Can Brain Cells be Manipulated Using a Smartphone?

Brain Cells - Seniors Today

The invention of a wireless neural device that can control neural circuits using a smartphone

Collaboration between engineers from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), South Korea and neuroscientists from the University of Washington, Seattle led to an invention of a device – a tiny implant that can control neural circuits using a smartphone. This joint researched was recently published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Researchers believe that this invention can speed up efforts to uncover brain diseases, such as – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addiction, depression, and pain.

Researchers say this technology significantly overshadows conventional neuroscience methods. Earlier, the neuroscience technology required bulky metal tubes and optical fibers, limiting the subject’s movement due to physical connections with the bulky setup it also caused lesions in soft brain tissue over time making it unsuitable for long term study. Hence they invented a wireless device that has a unique ability to target specific neurons of interest using drugs and light for prolonged periods.

To achieve continuous wireless drug delivery, scientists have solved the challenge of exhaustion and evaporation of drugs. They invented a neural device with replaceable lego-like drug cartridges and powerful bluetooth low-energy to deliver drugs that allow neuroscientists to study the same brain circuit for several months without worrying about running out of drugs. “This revolutionary device is the fruit of advanced electronic design and powerful micro and nano scale engineering,” says Professor Jae-Woong from KAIST

The invention has been studied in mice so far. The lego-like drug cartridge was implanted into the brain of the mice with a soft and ultrathin probe (thickness of a human hair) which consisted of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs (smaller than the grain of salt) for unlimited drug doses and light delivery. The implant was then controlled using the smartphone. With the touch of a finger the scientist changed drug quantities and light sequences manipulating the mice’s movement for over a month.

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

A successful validation of the powerful brain implant in freely moving mice took three consecutive years and tens of design iteration by the engineers and neuroscientists. Researchers believe that this device can truly speed up the uncovering of the brains and its diseases.

Co-author Michael Bruches, a professor of anethesiology, pain medicine and pharmacology at the University of Washingston School of medicines further adds, “It allows us to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behaviour, and how specific neuro modulators in the brain tune behaviour in various ways. We are also eager to use the device for complex pharmacological studies, which could help us develop new therapeutics for pain, addiction and emotional disorders”.

What is your view on this mode of treatment? Do share your thoughts on this invention.

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