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Implantable brain chip might help to combat neurological disorders

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Researchers at University of Minnesota receives grant to study an implantable brain chip that could potentially cure neurological disorders.


By U2B Staff 

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Researchers at the University of Minnesota are developing an implantable brain chip with the potential to tackle neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.

The team of researchers at the university are partnering with Mayo Clinic to develop the brain chip. The collaboration has since received a $1 million grant that will go into the research and development of the chip.

The team received the grant from the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, which is a research collaboration between the University, Mayo Clinic and the state of Minnesota.

Once the team of researchers successfully develop the chip, it will go through a series of pre-clinical testing.

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Professor and associate head of research in the Department of Neurosurgery at the university, Walter Low explained that the brain works like a circuit, and, when affected by Parkinson’s disease, it loses its function due to a loss of cells.

The chip researchers are designing will contain electricity-conducting electrodes that have shown to restore normal brain activity patterns involved in movement and other behaviours.

A postdoctoral research associate at the university, Kai Wu stated that the device holds more than 10,000 magnetic neurostimulators and that is the size of a penny.

Wu said that the device will be used in deep-brain stimulation, where it will be surgically implanted in the brain.

Once it is implanted in the brain, the chip uses magnetic fields to generate electricity and stimulate the neurons in the brain.

This can be achieved as the device first uses micro coils to stimulate the neurons in the brain, and then subsequently acts as a magnet when an electric current is channeled through it.

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Researcher and University Ph.D. student at the university, Renata Saha said that the principals behind this research is the Faraday’s Law, which uses the changes in a magnetic field in the circuit to generate an electrical impulse proportionate to the change.

The use of the magnetic field allows researchers to develop a chip that is less invasive in the brain than if they relied on an electric field alone.

Postdoctoral research associate, Sadegh Faramarzi said who examines the device on slices of the brain said, “I usually use microelectrodes to stimulate one area of the brain and then see the responses from the other areas, which is kind of invasive.”

Faramarzi added that this process damages the brain tissue and neurons but using micro coils in the device minimises the damage.

Principle investigator of the research and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university, Ping Wang said that this device consumes less power compared to other electrodes in deep-brain stimulation, which will not require a battery change as often as its counterparts.