Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the University of Washington, USA have invented a device that can control neural circuits using a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone. The scientists, publishing in Nature Biomedical Engineering, believe the device can speed up efforts to uncover brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addiction, depression, and pain.
The device uses two techniques, namely neuropharmacology and optogenetics, to decode neural circuitry. These techniques can also be used to provide therapeutic strategies for brain disorders. Neuropharmacology is the study of how drugs affect cellular function in the nervous system while optogenetics involves the use of light to control neurons.
The device uses replaceable drug cartridges and Bluetooth low-energy to deliver drugs and light to specific neurons of interest. Previous neuronal interfaces were limited in their ability to deliver drugs and light for prolonged periods of time as they involved rigid metal tubes and optical fibers. To achieve chronic wireless drug delivery, scientists had to solve the critical challenge of exhaustion and evaporation of drugs. The researchers collaborated to invent this neural device which could allow neuroscientists to study the same brain circuits for several months without worrying about running out of drugs.
These ‘plug-n-play’ drug cartridges were assembled into a brain implant for mice. Controlled with a cooperative user interface on a smartphone, neuroscientists can easily manipulate the combination of light and drug deliveries in any implanted target animal without the need to be physically inside the laboratory.
Collaborative efforts among engineers and neuroscientists over a period of three consecutive years and tens of design iterations led to the successful validation of this powerful brain implant in freely moving mice, which researchers believe can truly speed up the uncovering of brain and its diseases.