Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (PA, USA) have received a USD$1.95 billion R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a new class of high-density neural probes.
The grant – which is part of the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative – supports research that will develop a new manufacturing method for neural probes based on 3D nanoparticle printing.
This new technology provides researchers with the ability to quickly prototype new electrodes that can fit in a small area, increasing accessibility to brain tissue.
“This research proposes to use a novel additive manufacturing method that uses 3D nanoparticle printing to fabricate customizable, ultra-high-density neural probes, such as brain-machine interfaces or BMIs,” commented Associate Professor, Rahul Panat (Carnegie Mellon University). “The recording densities of the probes will be an order of magnitude higher than that made by any current method.”
Many existing 2D and 3D arrays of silicon electrodes are impractical due to them being fragile and expensive. Furthermore, they are unable to achieve the resolution required for applications, such as precision neuroprosthetics, as they have a relatively low density of electrodes.
“With fMRI [functional MRI] we can see the whole brain, but the temporal and spatial resolution are not where we need them to be. Electrodes can give us millisecond, single-neuron resolution but even with the most recent advances you might only be able to get information from 300 or 400 neurons at a time,” explained Assistant Professor, Eric Yttri (Carnegie Mellon University).
Yttri added: “With my expertise in neuroscience and Rahul’s pioneering 3D printing technique based on aerosol jet technology, we decided to combine our interests to bridge this gap that exists between the two ways neuroscience is classically done.”
By using 3D printing, Panat and Yttri combined their research expertise to produce a microelectrode array designed to achieve an unprecedented level of customizability.
“If you want an electrode, typically you go to a supplier who offers 10 options and you have to make one of those options work for any experiment,” explained Yttri. “By 3D printing the electrodes with our high throughput method, we can put the recording sites as close together or far away as we want. And, the nature of the electrodes’ structure means they can be implanted in the brain much easier and with less damage than the current state of the art.”
The end goal for this project is to create medical devices, such as brain-machine interfaces, that are more precise and customizable. Patients could be given an electrode for a neuroprosthetic, customized using their structural MRI to map the individual curves of their brain.
“This research will lead to a more precise 3D mapping of neural circuits and precision neuroprosthetic devices that can restore significantly more of patients’ previously lost functionality. The research will also lead to new avenues for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as paraplegia and epilepsy,” concluded Panat.