Researchers develop technology to control the brain cells with help of smartphone

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Culture of rat brain cells
Culture of rat brain cells stained with antibody to MAP2 (green), Neurofilament (red) and DNA (blue) (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

A group of researchers in the United States and Korea have invented a device which can control neural circuits with the help of a small brain implant which is controlled by a smartphone. Scientists believe that this device can amplify the efforts to detect brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, migraine and depression. With the help of replaceable drug cartridges similar to LEGO and Bluetooth low-energy, this device can target the specific neurons for prolonged periods using drug and light. The study was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering journal.

Raza Qazi, a scientist with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and University of Colorado Boulder said that the wireless neural device enables optical and chemical neuromodulation which has been achieved for the first time. This technology overshadows the normal methods used by researchers which generally involve optical fibers and metal tubes for delivering light and drugs. It limits the subject’s movement due to physical connections with the heavy equipment and causes a lesion in soft brain tissue due to their rigid structure. Hence they are not suitable for long-term implantation. Efforts were put to mitigate the adverse tissue response with the incorporation of wireless platforms and soft probes however they could not deliver drugs for a prolonged time period.

For achieving chronic wireless drug delivery, researchers had to solve the challenge of evaporation and exhaustion of drugs. They invented a neural device having a replaceable drug cartridge that allowed to study the brain circuits without worrying about the factor of drug exhaustion. These drug cartridges were assembled for brain implantation in mice with an ultrathin probe which had microfluidic channels, LEDs for unlimited light delivery and drug doses.

Researchers controlled it with a user interface on a smartphone and could trigger any combination of light and drug deliveries in any implanted animal without being present in a laboratory. They could also set up automated animal studies where an animal’s behavior could affect other animals’ behavior due to the conditional triggering of drug and light delivery. This revolutionary equipment is possible due to complex electronics design and powerful nanoscale engineering. It would help scientists in several ways. It would also help to dissect the neural circuit basis of behavior and understand how neuromodulators control behavior in several ways. It would also help researchers develop therapeutics for emotional and addiction disorders.

KAIST researchers developed soft electronics for implantable devices and University of Washington scientists study brain circuits which are responsible for addiction, pain, stress. This global collaboration for three years made it possible to develop the powerful brain implant in mice which can speed up the detection of brain diseases. It was supported by grants from the National Research Foundation, Korea, National Institute of Health in the US, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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