Researchers with San Diego State University have developed a new generation of electrodes that can take brain signals and prompt limb movement in people suffering from spinal cord injuries, the school said Thursday.
The development of the glassy carbon electrode by scientists with the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering — a collaboration between SDSU, the University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — could lead to an improved implantable brain chip that records neural electrical signals and transmits them to receivers in the limb, bypassing the damage and restoring movement.
The new electrode would replace the current type made of thin-film platinum, which can fracture and fall apart over time, the scientists said in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. The glassy carbon type would be more durable, last longer in the body and transmit clearer, stronger signals.
“Glassy carbon is much more promising for reading signals directly from neurotransmitters,” said Sam Kassegne, the center’s deputy director and .
“You get about twice as much signal-to-noise,” said Kassegne, an SDSU professor of mechanical engineering. “It’s a much clearer signal and easier to interpret.”
The glassy carbon electrodes are fabricated at SDSU by patterning a liquid polymer into the correct shape, and heating it to 1,000 degrees Celsius, causing it to become glassy and electrically conductive. Once the electrodes are cooked and cooled, they are incorporated into chips that read and transmit signals from the brain and to the nerves.
Researchers in Kassegne’s lab are using the new and improved brain- computer interfaces to record neural signals both along the brain’s cortical surface and from inside the brain at the same time.
The SDSU-UW-MIT collaboration was initially funded in 2011 by an $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. In 2015, the grant was renewed, providing an additional $15 million to $20 million to the researchers.
Each university focuses on particular areas of expertise, but they work closely on the shared goal of ultimately restoring motor function to people with nervous system injuries by furthering what’s possible with brain-computer interfaces, according to SDSU.
–City News Service
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: