Learning from Nature How to Design New Implantable Materials

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Large and stiff compared to real neurons and neural tissue , traditional implants have two major impediments to sustained monitoring. During the initial placement in brain tissue—which usually requires surgery—neurons flee the impacted area.

Previous studies have shown that the brain's immune system senses the foreign object and gets to work, causing inflammation and scar tissue to isolate the device. Even if they can capture signals beyond the scar tissue, rigid probes can shift position and end up replacing one neural signal for another, closer one. Wearing a purple and pink speckled sweater, glasses, and jeans, she moved her cupped hands together, then apart, then together again as she explained how she and her team built a probe that inspires negligible immune response, records neural signals within a day post-implantation, and may even encourage tissue regeneration.

But in our case, they are essentially the same," said Yang.

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Their probe mimics three features that previously have not been possible to achieve in a lab: the shape, size, and flexibility of an actual neuron. Neurons look a bit like tadpoles, with round heads and long, flexible tails. Their wire interconnect snakes through an ultra-flexible polymer "tail," resembling the neuron's neurite. According to Yang, their neuron-like electronics NeuE are "5 to 20 times more flexible than the most flexible probes reported to date.

The width of a typical neuron "head" is about the same a very fine strand of hair 20 microns , and the "tail" can be times finer. Measuring the same or even thinner widths, the neuron-like electronic is the smallest probe yet.


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To craft their microscopic tools, Yang and her colleagues relied on photolithography, which uses light to transfer a pattern onto material and constructs the probe 's four distinct layers of metal and polymer one at a time. Once built, the team uses a syringe to inject sixteen of their cell imitators into the hippocampus region—chosen for its central role in learning, memory, and aging—of a mouse brain.

There, they unfold to create a porous web, imitating the brain's crisscrossing neuron network. Bigger, solid probes exclude native cells from their territory and can disrupt the neural circuits that researchers are trying to study. Starting from as early as a day to months later, neurons integrate with the artificial network, forming a harmonious hybrid. This assimilation explains why the team achieved stable data collection even months post-implantation. They did not lose even one neuron signal.

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Instead, they gained some. Regenerative treatments typically rely on stem cells to assist the brain to rebuild after damage. But, like larger probes, transplanted stem cells can cause an immune response, which weakens their efficacy. Neuron-like electronics instead recruits endogenous stem cells from the host's brain and helps them migrate to the damaged region.

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Since they are not foreign objects, the brain's immune system lets them work in peace. Though further research is needed, the neuron-like electronics could eventually offer a safe, stable alternative to treat neurological diseases, brain damage, and even depression and schizophrenia, where the added benefit of actively monitoring and modulating the regenerated neural networks will be possible.

Currently, Yang is working on several directions, including the design and fabrication of even smaller and more flexible probes, as well as exploring the potential of the neuron-like electronics to serve as an active scaffold for regenerating neural tissue in vivo. With marginal immune response, regenerative properties, and unprecedented stability, the team not only blurred the line between man-made and living systems, they made it near invisible.

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By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Home Neuroscience. Neuron-like electronics red mimic the shape, size, and flexibility of neurons green , enabling them to maintain symbiosis with native brain tissue. Credit: Xiao Yang Lieber Lab. More information: Bioinspired neuron-like electronics, Nature Materials The tattoos could also be applied to the head to read brainwaves, although the distance would limit accuracy. Implants for the brain could tell more, but represent the highest risk as well as reward.

Should the body reject any material it could kill the patient. Yet the Wellcome Trust in the UK has begun a trial with Alzheimer's patients carrying a silicon chip on the brain itself, to predict dangerous episodes, and able to stimulate weakened neurons. Military researchers Darpa are also experimenting with a chip implant on humans to help control mental trauma suffered by soldiers.

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This latter case challenges the medical principle against using implants to do more than return to humans their natural faculties, as Darpa believe their chip could eventually condition soldiers to battle-readiness through improvements such as awareness, memory and mood. Feeling glum, happy, aroused? New technology can detect your mood. Forget text messaging, the 'oPhone' lets you send smells. Wireless electricity? It's here. Make, Create, Innovate. Print Email More sharing Reddit. We've found electronic throat tattoos, password pills and memory chips.

Find out how "grinders" are already embracing our cyborg future Retina implants that restore the sight of blind patients are already on the market. Grinders hope that future implants will not just restore sight, but improve it. Throw away the headphones -- magnets implanted inside the ear can now play music directly into your head.


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Rich Lee received a pair of "internal headphones" last year. Subdermal RFID chips have been on the market for a while. Now, they can hold a lot more data than ever before, and could replace your smartphone and tablet passwords. Motorola is now reportedly developing a pill that will do the same. Implants in ears are already changing lives, too. Electronic tattoos containing tiny circuits could be the future of healthcare monitoring. Professor John Rogers created "Biostamps" that are capable of tracking vital signs including heart rate, hydration and temperature.

Electronic tattoo producers MC 10 want to "extend human capabilities" invisibly, as well as keep us safe. They've launched band-aid sized "Hydration Patch" which sends information to your smartphone. Last year, Motorola Mobility then owned by Google announced a temporary electronic throat tattoo that could communicate with smartphones, tablets and devices like Google Glass.

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Which body part will Google take over next? Researchers at the University of Southern California hope to test a device in the next two years that will restore memory capabilities for people with brain injuries. The ultimate goal: to cure Alzheimer's. Biohack yourself! It's almost erotic when you feel something totally unexpected when there was no sensation before. Implant pioneer Rich Lee. Wave to unlock doors: Dangerous Things sells a password tag for implanting at home. Courtesy Dangerous Things. Anyone doing this to themselves should stop.

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