Neuroprosthetics: Moving from theory to reality

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A team of researchers at Purdue University have developed an electronic chip to read nervous signals and transmit them wirelessly, without the need for a battery or other component.

The research team reengineered a standard semiconductor into a low-power circuit design, which enabled a high-efficiency microelectrode layout for the neural interface system. The greatest contributor to reducing the chip’s size was in removing the battery.

Professor Saeed Mohammadi, who lead the research, sees many ways to use this new technology, from the treatment of various neural diseases to the development of neuro-prosthetics. “Our breakthrough is that this chip is very small, about the size of a piece of dust, and can be made flexible for future brain implant applications.”

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What are neuroprosthetics?

Neuroprosthetics are, as the name suggests, prosthetics of the brain and nervous system. They are intended to replace missing functions, such as motor skills.

Based on how the Purdue team’s brain chip functions, there could be a hypothetical neuroprosthetic designed to respond to the signals processed by a group these chips. Theoretically, certain neuroregulatory functions could be more easily managed with the help of a network array of these Purdue brain chips in a patient’s cranium.

Advanced neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, may not be in the early scope of applications for this new technology. However, the small-scale potential for these chips has yet to be seen, and wider integration into the human body could help to offset certain effects from these diseases; as well as advancing the research on just how these diseases come about physiologically.

‘These figures show pre- and post-fabricated wireless neural probes chip micrograph.’

Image Source: Purdue Research Foundation News

While the technology is preliminary at this stage, Mohammadi sees potential advantages to his team’s brain chip over others. “We can perhaps provide a technology that is more bio-compatible with brain tissues and can be implanted in the human brain or at nerve endings with much better success rate.”

Mohammadi further described the limitations of this technology in an interview with ZDNet. “We have to add a lot more neural sites to be able to take out many, many more neural signals. Right now, the chip only has four [of] them, but we need a lot more — people use probes that have 64 or 128 channels to look at different sites. We’re working on expanding the numbers, so we’re hoping to be able to add more of these neural sites, and that makes the device a little bit larger.”

What do you think?

The future of neuroprosthetics may move from theory to reality if Professor Mohammadi and his team are successful. Per ZDNET, he anticipates a 64-channel chip in just one year.

What applications would you like to see for such an efficient brain chip? Discuss below.