Scientists Manipulate Brain Cells With Smartphone

A novel invention has the capacity to control neural circuits using a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone.

Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the University of Washington in Seattle have engineered a device that can manipulate brain cells with a smartphone. The invention has the capacity to control neural circuits using a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone. 

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A wireless neural device

"The wireless neural device enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation that has never been achieved before," said lead author Raza Qazi, a researcher with KAIST and the University of Colorado Boulder.

The novel device has the unique ability to target specific neurons of interest using drug and light for prolonged periods. This is a major improvement over conventional methods long used by neuroscientists.

Those employed rigid metal tubes and optical fibers to deliver drugs and light, limiting the subject's movements and even causing lesions in soft brain tissue over time. Scientists, therefore, had to come up with a better solution, especially for long-term drug delivery.

However, in order to ensure chronic wireless drug delivery, scientists also had to solve the issue of exhaustion and evaporation of drugs. The researchers conceived of a neural device with a replaceable drug cartridge.

LEGO-like cartridges

These were described as LEGO-like cartridges that were assembled into a brain implant for mice controlled by a smartphone. Better yet, they are powered by bluetooth low-energy.

"This revolutionary device is the fruit of advanced electronics design and powerful micro and nanoscale engineering," said Jae-Woong Jeong, a professor of electrical engineering at KAIST. "We are interested in further developing this technology to make a brain implant for clinical applications."

"It allows us to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behavior, and how specific neuromodulators in the brain tune behavior in various ways," added Michael Bruchas, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine and pharmacology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "We are also eager to use the device for complex pharmacological studies, which could help us develop new therapeutics for pain, addiction, and emotional disorders."

The invention, the researchers believe, can truly benefit the uncovering of the brain and its many diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, addiction, depression, and pain. The study is published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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