3D engineers printed soft brain implants. The work of a research team from MIT engineers led by engineering professor Xuanhe Zhao is published in Eurek Alert.
The brain is one of the most vulnerable organs of the person, and most often. Moreover, brain implants are usually made of metal and other hard materials, which over time can cause inflammation and the formation of scar tissue.
MIT engineers are working to create soft, flexible neural implants that can smoothly fit the contours of the brain and control its activity over long periods without affecting the surrounding tissue. Such flexible electronics can be a milder alternative to existing metal-based electrodes designed to monitor brain activity, and can also be useful in brain implantation, which stimulates the nerve regions to relieve symptoms of epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and severe depression.
The research team has developed a method for 3D printing of neural sensors and other electronic devices. The devices are made of polymer and soft plastic, which is electrically conductive. The team converted this usually liquid conductive polymer solution into a substance more like a viscous toothpaste, which they could pass through a regular 3D printer to create stable, electrically conductive substances.
The team printed several soft electronic devices, including a small rubber electrode, which they implanted in the brain of the mouse. When the mouse moved freely in a controlled environment, a neural probe could capture the activity of one neuron. Monitoring this activity can give scientists a higher resolution of the picture of brain activity, as well as help in the selection of treatment methods and long-term brain implants for various neurological disorders.