges, the device can target specific neurons using drugs and light. What’s more, the neurons can be manipulated for a prolonged period.

In a statement, lead author of the study from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and University of Colorado Boulder, Raza Qazi, said:

“The wireless neural device enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation that has never been achieved before.”

According to Qazi, the new technology is way more advanced than the conventional method.

Current neuroscientists deliver drugs and light to the brain using rigid metal tubes and optical fibers. Not only does this method limit the subject’s movement, but their rigid structure could cause a lesion in soft brain tissue over time.

As a result, the current technique is not suitable for long-term implantation.

While scientists have incorporated soft probes and wireless platforms to reduce the adverse tissue response, it’s still limited by a bulky and complicated control setup. Besides, the solution can’t deliver drugs for long periods.

For continuous wireless drug delivery, the researchers have to solve the challenge of exhaustion and evaporation of drugs.

Creating a Smartphone-Controlled Implant to Manipulate Brain Cells

The researchers from the University of Washington teamed up with the KAIST to develop a neural device with a replaceable drug cartridge. With this new design, neuroscientists can examine the same brain circuits for several months without running out of drugs.

For the test, the researchers assembled the “Plug-n-play” drug into a brain implant for mice.

They included a soft and ultra-thin probe – thick as a human hair – with microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs that are smaller than a grain of salt. So, along with unlimited drugs doses, the device could also deliver light.

Finally, the researchers created a smartphone app with a simple user interface to control the device. That means, neuroscientists can conveniently deliver drugs in any implanted area, and trigger precise light sequence without stepping in the laboratory.

According to professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine Micheal Bruchas, this technology will help researchers in many ways.

In a statement to the press, Bruchas said:

“It allows us to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behaviors, and how specific neuromodulators in the brain tune behaviors in various ways. We are also eager to use the device for complex pharmacological studies, which could help us develop new therapeutics for pain, addiction, and emotional disorders.”

The researchers expressed interest in further developing the technology to make brain implants for clinical applications.

Read More: 3D Models of Human Brain Tissues Created Using Stem Cells

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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