Rice University engineers develop ultra

flexible nanoelectrodes for brain stimulation therapy

Engineers at Rice University are breaking new ground in brain stimulation therapy by creating minimally invasive, ultra-flexible nanoelectrodes. As reported in Newswise, these innovative devices have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of patients with impaired sensory or motor function.

Recent research in Cell Reports shows how nanoelectrodes can establish durable tissue-electrode interfaces with minimal scarring or deterioration in rodents. This is a significant leap over the capabilities of traditional intracortical electrodes.

“This research uses histological, behavioral, and imaging methods to show the improved stimulation efficacy achieved by these tissue-embedded electrodes,” explained Lan Luan, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Rice University and corresponding author of the study. .

The Future of Sensory Prosthetic Devices with Ultra-flexible Electrodes

The nanoelectrodes deliver precise and minute electrical pulses, allowing controlled excitation of neural activity. Furthermore, compared to traditional electrodes, they require a significantly reduced current for neural activation, achieving an order of magnitude improvement.

The comparison is clear when looking at the current state of brain stimulation therapies. Traditional implantable electrodes, used to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, often cause adverse tissue reactions and unwanted disturbances in neural activity.

Chong Xie, corresponding author of the study and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, compared the effect of traditional electrodes to “blowing an air horn in everyone’s ear or blasting a loudspeaker” in a room full of people. By contrast, the nanoelectrodes developed at Rice offer more precision and fewer interruptions.

“Instead of a loudspeaker, now everyone has an earpiece,” Xie said.

Advanced control over signal frequency, duration, and intensity could open the door to innovative sensory prosthetic devices. “When a larger current is used, the firing of the neurons becomes more widespread and diffuse,” Luan said. “However, we successfully reduced the current and demonstrated significantly more focused activation.”

Luan and Xie are part of the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative, a collaborative effort to create an implantable visual prosthetic device for patients with visual impairments. They envision a future in which these electrode arrays can be implanted to restore impaired sensory function, with the level of precision in firing neurons crucial to generating accurate and precise sensations.

Starting July 1, Luan will assume the position of associate professor. Under his leadership, the team has published a series of research papers demonstrating the electrode’s ability to facilitate enhanced recording of brain activity over prolonged periods.

Roy Lycke, a postdoctoral associate in electrical and computer engineering, and Robin Kim, a graduate student, led the study. Lycke and Kim have played a key role in conducting the research, with support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and internal funding from Stroke and Rice.

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