The human brain's complexity makes it extremely difficult to study - not
only because of its sheer size, but also because of the variety of signaling
methods it uses simultaneously.
Conventional neural probes are designed to record a single type of
signaling, limiting the information that can be derived from the brain at any
point in time. Now researchers at MIT may have found a way to change that.
By producing complex multimodal fibers that could be less than the width of
a hair, they have created a system that could deliver optical signals and drugs
directly into the brain, along with simultaneous electrical readout to
continuously monitor the effects of the various inputs.
The new technology is described in a paper appearing in the journal Nature Biotechnology
, written by MIT's
Polina Anikeeva and 10 others. An earlier paper by the team described the use
of similar technology for use in spinal cord research.
In addition to transmitting different kinds of signals, the new fibers are
made of polymers that closely resemble the characteristics of neural tissues,
Anikeeva says, allowing them to stay in the body much longer without harming
the delicate tissues around them.
"We're building neural interfaces that will interact with tissues in a more
organic way than devices that have been used previously," says Anikeeva, an
assistant professor of materials science and engineering. To do that, her team
made use of novel fiber-fabrication technology pioneered by MIT professor of
materials science (and paper co-author) Yoel Fink and his team, for use in
photonics and other applications.