Tiny chips – neurobeads – detect electrical activity in the brain and transmit this data wirelessly. Their size does not exceed a grain of salt. The research results are published in the journal Nature Electronics.
In many existing brain-computer interface systems, electrodes (usually one or two) are implanted directly into the brain. Each of them stimulates and / or monitors the electrical activity of several hundred neurons in one area. At the same time, there are about 86 billion neurons in the brain, and scientists are looking for ways to reach as many of them at the same time, without filling the patient’s brain with ordinary-sized electrodes.
Four years ago, scientists from Brown University in Rhode Island, the University of Texas at Baylor, the University of California at San Diego, and Qualcomm began developing a higher-resolution alternative. The result is sensors known as neurobeads. They are much smaller than traditional implanted electrodes – each about the size of a grain of salt. They have recently been tested in rats and the results have been promising.
Once implanted, a network of multiple neurobeads is wirelessly powered by a thin electronic patch the size of a thumbprint that is adhered to the patient’s scalp. This patch also receives electrical signals from sensors, and it also sends signals to them to stimulate neighboring neurons.