A soft electrode for brain implant

The soft electrode photographed side by side to a coin. Credit: Lund University - photo NRC

Our brain is made of very soft material, more similar to a dense "yoghurt" than to the flesh we see as our body. In addition it floats in a liquid and it keeps moving as we turn our head or walk.

Connecting this moving, soft, mass to electrode to monitor its activity or to interact with it is extremely difficult. Implants work for very limited amount of time, actually most of implants so far have been used during surgery when the brain "sits still".

Indeed, having the possibility to implant electrodes in the brain would provide important information that would help in curing a number of pathologies and it might even lead to cure. Recently DARPA has selected seven research centres in the US for its ElectRx initiative, finding a way to use electrical stimulation for curing brain and other organs deficits.

Now a team of researchers at Lund University, Sweden, have developed a soft electrode that can be implanted with minimal damage in the brain and whose "tentacles" can reach very specific target areas and remain in place for long periods of time.

The challenge is to create an electrode that is so flexible to be able to follow all, continuous, movements of the brain cells but at the same time has to be rigid in order to be deployed where needed. 

The researchers ave managed this impossibile feat by creating an electrode that is so flexible that can't even resist tiny movement of water and have covered it by a substance that makes it rigid so that it can be positioned as desired. Once positioned the covering substance dissolves in the brain (with no adverse effect on the cells) leaving the flexible electrode to float among neurones.  Take a look at the clip.

It will be interesting to see how this possibility can increase our understanding of the brain. 

Author - Roberto Saracco

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