Tiny neural sensors for brain computer interfaces


Researchers at Brown University have developed wireless microimplants that can function as a network of neural sensors and stimulators in the brain. The research team has dubbed its creation “neurograins”, which are intended to be implanted in the brain in large numbers. When inside, they can transmit data to an external communication center, in the form of a patch connected to the scalp. The researchers hope that neurograins can record the brain activity of a large number of neurons in the brain, enabling advanced functionality when brain-computer interfaces are used.

Brain-computer interfaces have a huge promise as life-changing technologies for people with various conditions. However, the technique is still in its infancy and the design of sensors that can effectively and safely monitor brain activity is a work in progress. Part of the problem is the complexity of the brain and it is difficult to capture it using a single sensor or place enough sensors in place. These researchers resorted to miniaturization as a way to create a multitude of tiny sensors that can measure brain activity in numerous places at once.

“One of the big challenges in the field of brain-computer interfaces is engineering ways to explore as many brain points as possible,” said Arto Nurmikko, a researcher involved in the study, in a University announcement. of Brown. “So far, most brain-computer interfaces have been monolithic devices, as if they were small needle beds. The idea of ​​our team was to divide this monolith into small sensors that could be distributed throughout the cerebral cortex. That’s what we’ve been able to prove here. “

Neurograins are small silicon chips the size of a grain of salt. Getting them to this size was a challenge, requiring multiple iterations of computer-aided design. Neurograins transmit data to a footprint-sized patch attached to the skull and are also fed wirelessly by the patch. The patch acts as a communication center, coordinating the signals of each neurograin.

“This work posed a real multidisciplinary challenge,” said Jihun Lee, another researcher involved in the study. “We had to gather experience in electromagnetics, radio frequency communication, circuit design, manufacturing and neuroscience to design and operate the neurograin system.”

“It was a challenging effort, as the system requires a simultaneous wireless power transfer and a network connection at a speed of megabits per second, and this must be achieved under extremely strong power and silicon area restrictions. reduced, ”said Vincent Leung, another researcher involved in the study. “Our team pushed the envelope of the distributed neural implants.”

To date, researchers have tested neurograins on rodents and placed a total of 48 in the cerebral cortex of each animal. They successfully recorded neural data. Surprisingly, neurograins can also provide neuronal stimulation, which can be useful in modifying or restoring brain function in disease.

Study a Electronic nature: Recording and neural stimulation using wireless networks of microimplants

Via: Brown University

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