Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia have developed a tiny device that can electronically stimulate the brain, paving the way for treatments without any invasive surgery.
According to the team, the new 4mm diameter Stentrode can be implanted inside a blood vessel through a vein in the neck. This approach avoids open brain surgery that is commonly required in order to place electrodes in the brain for delivering stimulation.
The tiny Stentrode has been made possible based on a previous research that the device could record brain signals and possesses the potential to control an exoskeleton in paralysis patients.
A separate proof-of-concept study was conducted by the researchers in partnership with Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Monash University and Synchron Australia. The latest research showed that a 4mm Stentrode can provide targeted stimulation.
When the device was implanted into blood vessels of sheep, it demonstrated localised stimulation of brain tissue.
Publishing the results in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the researchers wrote: “Stimulation-induced responses of the facial muscles and limbs were observed, and were comparable to those obtained with electrodes implanted following invasive surgery.
“A minimally invasive endovascular surgical approach utilising a stent-electrode array is an encouraging safe and efficacious way to stimulate focal regions of brain.”
While the findings back the use of a permanently implanted device for brain stimulation from inside a blood vessel, additional research is required to validate the safety of this type of stimulation at various intensities.
The researchers are planning a clinical trial that will assess the ability of the recording Stentrode to receive and interpret neural signals, as well as allow control of communication software by a motor neurone disease patient.
In the future, the technology is expected to enable paralysis patients to control computers, wheelchairs and exoskeletons.
The study’s lead researcher Dr Nick Opie said: “From within a blood vessel in the head, the Stentrode can pick up brain signals when people think about moving.
“These can be converted into commands that enable direct-brain control of computers, vehicles or prosthetic limbs. With stimulation, sensory feedback is possible, and people may be able to feel what they are touching.”