Researchers Create Device that Observes Hundreds of Neurons in Real-Time

Silicon computing power now meets brain research and prosthetics.

Researchers from Stanford University in the U.S. have created a novel device that links the brain directly to silicon-based technologies. This method allows more data to be recorded in a more non-intrusive manner than other current devices. 

The hope is that this device will improve medical technologies for humans in the future, such as prosthetics, and devices to assist speech and vision.

Their study was published in the journal Science Advances on March 20th. 


Novel method of collecting data from the brain

"Nobody has taken these 2D silicon electronics and matched them to the three-dimensional architecture of the brain before," said Abdulmalik Obaid, a graduate student in materials science and engineering at Stanford University.

"We had to throw out what we already know about conventional chip fabrication and design new processes to bring silicon electronics into the third dimension. And we had to do it in a way that could scale up easily," he continued.

Researchers Create Device that Observes Hundreds of Neurons in Real-Time
Abdulmalik Obaid (left) and Nick Melosh (right) with their microwire array, Source: Andrew Brodhead/Stanford University

The device is linked to a number of microwires, all of which are the width of the equivalent of half of a human hair. These wires are inserted into the brain and are directly connected to the silicon device outside. The device then records all electrical brain signals that pass by each wire.

"Electrical activity is one of the highest-resolution ways of looking at brain activity," said Nick Melosh, professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and co-senior author of the paper. "With this microwire array, we can see what’s happening on the single-neuron level."

It's a simple yet in-depth option, as Melosh continued to explain "Silicon chips are so powerful and have an incredible ability to scale up." Our array couples with that technology very simply. You can actually just take the chip, press it onto the exposed end of the bundle and get the signals."

Currently, the tests have only been carried out on animals, and mice in particular. The next steps include longer-term animal studies, as well as looking into what other kinds of data their device can take note of. 

The ultimate goal is to see whether this technology can be used to improve medical technologies, such as in prosthetics and devices that help improve speech and vision. 

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