Neurograin implants: next-gen brain-computer interface

17 July 2017

Brown University professor Arto Nurmikko aims to develop a wireless neural prosthetic system | Credit: Nurmikko Lab/Brown University

A wireless neural prosthetic system, comprising thousands of implantable microdevices, could deepen our understanding of the brain and lead to new medical therapies.

Researchers at Brown University (funded by a $19 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA) will lead a collaboration to develop a fully implantable wireless brain interface system, able to record and stimulate neural activity with unprecedented detail and precision.

The international team of engineers, neuroscientists and physicians involved in the project envisions an approach to neural interfaces that is unparalleled. They aim to create a ‘cortical intranet’ of tens of thousands of wireless micro-devices – each about the size of a grain of table salt – that can be safely implanted onto (or into) the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain).

The implants, dubbed ‘neurograins’, will operate independently, interfacing with the brain at the level of a single neuron. The activity of the devices will be co-ordinated wirelessly by a central communications hub in the form of a thin electronic patch worn on the skin or implanted beneath it.

The system will be designed to have both ‘read-out’ and ‘write-in’ capabilities. It will be able to record neural activity, helping to deepen scientists’ understanding of how the brain processes stimuli. It will also have the capability to stimulate neural activity through tiny electrical pulses, a function researchers hope to eventually use in human clinical research aimed at restoring brain function lost to injury or disease.

“What we’re developing is essentially a micro-scale wireless network in the brain, enabling us to communicate directly with neurons on a scale that hasn’t previously been possible,” said Brown University’s professor of engineering, Arto Nurmikko. “The understanding of the brain we can get from such a system will hopefully lead to new therapeutic strategies involving neural stimulation of the brain, which we can implement with this new neurotechnology.”

The work will build on decades of research in neuroengineering and brain-computer interfaces, computational neuroscience and clinical therapeutics.

Credit: Brown University, news.brown.edu


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