Scientists Develop Injectable, Gel-Based Electrode for Brain Stimulation—Safer Than Metal Implants

2 months ago 55

Linköping University in Sweden scientists have created a novel soft gel electrode that might revolutionize brain stimulation.

According to this Wired article, the scientists developed a gel that, when injected into brain tissue, solidifies into an electrically conductive polymer that resembles the softness and fluidity of brain tissue.

This new approach can potentially improve the quality of life for patients who require brain stimulation, such as those suffering from paralysis, without incurring the severe harm and scarring associated with existing metal electrode implants.

Drawbacks of Metal Electrode Implants

Metal electrodes have been used to monitor and stimulate brain activity for decades, but they have serious drawbacks. Metal electrodes, when implanted, create scarring that isolates the electrode from the surrounding neurons, inhibiting efficient stimulation or recording.

Moreover, studies show that metal electrodes are rigid and do not fit the brain's delicate and pliable tissue. This stiffness can cause injury and inflammation, resulting in a shortened implant lifespan.

These issues are addressed with the new gel-based electrode. As the gel is injected into brain tissue, it solidifies into a soft, pliable electrode that can move and flex with the surrounding tissue without causing injury or inflammation. Since the gel is electrically conductive, it can record and stimulate brain activity.

Testing Gel Electrodes

Researchers tested the gel electrode in zebrafish and leeches in a paper titled "Metabolite-induced in vivo fabrication of substrate-free organic bioelectronics," with favorable results.

In these species, the gel created a soft and effective electrode without inflicting any injury or negative effects. Nevertheless, the gel has yet to be tested in mammals, and researchers must find out how to wirelessly interact with the electrode in order to analyze signals.

What's next?

The researchers have devised a method for creating electrodes inside the bodies of living organisms. These electrodes are composed of conductive polymer gel and can self-assemble inside an animal's body utilizing enzymes that produce hydrogen peroxide. The gel may then be formed into electrodes, which can subsequently be used to stimulate or record electrical impulses in the animal's brain.

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However, the researchers are still working on techniques to interact with the electrodes and wirelessly convey impulses from the brain to the surface of the skull, where they can be analyzed. 

According to Magnus Berggren, professor of organic electronics at Linköping University in Sweden, they are also attempting to fine-tune the gel recipe so that the electrodes only develop in certain brain parts rich in specific substances, such as lactate or certain neurotransmitters.

While this technology is still in its early stages and has yet to be tested in animals, it might have uses in brain-computer interfaces for those who are completely paralyzed. It might potentially be utilized to treat neurological illnesses such as epilepsy by targeting specific brain areas.

In Other News

In a new study, researchers observed that combining two drugs, entinostat, and trametinib, can help reduce tumor size and number in mice with non-small cell lung cancer.

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