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Hair-Width Fiber Reads Data from the Brain

Researchers have developed a thin wire capable of transmitting data to and from the brain.

MIT researchers have developed a hair-thin fiber capable of transmitting optical, electrical, and chemical signals back and forth to the brain. The new technology is the result of two years of development, and with some further improvements and tweaks, could dramatically change how we understand different brain regions and their interconnections. Development of the new fiber was a collaboration between material scientists, chemists, biologists, and other specialists. The results have been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The fibers are designed to mimic brain tissue, having similar flexibility and softness. This may enable brain implants to remain in the body longer than conventional technology with stiff metal fibers, thus leading to more extensive and deep data collection. As an example, during a lab test performed with mice,  researchers injected a virus that carried opsins, genes which make neurons sensitive to light, through one of two fluid channels in the fiber. After the opsins took effect, the researchers sent a pulse of light through the optical waveguide in the center of the fiber, and recorded the resulting neuron activity, using six electrodes to pinpoint specific reactions. Such an analysis would not have been possible before through a single fiber.

Grad student Seongjun Parkholding the fiber.

Previous research attempting to accomplish similar tasks would have involved several pieces of tech working together; one to inject a drug, one to transmit a light pulse, and so on. The problem with this, apart from not being very streamlined, is that the equipment all has to be aligned, a task which was “somewhat probabilistic,” says Polina Anikeeva, professor in materials science and one of the authors on the paper “We said, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a device that could just do it all.”

The team’s next goal is to reduce the size of the fiber even further, and make it closer still to neural tissue. “The next engineering challenge is to use material that is even softer, to really match adjascent tissue,” said another of the authors, MIT graduate student Seongjun Park.

source: Nature Neuroscience

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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