Wireless Implants Controls Neurons with Light

Wireless Implants Controls Neurons with Light

Researchers developed wireless and battery-free implant devices with advanced control over targeted neuron groups.

Optogenetics is a biological technique that uses light to turn specific neuron groups in the brain on or off. Researchers from University of Arizona developed an innovative technique to implant optoelectronic systems that are wireless and battery free for targeting neurons. The findings were published in the journal Nature Electronics in December 2018.

Philipp Gutruf, biomedical engineering professor at biomedical engineering and first author of the study, said: “We’re making these tools to understand how different parts of the brain work. The advantage with optogenetics is that you have cell specificity: You can target specific groups of neurons and investigate their function and relation in the context of the whole brain.”

The researchers used a battery-free technique using wireless electronics, and transferred light to the brain through optical fibers. The technique works as when a researcher shines light on an area of the brain, it activates only the opsin-loaded neurons. However, this technique had few challenges such as it was bulky and often attached visibly outside the skull and it stimulated only one part of the brain.

“We were able to implement digital control over intensity and frequency of the light being emitted, and the devices are much miniaturized, so they can be implanted under the scalp,” explained Gutruf.

The new devices are powered by external oscillating magnetic fields and are lightweight. Moreover, a new antenna design has eliminated a problem faced by past versions of optogenetic devices, where the signal strength powered by the device varied in accordance to the angle of the brain.