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article imageChallenges for developing brain implant material

By Tim Sandle     Jun 1, 2018 in Science
Brain implants promise many applications, from medical to the control of remote devices. One thing hampering progress is suitable material, which will last for a long period of time and retain its functionality.
Brain implants (or neural implants) are technological devices which are designed to connect directly to a person's brain. Such devices are fitted to the surface of the brain, or, sometimes, attached to the brain's cortex. Considerable research and development has gone into establishing a biomedical prosthesis, for assisting those how have suffered from a degree of brain dysfunctionality, such as following a stroke or head injury.
Brain implant research is focusing on areas like sensory substitution, including vision. An alternative research tranche is looking at developing human-machine interfaces, connecting the neural system and computer chips. This could lead to people controlling machines via 'thought', which has potential business, military and medical applications.
Research into brain implants has been hampered by the strength and sustainability of the materials used to construct the implants. According to The Verge, considerable sums of research dollars have been spent on developing suitable technology. This ranges from various national government-funded projects to Elon Musk’s startup NeuraLink (which seeks to merge the brain with artificial intelligence). The primary problem is linking together the relative softness of the brain material with the generally rigidity of most electronic devices.
In terms of current developments, Christopher Bettinger, who is a materials scientist and biomedical engineer, outlines to The Verge, the challenges. These center on electronic devices using electrons for information flow and the brain using neurons (where sodium and potassium ions send signals), and any technology needs to bridge this asymmetry.
Bettinger also discusses the material challenges - the hard electronics and soft brain matter as mentioned earlier - and the steady degradation of the fitted micro-motion artifacts, which is a factor of time. To overcome this, Bettinger is working on developing polymer films that can bend and thus act as more suitable materials for brain implants. It looks as if he has produced a chemical process that can make electronics and stick them on the gelatinous material of the brain. If this comes to fruition, this could accelerate brain implant technology considerably.
Bettinger's latest researcher is published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, with the paper titled "Ultracompliant Hydrogel‐Based Neural Interfaces Fabricated by Aqueous‐Phase Microtransfer Printing."
More about brain implan, Implants, Brain, human and machine
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