Neuroscientists invent a device that manipulates the brain

A collaborative effort between scientists from Korean and the United States have invented a novel device that can both manipulate brain activities and administer drugs with a simple touch on a smartphone.

The device is primarily a brain implant that can control neural circuits, which manipulates particular brain activities. It accomplishes this through powerful Bluetooth low-energy, which can target specific neurons of interest using drug and light for prolonged periods.

Additionally, the device is structured in a way that it resembles Lego pieces in the sense that scientists can administer drugs directly to the brain through detachable and replaceable cartridges that contain the drugs.

Mainly, this function could potentially help scientists speed up efforts to uncover brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addiction, depression, and pain.

The research, published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering was the result of the collaboration between scientists from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the University of Washington.

Notably, researchers at the Jeong group at KAIST is known to be a developer of soft electronics for wearable and implantable devices, to which they devised a solution that would relatively cut the contraption’s size drastically compared to others that try to gather the same data from brain activities.

Apparently, other devices have proven to make the task of performing brain research difficult because of their bulkiness and sensitivity to movement.

In KAIST’s device, however, they were able to create a brain implant that would yield the same data but more practically and conveniently since it was found useful in moving subjects.

Meanwhile, neuroscientists at the Bruchas lab at the University of Washington studied brain circuits that control stress, depression, addiction, pain, and other neuropsychiatric disorders based on the technology provided by the team from KAIST.

Scientists from the University of Washington was provided easy manipulation of brain circuits through a combination or precise sequencing of light and drug manipulation through a smartphone.

Furthermore, neuroscientists were allowed to study the same brain circuits for several months without worrying about running out of drugs since they were quickly replenished, putting into consideration of the importance of how drugs were exhausted and evaporate in the brain circuits.

“The wireless neural device enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation that has never been achieved before,” said lead author Raza Qazi, a researcher with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and University of Colorado Boulder.

At the moment, the device was first tested on a sample of mice. The brain implant had a soft and ultrathin probe (thickness of a human hair), which consisted of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs (smaller than a grain of salt).

The effort among engineers and neuroscientists went for a period of three consecutive years and tens of design iterations to successfully yield positive results from the use of their device.

Using these wireless neural devices, researchers could also easily set up fully automated animal studies to help develop research on animal behavior based on the conditional triggering of light and/or drug delivery.

“This revolutionary device is the fruit of advanced electronics design and powerful micro and nanoscale engineering,” said Jae-Woong Jeong, a professor of electrical engineering at KAIST. “We are interested in further developing this technology to make a brain implant for clinical applications.”

In the future, the team is looking forward to developing the implant that it would be used for practical human use.

Michael Bruchas, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine and pharmacology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said this technology would help researchers in many ways.

“It allows us to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behavior, and how specific neuromodulators in the brain tune behavior in various ways,” he said.

In other words, the team is looking to develop the device farther than probing and detecting brain diseases. “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.”

This work was supported by grants from the National Research Foundation of Korea, U.S. National Institute of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Mallinckrodt Professorship.

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