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!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags harvard universitypopular scienceroboticsCalifornia Institute of TechnologyComponentsintel

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

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?