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The Need for Next-Generation Brain Implants
For more than a decade, graphene has been a source of excitement in various fields of science and technology as researchers have explored the potential applications of the super-thin carbon material with unique properties. So far, the single-atom-thick material has been leveraged in applications in electronics and biology. Scientists believe the potential for graphene is almost unlimited and research continues to develop it in a range of applications.
Studies have recently suggested that graphene may be vital to developing next-generation brain implants. The idea of graphene implants for brain disorders has been investigated in recent years as an approach to improving current implant technology.
Back in 2016, scientists at the University of Trieste in Italy, alongside those at the Cambridge Graphene Centre, demonstrated that graphene has the potential to develop effective and flexible brain implants. They would overcome the limitations of current implants which are flawed by issues with signal loss due to the scar tissue that forms around more rigid materials of silicon and tungsten that are commonly used in implants.
There are further limitations of current brain implants in that they are expensive and have a high risk of rejection. A study commissioned by the European Brain Council revealed that brain disorders impact roughly one in three people in Europe and cost around €800 billion annually, representing 35% of Europe’s total disease burden.
Data also shows that commonly used platinum and iridium-based implants have a 50% rejection rate. Therefore, there is a clear need for research into developing more effective therapeutics. Studies into graphene-based implants may hold the key to offering more effective and cheaper therapeutic options to the vast number of people suffering from brain disorders.
Innovative Graphene Implants for Brain Disorders
Major European research initiative, Graphene Flagship, has established a spin-off company, INBRAIN, in collaboration with the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA).
Founded in 2019, the company leverages cutting-edge technology previously established by Graphene Flagship and its partners for the development of graphene implants for brain disorders. The team is currently working on devices with a view to treating neuronal disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
The technology translates the brain’s neural signal with great accuracy using graphene electrodes. These signals are then used to produce appropriate therapeutic responses that are specific to the condition of the individual patient.
To construct these revolutionary graphene-based implants, the team capitalized on the unique properties of graphene. This allowed them to develop an implant with the capacity to support significantly more electrodes than currently available implants. This enables the team to establish graphene-based implants with enhanced resolution and stimulation properties.
The new implants can map brain activity at spatial and temporal resolutions that have not been achievable with previous devices. Further to this, these graphene-based implants can stimulate the brain with unprecedented accuracy.
The Least Invasive Brain Implant on the Market
In addition to being the smartest neural interface available on the market due to its advanced spatial and temporal resolution and increased brain stimulation accuracy, INBRAIN’s new device is also considered to be the least invasive neural interface.
The use of graphene as a base for these implants has resulted in a highly flexible and slim device that can cover large cortical areas without impeding brain function. The device can also reach the brain’s subcortical structures via probes. Using big data, the implants both read and modulate brain signals and can trigger adaptive response via tracking for the presence of specific biomarkers.
Bi-directional dots are integrated into the innovative graphene-based implants, allowing the device to collect data in real-time in high resolution. This data is leveraged to generate a therapeutic solution, giving the implants the potential for use in a wide range of brain disorders. Importantly, the machine learning algorithms used in the device offer patients a therapeutic solution free of the side effects that are a drawback of currently available therapies.
Both in-vitro and in-vivo studies have validated INBRAIN’s technology. It has also proven safe and effective in studies conducted on small animals. There are plans to expand these studies to test the implants on larger animals before it is tested in humans.
INBRAIN’s innovative graphene implants for brain disorders have the potential to significantly change the landscape of therapy for patients with a range of illnesses. However, much more research is required before they can be considered safe in humans, although preclinical studies have produced promising results so far.
References and Further Reading
Decoding brain signals into medical devices. INBRAIN. Available at: https://www.inbrain-neuroelectronics.com
Fabbro, A., Scaini, D., León, V., Vázquez, E., Cellot, G., Privitera, G., Lombardi, L., Torrisi, F., Tomarchio, F., Bonaccorso, F., Bosi, S., Ferrari, A., Ballerini, L. and Prato, M., 2016. Graphene-Based Interfaces Do Not Alter Target Nerve Cells. ACS Nano, 10(1), pp.615-623. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsnano.5b05647
Meet the startup: INBRAIN Neuroelectronics. Graphene Flagship. Available at: https://graphene-flagship.eu/graphene/news/meet-the-startup-inbrain-neuroelectronics/