A novel brain implant that can deliver drugs and stimulate brain cells could lead to advanced treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other brain disorders, a new study reports. The research comes out of a collaboration between scientists in the Republic of Korea and the United States, who recently published the work in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
In a mouse model, the device – formally known as a wireless optofluidic brain probe – was able to control the locomotor activity of mice for over four weeks via programmable wireless drug delivery and photostimulation. “The wireless neural device enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation that have never been achieved before,” notes lead author Raza Qazi.
As the authors go on to explain, other probes are limited in their ability to provide simultaneous and prolonged delivery of multiple drugs, are often bulky and lack multifunctionality, and have insufficient versatility in their mode of operation (as well as other factors). What’s more, they rely on rigid metal tubes and optical fibres that can cause brain lesions.
To overcome these shortcomings, the new wireless optofluidic brain probe has made several leaps forward. First, its profile is very thin – no thicker than a human hair – with removable and replaceable drug cartridges that allow its prolonged use. Second, drug release and optical stimulation of brain cells can be easily controlled using a simple, streamlined smartphone interface.
“It allows us to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behaviour, and how specific neuromodulators in the brain tune behaviour in various ways,” explained Michael Bruchas, co-author of the paper.
While further testing of the device in animal models is the short-term goal, the researchers have their sights set on the eventual clinical impact: “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,” added Professor Bruchas.