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Smartphone App Developed to Control Neural Circuits

Conventional drug delivery systems implanted in the brain are bulky, and the rigid metal tubes and optical fibres cause lesions in soft brain tissue. A team of scientists in Korea and the USA have developed a new device that overshadows current devices. It can be used wirelessly via a smartphone and, because of its compact structure, is safe for long-term implantation.

With the idea to speed up efforts to uncover the pathogenesis and potential treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addiction, plus more, the teams developed a tiny device that can be implanted in the brain. The device can not only deliver drugs and light to specific targeted neurons of interest, but it can be controlled via Bluetooth technology.

“It allows us to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behaviour, and how specific neuromodulators in the brain tune behaviour in various ways,” said Michael Bruchas, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine and pharmacology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, USA. “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.”

The device was developed with a structure that allowed drug cartridges to be replaced, combatting one of the major issues that current devices have: the fact that they are incapable of delivering drugs for long periods of time. To date, the device has been tested in freely moving mice, and the study produced positive results. The microfluidic channels and multiple tiny LED that make up the ultrathin probe (thinner than a human hair) delivers unlimited drug doses and light to allow researchers to wirelessly, this enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation, something that has never been achieved before.

The elegant interface of the smartphone app allows users to simply control the delivery of drugs and light in a precise manner. This can all be achieved without the subject, patient, or researcher having to be present in the laboratory.

“This revolutionary device is the fruit of advanced electronics design and powerful micro and nanoscale engineering,” said Jae-Woong Jeong, a professor of electrical engineering at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon, South Korea. “We are interested in further developing this technology to make a brain implant for clinical applications.”