Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed an ultra-flexible, nanoelectronic thread brain probe that could follow the progression of neurodegenerative disorders and reduce scars when implanted. The data is published in Science Advances.
“What we did in our research is prove that we can suppress tissue reaction while maintaining a stable recording,” Chong Xie, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the university, said in a press release. “In our case, because the electrodes are flexible, we do not see any sign of brain damage — neurons stayed alive even in contact with the [nanoelectronic thread] NET probes, glial cells remained inactive and the vasculature did not become leaky.”
To improve conventional probe design, researchers used electrodes flexible enough to comply with microscale tissue movements while staying in place. The probes are as small as 10 microns at a thickness of less than 1 micron, with a cross section that is a fraction of that of a neuron or blood capillary. The size also decreases tissue displacement and results in a more stable brain interface. According to the release, the readings with the probe are more reliable for longer periods of time.
“The most surprising part of our work is that the living brain tissue, the biological system, does not mind having an artificial device around for months,” Lan Luan, PhD, a research scientist in the Department of Physics at the university, said.
According to the release, the probes are designed with mechanical compliances similar to that of brain tissue and are nearly 1,000-times more flexible than other neural probes.
Researchers also found the probe does not agitate glial cells, which could reduce scarring and neuronal loss. In addition, the design of the probe could improve researchers’ ability to record neural activity for extended periods and allow them to follow the progression of neurodegenerative disorders, including stroke and Parkinson’s disease.
Disclosure: The researchers report funding from the University of Texas Austin Brain Initiative, the Department of Defense and the NIH.
Luan L, et al. Sci Adv. 2017; doi:10.1126/sciadv.1601966.