Brain-computer interfaces, those that could restore function in severely disabled people and give them ability to control robotic arms and other devices, depend on neural probes implanted into the brain. These technologies tend to work pretty well at first, but over time they draw attention of the surrounding immune system and the brain’s defensive mechanisms, resulting in inflammation, death of nearby neurons, and loss of functionality. Scientists at Harvard University have now created neural probes that mimic natural neurons, and thereby remain “under the radar” and avoid negative consequences.
The new neural probes, which can be injected, replicate neurons in their subcellular structure and mechanical properties. When the team imaged the probes under 3D microscopy, the probes and the nearby neurons looked identical, and the two seemed to live alongside each other amicably. Over the time tested, the probes continued to work reliably and further studies will be needed to confirm long-term viability.
Interestingly and surprisingly, the probes seemed to promote nearby neural progenitor cells to move towards them, pointing to the possibility of using the technology to cure certain brain maladies.
“Designing high resolution neural probes that remain viable in the brain has been a goal of researchers for decades,” said Michael Wolfson, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering program for Therapeutic Medical Devices, which helped sponsor the research. “Dr. Lieber and his group are at the forefront of this endeavor. In this latest work, they have created neural probes that are the size, shape and flexibility of real neurons. These new probes seamlessly integrated and recorded the function of adjacent neurons in mice over relatively long periods of time without inducing the damage and disruption that has hampered this type of work in the past.”
Top image: Injected neuron-like electronics (red) integrated with neurons in the mouse brain (green). Credit: Xiao Yang, Lieber Group, Harvard University.
Study in Nature Materials: Bioinspired neuron-like electronics…