Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) offer the glimmer of hope of enabling the paralyzed and disabled to control external devices with brain signals. A new study published in Advanced Functional Materials unveils the world’s first-of-its-kind brain-computer interface with a flexible backing and penetrating microneedles that enable better recording of brain-activity signals.
“Neural interface technologies that enable recording of broadband activity are anticipated to revolutionize neuroprosthetics by restoring communication and motor control in patients with neurological injuries, for use with neurotherapies for patients with epilepsy, movement disorders, and for use with neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disrupted cognitive processes, ” wrote the study authors.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning, namely deep neural networks, have accelerated progress in the BCI industry. AI is used to help identify patterns in the neural signals. The global brain-computer interface market size was USD $1.49 billion in 2020 and is expected to increase to USD $5.46 billion by 2030 with a compound annual growth rate of 13.9% during 2021-2030, according to Allied Market Research.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) and Boston University created a brain-computer interface that is scalable and flexible with a 1024-channel penetrating silicon microneedle array (SiMNA) that can be used for clinical translation of brain signals.
“The SiMNA is the first penetrating microneedle array with a flexible backing that affords compliancy to brain movements,” wrote the researchers.
To create the neurotechnology device, the researchers used innovative patented technology for the dual-side lithographic microfabrication process. According to the scientists, their fabrication process “paves a new path for the relatively low cost, mass production of a hybrid platform of penetrating and flexible electrode arrays.”
This novel brain-computer interface is “on par with and outperforms the ‘Utah Array,’ which is the existing gold standard for brain-computer interfaces with penetrating microneedles,” UC San Diego recently reported.
The Utah Electrode Array (Utah Array) is patented microelectrode array technology that is considered the gold standard for long-term recording and stimulating the brain. It was invented by the University of Utah biomedical engineering Professor Emeritus Richard Normann. The Utah Array is an implantable computer chip made by Blackrock Neurotech, formerly Blackrock Microsystems, a privately held neurotech company headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah with investors that include Peter Thiel.
Unlike the Utah Array, which has an inflexible backing, their brain-computer interface with a new silicon microneedle array is made of flexible, transparent, and thin material.
“Due to the transparency of the flexible substrate, optical stimulation, and imaging is possible and is demonstrated here with optogenetic stimulation and 2-photon imaging in chronically implanted mice,” the researchers wrote.
According to the researchers, their brain-computer interface produced reliable recordings of neural activity in rodents for up to 196 days in response to both air-puff on the whisker and optogenetic stimuli. The recordings captured intricate spatiotemporal mapping of the broadband neural activity in rodents.
“This novel scalable and biocompatible SiMNA with its multimodal capability and sensitivity to broadband brain activity will accelerate the progress in fundamental neurophysiological investigations and establishes a new milestone for penetrating and large area coverage microelectrode arrays for brain-machine interfaces,” the researchers.
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