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 ")

BrainEx Restores Some Activity To Severed Pig Head
'... they placed the brain in a special solution, having all the properties of Nursing the brain cells.' - Edmond Hamilton, 1929.

Purdue Pharma Ready To Profit From OxyContin Use Or Addiction Recovery
'It may be organic damage. It may be permanent. Time'll tell, and only after you are off Substance D for a long while.' - Philip K. Dick, 1977.

Organaut! Russians 3D Print Living Tissue In Space
'For a while your colonists will have to come up [to orbit] to the Hospital...' - Larry Niven, 1968.

MIT Scientists Create 'Peek-a-Boo Prober' From Jetsons
Well, George, it's the latest thing.

 

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

BrainEx Restores Some Activity To Severed Pig Head
'... they placed the brain in a special solution, having all the properties of Nursing the brain cells.'

Yes, But Do Astrobees Have Lasers For Lightsaber Training?
'... Ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.'

'Young Razorbacks Before Their Katanas Grow In'
'Twin robotic arms with gleaming three-foot sword blades unfolded from the forward hydraulic assemblies...'

A New Way To Run Into Things
'He made an adjustment, pointed the tube at the wall beside Etzwane, and projected a cone of light.'

'Metallic Wood' Strong Like Titanium, Floats In Water
'A metal... light as cork and stronger than steel...'

Seabreacher, H.G. Winter's 1939 Torpoon
'Ken lay full-length in the padded body compartment, his feet resting on the controlling bars of the directional planes, hands on the torpoon's engine levers.'

Abundant Robotics Autonomous Apple Harvester Robot
'... little machines, that went from plant to plant... cutting off the ripe fruit.'

Charging An Electric Car In 2019 (Video), 1912 (Photo) And 1894 (Fiction)
'Recharge the batteries... in almost every town and village...'

Japan Uses Explosives On Asteroid
'...a tiny, rocket-powered projectile, drove towards the mysterious bulk. It hit, exploding into a cloud of incandescent vapour.'

Get Your Speeder Flying Motorcycle From Jetpack Aviation
'The flycycles were miracles of compact design.'

FLIR Black Hornet 3 Palm-sized Drone
These drones can provide situational awareness beyond visual line-of-sight capability.

Dockworkers Protest Driverless Trucks
'It resembled conventional human-operated transportation vehicles, but with one exception -- there was no driver's cabin.'

Flying Car Concept By Kash Sirinanda
'Each one consists of a hub with many tiny spokes... On the end is a squat foot, rubber tread on the bottom...'

Unfurl The Future! Huawei Mate X versus Galaxy Fold
'A paper thin polycarbon screen unfurled silently from the top of the unit and immediately grew rigid.'

Amazon Echo And Google Home Should Have Morality Software
'The Dwoskin Morality Rating-Computer could 'spot the slightest tendency to deviation' from the social norm...'

China Building Robot Wives
'Want a life-companion, a pleasant one?'

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.