Wirelessly charged brain implant tackles disease with light

Medical implants that help regulate activity in the brain could go a long way to treating conditions like Parkinson’s and depression, and scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have just developed one with some very useful functionality. The device uses light to manipulate targeted neurons in the brain, and thanks to newfound capabilities, can be recharged wirelessly from outside the body.

The device is a continuation of research we looked at last year, where the same group of scientists demonstrated a type of plug-and-play brain implant that uses tiny LEDs to alter the behavior of brain cells that are sensitive to light. These are fixed to very fine probes around the thickness of a human hair, which can also be used to deliver drugs to the organ.

All of this was built onto a device that could be mounted in the brain and controlled wirelessly by a smartphone, but the scientists have now made some tweaks to the system. The new and improved version incorporates a wireless energy harvester with a coil antenna that captures alternating magnetic fields that are harmlessly pulsed through the skin, generating electricity and charging the small battery onboard.

“This powerful device eliminates the need for additional painful surgeries to replace an exhausted battery in the implant, allowing seamless chronic neuromodulation,” said Professor Jae-Woong Jeong, who led the research team. “We believe that the same basic technology can be applied to various types of implants, including deep brain stimulators, and cardiac and gastric pacemakers, to reduce the burden on patients for long-term use within the body.”

The device features a Bluetooth chip enabling the LED lights to be controlled via smartphone, delivering programmable patterns that can be tailored for specific outcomes. This was demonstrated in experiments on rats that had been injected with cocaine, where the implants were used to suppress cocaine-induced behaviors.

“The fact that we can control a specific behaviour of animals, by delivering light stimulation into the brain just with a simple manipulation of smartphone app, watching freely moving animals nearby, is very interesting and stimulates a lot of imagination,” said Jeong-Hoon Kim, a professor of physiology at Yonsei University’s College of Medicine. “This technology will facilitate various avenues of brain research.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

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