A team of researchers from Brown University, in the United States, has taken a key step towards a new concept for a future advanced brain-computer interface system, which uses a coordinated network of micro-scale wireless neural sensors, each one the size of a grain of salt, to register and stimulate the brain.
The sensors, called ‘neurograins’, independently record the electrical pulses produced by the activity of neurons and they send the signals wirelessly to a central hub, which coordinates and processes the signals. The device is described in an article recently published in the journal Nature Electronics.
Record of neuronal activity and therapeutic stimulation
According to a Press release, the new system could allow the recording of brain signals with an unprecedented level of detail, leading to new insights into how the brain works and new therapies for people with brain or spinal injuries.
Basically a brain-computer interface It is a technology aimed at acquiring brain waves so that they can later be processed and interpreted by a computer or computing device. They allow the interaction between technology and our thinking, since even ideas can become real and concrete actions with an impact on our environment.
But the new study goes one step further, since it tries to make these interfaces also serve us to understand details of the functioning of the human brain that we cannot access with other methods, such as brain images. Even specialists have placed almost 50 of these autonomous “neurograins” to record neural activity in a rodent, obtaining surprising results that could soon materialize in humans.
Unique details of brain activity
Considering the size of the rodent’s brain, it was only possible to incorporate 48 chips, but the creators of the new brain-computer interface believe that the system could support up to 770 “neurograins.” Even when applied to the human brain, experts believe that the system will tolerate several thousand chips, promoting a currently unattainable overview of brain activity.
Together with the tiny silicon chips that capture the electrical activity of neurons, the researchers developed a communications center that works as a coordinator, receiving the signals from the small chips. It is a patch the size of a fingerprint, which is attached to the scalp outside the skull. It uses a network protocol to coordinate the signals from the ‘neurograins’.
The experiments with rodents allowed to verify the effectiveness of the new system. The brain-computer interface achieves stimulate and activate neuronal dynamicsThe coordinating center being in charge of managing the recording of data provided by the neurons. The “patch” also wirelessly supplies power to the chips, which are specially designed to operate on a minimal amount of electricity.
The “Holy Grail” for the study of the brain
In addition, specialists believe that in the future stimulation with «neurograins» will achieve restore brain functions lost to illness or injury. The device would become in a way a “Holy Grail” for brain research: on the one hand, it would manage to reveal the mysteries of its operation and, on the other, it could fully restore it when necessary.
Neural recording and stimulation using wireless networks of microimplants. Lee, J., Leung, V., Lee, AH. et al. Nature Electronics (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-021-00631-8
Photo: Tiny chips called “neurograins” are able to detect electrical activity in the brain and transmit that data wirelessly. They can be used both to understand brain phenomena and to develop therapies and treatments that restore lost brain function. Credit: Jihun Lee.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.