Neural Implant Technology Needs To Improve

SF fans have a sort of love/hate relationship with neural implants. On the one hand, there's the fascination with having a few helpful enhancements, like the implanted sockets for microsofts that make it easy to add new skills or capabilities to the user, or the communications implant that would allow direct communication with computers.

On the other hand, there's the dark side, with devices like the droud from Larry Niven's Ringworld Engineers, which offers endless, unearned ecstasy, provided for a few pennies-worth of electrical current delivered to the pleasure center of the brain. Another example would be the neural cut out that lets another person take control of your body, turning you into a mere meat puppet.

Whichever your preference, there are certain technologies that must be developed before we will get any of the above.

It turns out that trying to permanently installing something metallic in your brain is problematic. Rigid metal electrodes placed in the soft tissue of the brain triggers a cascade of inflammatory signals, which damages or kills neurons.

Scientists at the University of Michigan are working with neural interfaces that are coated with an electrically conductive polymer to work around these problems.

David Martin and his collaborators have developed a way to electrochemically deposit the polymer onto the electrode (similar to chroming a car bumper). By adding small amounts of another polymer, the conductive polymer forms a hairy texture along the metal shaft.

Animal tests of cortical implants in rodents and cochlear implants--in which an electrode array is implanted into the auditory portion of the inner ear--in guinea pigs suggest that coated electrodes perform better than bare metal versions, particularly in the short term. However, it's not yet clear how they'll fare in the long term, which is one of the biggest problems facing chronic implants--especially devices that record neural activity. "Recording quality deteriorates over time with all existing electrodes," says Andrew Schwartz, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh.


(Scientists develop new ways to integrate electrodes with brain tissue)
One approach is to grow PEDOT, an electrically conductive polymer, onto an electrode after it is surgically implanted into the body. Shown here is a slice of cortical tissue from a mouse in which the polymer (shown in blue) was deposited after insertion of the metal electrode. The polymer surrounds the cells, forming a diffuse, conductive network that follows the white-matter tracts of the cortex.
[Credit: Sarah Richardson-Burns]

Another interesting development is a special polymer that can switch from rigid to flexible, potentially creating a pliable electrode. Researchers "isolated stiff cellulose fibers from the mantles of tunicates, sea creatures with skin similar to that of sea cucumbers. The researchers then combined the fibers with a rubbery polymer mixture. The fibers formed a uniform matrix throughout, reinforcing the softer polymer material."

"In the stiff state, the material is like a hard, rigid plastic, much like your CD case," says Christoph Weder, professor of macromolecular science and engineering at Case Western University. "When the material becomes soft, it's more like a rubber." He says that if such a material were used to design neural electrodes, it could be engineered to respond to fluid in the brain, softening as it comes in contact with nerve tissue.

Cochlear implants and deep brain stimulation are just two real-life techniques that work by stimulating nerve cells via an implanted electrode, and would require long-term implantation.

From Flexible/Rigid Biopolymer Inspired By Sea Cucumbers and Growing Neural Implants: New approaches could more seamlessly integrate medical devices into the body..

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/24/2008)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )

Related News Stories - (" Medical ")

BioVYZR Is Ready, Anti-Covid19 PAPR Lovers
'Some clad in the insulated space-suits, with their transparent glassite helmets.' - Edmond Hamilton, 1931.

Healight Ultraviolet Endotracheal Device Has Covid-19 Treatment Potential
'He applied the tip of the instrument to the interior of the wound...' - Cogswell, 1976.

Beat Covid-19 With AIR By MicroClimate - At Last I Get My PAPR
More than just a bubble.

EPR Is Quick, Temporary Biostasis
'The cold-pack was being sucked out greedily by plastic suction tendrils...' - Philip K. Dick, 1960.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Looking Glass Display Good Enough For Science Fiction, Fantasy
'The figure seemed to be swimming toward the surface.'

Do You Need The Entire Fembot? Maybe Just The Hand
'...Men don't want real women anymore. You and I are behind the times...'

3D Printing With Sunlight And Sand
'We made a crude, small cell and were delighted...'

Samsung Gets Transparent Smartphone Patent
The Transparency of Things to Come

Monkey Gets A Bigger Brain, Thanks To Human Gene
'It's a madhouse! a madhouse!'

Solar Power Beamed From Space Studied By Brit Boffins
'Our beams feed these worlds energy drawn from... the Sun.'

Pandemic Entrepreneurs! Consider Robo Esso Robot Barista
'... the perpetual beam carved in the robot face of the bartender, the classic Irish grin.'

Shape-Shifting Robot From MIT
'... the structure of that shape is retained down to the molecules.'

Tesla's 20,000 Superchargers
'To recharge the batteries, which can be done in almost every town and village...'

Smallest Rogue Planet Discovered In Milky Way
'...a swarm of rogue planets chanced by.'

New Technology For Interplanetary Communication
'... sweating, heat-blistered engineers at every interplanetary radiograph station on three planets, stood by their generators.'

First Lunar Water, Then... Monolith?
'It looks brand new, doesn't it?'

Flying Robot Inspired By Hawks
'The dark birdforms dotted the mountaintops...'

Jet-Powered Flying Suits Tested By Navy
'With his motor in operation, he moves like a diver, head foremost...'

Pub Installs Electrified Fence Around Bar
'I start twelve immensely strong wires--naked, not insulated --from a big dynamo...'

What Does A Tesla Full Self-Driving Car See?
'All objects within my panoramic gaze trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures...'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.