WASHINGTON — Scientists in the United States and Republic of Korea developed a device that can control neural circuits in animals with a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone.
The wireless device can speed up efforts to uncover brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and pain, according to a study published on Monday in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology installed a Lego-like replaceable drug cartridges to the neural device, allowing neuroscientists to study the same brain circuits for several months without worrying about running out of drugs.
Previously, similar solutions are unable to deliver drugs for long periods of time and they have bulky and complex control setups.
The plug-n-play drug cartridges are assembled into a brain implant for mice with a soft and ultra-thin probe as thick as a human hair. The probe consists of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs that are smaller than a grain of salt, for drug doses and light delivery.
With a smartphone and bluetooth connection, neuroscientists can easily trigger any specific combination or precise sequencing of light and drug deliveries in an implanted target animal without need to be physically inside the laboratory.
The wireless neural device allows researchers to make fully automated animal studies where behavior of one animal could positively or negatively affect behavior in other animals by conditional triggering of light and/or drug delivery, according to the study.
“It allows us to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behavior,” said Michael Bruchas, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “We are also eager to use the device for complex pharmacological studies, which could help us develop new therapeutics for pain, addiction, and emotional disorders.”