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Wireless manipulation of brain cells to help in neurological disease management
Researchers have developed a soft neural implant that can be wirelessly controlled using a smartphone

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed the first wireless neural device capable of delivering multiple drugs and multiple colour lights. Neuroscientists believe this device can speed up efforts to uncover pathophysiology of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addictions, depression, and pain.

A team under Professor Jae-Woong Jeong from the School of Electrical Engineering KAIST and his collaborators have invented a device that can control neural circuits using a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone. The device, using Lego-like replaceable drug cartridges and Bluetooth, can target specific neurons of interest using drugs and light for prolonged periods.

“This novel device is the fruit of advanced electronics design and powerful micro and nanoscale engineering,” explained Professor Jeong. “We are interested in further developing this technology to make a brain implant for clinical applications.”

This technology would be an improvement to conventional methods currently used by neuroscientists which usually involve rigid metal tubes and optical fibres to deliver drugs and light. The rigid structure can also cause lesions in soft brain tissue over time, therefore making them unsuitable for long-term implantation.

To overcome the challenge of exhaustion and evaporation of drugs, the researchers invented a neural device with a replaceable drug cartridge, which could allow neuroscientists to study the same brain circuits for several months without worrying about running out of drugs.

These cartridges were assembled into the brain of a mice using soft and ultrathin probes –with the thickness of a human hair – which consists of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs, for unlimited drug doses and light delivery.

The implant can then be control via a simple user interface on a smartphone where neuroscientists can trigger any specific combination or precise sequencing of light and drug delivery in any implanted targeted animal without the need to be physically in the laboratory. Using these wireless neural devices, researchers can also easily setup fully automated animal studies where the behaviour of one animal could affect other animals by triggering light or drug delivery.

“The wireless neural devices enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation that has never been achieved before,” said lead author Raza Qazi, a researcher with KAIST and the University of Colorado Boulder.


Raza Qazi, Adrian M. Gomez, Daniel C. Castro, Zhanan Zou, Joo Yong Sim, Yanyu Xiong, Jonas Abdo, Choong Yeon Kim, Avery Anderson, Frederik Lohner, Sang-Hyuk Byun, Byung Chul Lee, Kyung-In Jang, Jianliang Xiao, Michael R. Bruchas & Jae-Woong Jeong (2019) Wireless optofluidic brain probes for chronic neuropharmacology and photostimulation. Nature Biomedical Engineering volume 3, pages655–669 (2019)


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Healthy Ageing — How Science is chipping in
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