Injectable electronics could form basis for brain implants

An international team has recorded and monitored mouse brain cells with mesh electronics inserted via a syringe

If you've ever wondered whether wearable computers might one day turn into computers that are implanted in our brains, research at Harvard University suggests it's a possibility.

Flexible electronics can be injected directly into brain tissue, allowing for brain cells to be directly monitored and stimulated, according to the researchers from Harvard and China's National Center for Nanoscience and Technology.

The technology could open up new applications in medicine and brain-machine interfaces, which can read thoughts and act upon the external world, such as controlling a wheelchair by thought alone.

Harvard chemist Charles Lieber and collaborators worked with tiny, flexible mesh structures that are made of conductive polymer strands and embedded with transistors and electrodes. The mesh was rolled up, inserted in a syringe measuring 100 micrometers in diameter, and injected into the brain tissue of mice, where it unfurled.

Reporting in a study in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers said the mesh is mostly porous and can expand to fill biological cavities. It integrated with the brain tissue and the mice did not show significant signs of immune reaction to the material after five weeks.

Extremely thin electrical wires connected to the mesh were connected to external computers so that brain cells in the mice could be recorded and stimulated. But the researchers want to refine the design to make it wireless.

"In the future, our new approach and results could be extended in several directions, including the incorporation of multifunctional electronic devices and/or wireless interfaces to further increase the complexity of the injected electronics," they wrote.

The technology could potentially be developed to treat brain damage from stroke and Parkinson's disease, Lieber said in a Nature.com news article.

Researchers across many fields have been working on ways to link brain cells to computers, with engineers at Intel speculating that chips implanted in brains will be used to control computers by 2020.

Last month, researchers at the California Institute of Technology reported that they were able to implant electrodes in the brain of a quadriplegic man so that he could move a robotic arm in a fluid, smooth motion. He was able to shake hands and play rock, paper, scissors with the mechanical appendage.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags intelpopular scienceroboticsComponentsharvard universityCalifornia Institute of Technology

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Skywatcher Dobsonian 8″ Collapsible Telescope

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Whodunnit™ Duo-Scope MFL-007 Microscope Kit

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Logitech Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?