Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) invented a smartphone-controlled soft brain implant that is wirelessly rechargeable once it has been fitted into a user's brain.
The device enables long-term neural circuit manipulation while removing the need for periodic disruptive surgeries to replace the implant's battery.
Their research was published on Jan. 22, 2021, in Nature Communications.
Wirelessly-rechargeable soft brain implant
The KAIST researchers engineered a tiny brain implant — a fully implantable, soft optoelectronic system — that can control brain circuits for long periods without the need for battery replacement.
The device is made out of ultra-soft and bio-compliant polymers that enable long-term compatibility with live tissue.
Micrometer-sized LEDs about the size of a grain of salt that are mounted on ultrathin probes (as thin as human hairs) allow the device to wirelessly manipulate target neurons via light in the deep brain.
To enable wireless battery recharging, the researchers developed a tiny circuit that integrates a wireless energy harvester with a coil antenna and a Bluetooth low-energy chip: an alternating magnetic field generates electricity inside the device for charging.
No need for painful surgeries
The researchers believe their technology has the potential to uncover and treat disorders and neurodegenerative diseases such as addiction, depression, and Parkinson’s.
Lead researcher Professor Jae-Woong Jeong emphasizes the fact that his team's research removes the need for tethered implants and battery-replacement surgeries:
"This powerful device eliminates the need for additional painful surgeries to replace an exhausted battery in the implant, allowing seamless chronic neuromodulation," Professor Jeong explained in a press release.
"We believe that the same basic technology can be applied to various types of implants, including deep brain stimulators, and cardiac and gastric pacemakers, to reduce the burden on patients for long-term use within the body," he continued.
The growing field of BCIs
The neuroscientists successfully tested their new implant in rats by demonstrating its ability to suppress cocaine-induced behavior in rats injected with cocaine.
The researchers believe their brain implant is an important addition to the growing field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that have the potential to cure diseases at the same time as allowing humans to seamlessly navigate the digital world.