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Electronic Film Implant Designed to Monitor Brain Functions

Electronic brain implant film (University of Pennsylvania)

(Travis Ross and Yun Soung Kim, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Medical and engineering researchers from the U.S., Korea, and China have developed a thin, flexible electronic film that can monitor brain activity without the use of penetrating electrodes. The team’s findings appear online in the journal Nature Neuroscience (paid subscription required).

The film (illustrated left), about one-quarter the thickness of a human hair, contains 720 silicon nanoscale membrane transistors in a multiplexed 360-channel array. It can be positioned on the brain surface, but also in fissures or grooves normally inaccessible to today’s electronics. The higher density of the transistors in the device allows for more precise recording of brain activity at higher resolution than current monitors, and with 10 times fewer wires.

A potential application of the film is in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, particularly when surgery is required when drugs fail to adequately control seizures. This surgery involves removing an area of the brain where the seizures originate, and in many of these cases, arrays of electrodes are used to map the seizures and guide the surgery.

Current arrays for recording seizure activity in patients are made of electrodes attached to a rubbery base about the thickness of a credit card.  These arrays are placed on the surface of the brain, but they are not flexible enough to mold to the brain’s many folds.  The electrodes are widely spaced and allow for only limited brain coverage.

The researchers tested the flexible array on cats that have larger brains than mice or rats and are anatomically more like the human brain, with simplified folds and grooves. They found the film could record brain responses as the cats viewed simple objects, and sleep rhythms while the cats were under anesthesia.  In one set of experiments, the researchers recorded brain activity during seizures that were induced with a drug.

Brian Litt, senior author of the study and professor of neurology at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says the device is “likely to change our understanding of memory, vision, hearing and many other normal functions and diseases.” Litt adds that the findings can lead to less invasive devices for mapping brain circuits involved in paralysis, depression, and other network brain disorders, as well as epilepsy.

One of Litt’s collaborators, John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, invented the flexible electronics technology. Rogers has started a company to commercialize that technology.

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