Neural probes that are implanted in the brain can facilitate brain-computer interfaces, which operate to restore function in severely disabled people; thus giving them the ability to control robotic arms and other devices. However, these technologies carry some serious concerns which include drawing the attention of the surrounding immune system and the brain’s defensive mechanisms after some time has passed. Once the immune system is activated, it causes inflammation as a response to these technologies in the brain potentially leading to the death of nearby neurons and loss of functionality. To address this important issue, neural probes that mimic natural neurons, and thereby remain “under the radar” have been created by scientists at the Harvard University to help avoid the aforesaid negative consequences.
The subcellular structure and mechanical properties of the neurons are replicated by these new neural probes which enter the brain after being injected. These new neural probes created once injected looked identical to the neurons around them in the brain and seemed to live alongside with each other rather amicably; according to the team which imaged the probes under 3D microscopy. There is still a requirement of further studies to confirm long term reliability of the neural probes; however over the time tested until now, they showed promise.
An interesting outcome of the study was that the new probes appeared to have promoted promote nearby neural progenitor cells to move towards them, reflecting a possibility of using the technology to cure certain brain maladies.
Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering program for Therapeutic Medical Devices, which helped sponsor the research; Michael Wolfson, Ph.D., said that since decades researchers have been trying to design high-resolution neural probes that remain viable in the brain. He further added that at the forefront of this endeavor are Dr. Lieber and his group. The neural probes created by them in their latest work are exactly like real neurons in terms of size, shape, and flexibility. They integrate and record the function of adjacent neurons in mice over relatively long periods of time without inducing the damage and disruption that has hampered this type of work in the past, effortlessly. These new probes seamlessly integrated and recorded the function of adjacent neurons in mice over relatively long periods of time without inducing the damage and disruption that has hampered this type of work in the past.”
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