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Patent Awarded for Fractal Connections in Implants

Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor (University of Oregon)

28 July 2015. Electronic microcircuits designed to resemble fractals in nature used in implanted medical devices received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent number 9,079,017 was awarded on 14 July 2015 to physicist and materials scientist Richard Taylor at University of Oregon and Simon Brown at University of Canterbury in New Zealand. The patent is assigned to both institutions.

Fractals are never-ending complex patterns, generated by repeating simple processes through a constant feedback loop. In nature, fractal patterns are common and familiar, found in trees, clouds, and lightning, as well as biological networks of blood vessels and neurons or nerve cells.

Taylor — professor of physics, psychology, and art, as well as director of the Materials Science Institute at University of Oregon in Eugene — studies microcircuits that bridge the dimensional gap limiting connections between biological networks with fractal designs and electronic circuits with more predictable one-dimensional patterns. In retinal implants to overcome failing eyesight from macular degeneration, for example, less than 10 percent of electrodes appear to interact with neurons in the eye. Likewise, electronic sensors are currently able to read signals from no more than 100 neurons in the cortical column in the brain at any one time, despite there being thousands of neurons in that region.

In their labs, Taylor and Brown develop technologies to grow nanoscale circuits with metal nanoparticles that self-assemble into fractal patterns resembling the branches found in biological networks. Interconnections with these fractal-inspired networks detect and monitor nerve signals, as well as induce signals and control their transmission through networks of neurons. When implanted, these circuits would encourage acceptance with glial cells, the cells in the brain supporting neurons, rather than stimulate rejection by the body’s immune system.

The patent covers fractal interfaces for connecting any electronics to any nerve. The document describes the scope as fractal-inspired interconnections designed not just for retinal implants, but for any neural networks in the body, as well as artificially grown neurons. In addition, the patent covers fractal connections with neuronal networks in any organisms, including parts of severed nerves in petri dishes.

Taylor says in a university statement the technology is not quite ready for practical applications, requiring “at least another couple of years of basic science before moving forward.” University of Oregon’s technology transfer office, however, already offers the invention for licensing.

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