Neural probe targets individual brain cells

1 min read

Neurosurgeons may be able to perform safer and less invasive brain procedures on epileptic patients with a new neural probe that can pinpoint exactly where seizures are generated.

The device, which was developed within the European FP6 Programme NeuroProbes, is currently designed for fundamental research on the functioning of the brain but project participants say it could have clinical applications in the future.

NeuroProbes researcher Arno Aarts from Belgian research institution Imec, which co-ordinated the project, said the neural probe enables electrical and chemical recording and stimulation of single neurons in the brain.

Current state-of-the-art multi-electrode recording probes rely on trial and error to discriminate single neurons in the brain because it is not possible to mechanically position electrodes independently from each other.

The new Electronic Depth Control (EDC) technology, developed through NeuroProbes, allows the position of the different electrodes to be individually adjusted without requiring any mechanical interaction.

According to Aarts, the EDC neural probe has hundreds of electronically switchable electrodes that can scan for neural activity, lock onto the most informative neural signals and eventually adjust their position during the course of an experiment.

This sort of technology could be useful for not only fundamental brain research, but also pre-operative diagnostics prior to brain surgery for a variety of conditions.

It could, for instance, be used to improve brain operations for epileptic patients. In these cases, surgeons often look for ways to remove as little tissue as possible. The EDC probe could pinpoint where the seizure is generated and ensure the surgeon only removes that tissue, resulting in safer and less invasive surgery.

Aarts said the NeuroProbes team is currently interested in spinning out the technology to sell it commercially for research purposes initially.