International team to develop advanced brain probe

Imec is working on a $5.5m project to develop and manufacture a sensor array for recording neural activity in animal brains.

Working with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and University College London (UCL), the Belgian nanoelectronics centre said the proposed sensor array will advance current neural probe technology used to detect extracellular electrical activity in the brain.

It is claimed the solution will incorporate recording electrodes at a much higher density and provide an order of magnitude better performance than existing technology, allowing researchers to record brain activity with ‘unprecedented combination’ of resolution and ability to record from a very large number of sites.

Furthermore, Imec claims sensor arrays will have the potential to enable transformational neurobiology experiments and contribute to a fundamentally improved understanding of how neurons in the brain work together to process information and control behaviour.

In doing so, these new probes will address the basic understanding of brain function, such as how sensory information, visual images in the eye or whisker touches, flows into and between brain regions, and is processed by the cortex.

In a statement, Peter Peumans, director bionanoelectronics at Imec said: ‘This research partnership will enable Imec to provide the most advanced neural probe technology to academia and research institutes, enabling the acquisition of signals from whole brain regions rather than small samples of those regions.’ Tim Harris, director of the Applied Physics and Instrumentation Group at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia added that the superior data produced by the technology will reduce the number of animals needed for the research.

Engineers at Imec will work with scientists at HHMI, the Allen Institute and UCL (with grant funding from Gatsby and Wellcome Trust) to design, develop and test the new probes. Over the course of the 38-month project, Imec will use its silicon design and processing capabilities to develop and test the new tool, and produce a version that can be manufactured and made available to the scientific research community.

The devices are expected to become widely available in late 2016.