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What are Brain Implants Used for?
Brain implants serve several purposes. By stimulating, recording or blocking neural signals, brain implants can be used to assist scientific and medical research, to aid drug delivery, and to restore motion and communication to those who have suffered from a neurodegenerative disease, limb loss, paralysis, or brain damage.
Brain implants will become more commonplace in the future, both in research and, in particular, to assist those with limited mobility. For example, a project known as BrainGate has been using neurotechnology to restore language and movement abilities, as well as lost functional skills, following trauma. Another project in 2017 saw the use of a brain implant to send a text message for the very first time.
Research teams around the world are working to improve the capabilities of brain implants, in particular their medical applications.
How Can Nanotechnology Help?
The advancement of nanotechnology has allowed us to engineer systems and experiment with particles at the nanoscale, opening up whole new avenues of possibility. Researchers in a wide range of scientific fields are exploring this new potential, and brain implants is one such field.
Graphene-Based Implant that Records Neural Activity
Last year, scientists announced the development of a graphene-based brain implant that can record the brain's low-frequency electrical activity. Little is known about these signals as they had previously been difficult to measure. The graphene-based implant allows scientists to measure these signals and will deepen our understanding of the brain.
The implant is being used to study how seizures begin, potentially leading to improved diagnostic and treatment strategies for epilepsy, and could also contribute to the next generation of brain-computer interfaces.
Gaining Insights on the Human Brain with Nanotechnology-Assisted Implants
In 2015, scientists developed an injectable electronic mesh studded with nanoscale electronic devices, which could measure the workings of neurons. It is believed that in the near future the device will be able to provide breakthrough insights on how the human brain works.
Drug Delivery Enhanced by Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology has been used to create acellular synthetic polymeric brain implants to deliver drugs to the central nervous system. The method delivers drugs via degradation or diffusion over long periods, such as weeks or months.
Restoring Communication and Mobility with Brain Implants
Nanotechnology is enabling scientists to employ macromolecular approaches to implants, giving them the ability to combine with neural cells to create stable interfaces that can restore lost communication or movement function.
This is being used in neural prostheses, which are integrated into the brain, just like real limbs are, and communication applications such as enabling people to send text messages with their thoughts.
Nanocoated Implants to Treat Parkinson's Disease, Depression and Epilepsy
For several decades brain implants have been used to treat Parkinson's disease, depression, and epilepsy. In 2009, scientists added a nanotechnology coating, which allows the device's electrodes to interface with the brain with less resistance. This was a significant step forward in the technology and allowed the implant to operate for longer.
References and Further Reading