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Updated 9:00 AM March 20, 2009
 

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Nanotech coating could lead to better brain implants

Biomedical and materials engineers have developed a nanotech coating for brain implants that helps the devices operate longer and could improve treatment for deafness, paralysis, blindness, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.

Brain implants currently can treat Parkinson's disease, depression and epilepsy. These and the next generation of the devices operate in one of two ways. Either they stimulate neurons with electrical impulses to override the brain's own signals, or they record what working neurons are transmitting to nonworking parts of the brain and reroute that signal.

On-scalp and brain-surface electrodes are giving way to brain-penetrating microelectrodes that can communicate with individual neurons, offering hope for more precise control of signals.

Mohammad Reza Abidian, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, who is among the developers of the new coating, says the reliability of today's brain-penetrating microelectrodes often begins to decline after they're in place for only a few months.

The new coating Abidian and his colleagues developed is made of three components that together allow electrodes to interface more smoothly with the brain. The coating is made of a special electrically conductive nanoscale polymer called PEDOT; a natural, gel-like buffer called alginate hydrogel; and biodegradable nanofibers loaded with a controlled-release anti-inflammatory drug.

"Penetrating microelectrodes provide a means to record from individual neurons, and in doing so, there is the potential to record extremely precise information about a movement or an intended movement," says Daryl Kipke, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the director of the Center for Neural Communication Technology. "The open question in our field is what is the trade-off: How much invasiveness can be tolerated in exchange for more precision?"

A paper on this research, called "Multifunctional Nanobiomaterials for Neural Interfaces," is published in the Feb. 24 issue of Advanced Functional Materials.

Abidian's co-author is David Martin, a professor of materials science and engineering; biomedical engineering; and macromolecular science and engineering.

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