Chips with brains

University of Florida researchers aim to develop a device that can be strategically placed in the brain to prevent epileptic seizures.


University of Florida researchers aim to develop a device that can be strategically placed in the brain to prevent epileptic seizures or allow someone who has lost a limb to control an artificial arm.


Armed with a $2.5m grant they received this year from the US National Institutes of Health, the UF researchers from the College of Medicine, the College of Engineering and the McKnight Brain Institute have teamed up to create what they’re calling a “neuroprosthetic” chip. They are currently studying the concept in rats but are aiming to develop a prototype of the device within the next four years that could be tested in people.


Researchers have been able to decode brain activity for years using electroencephalography. Referred to commonly as an EEG, this technology involves placing a sensor-wired net over the head to measure brain activity through the scalp.


But the technology isn’t quite sensitive enough to allow researchers to decode brain signals as precisely as needed, said Justin Sanchez, director of the UF Neuroprosthetics Research Group and an assistant professor of pediatric neurology, neuroscience and biomedical engineering.


Now, however, researchers are focusing on decoding signals from electrodes placed directly into the brain tissue using wires the width of a strand of hair. ‘By going inside the brain, we can capture so much more information and do so with greater resolution,’ Sanchez said.


The chip that the UF researchers are seeking to develop would be implanted directly into the brain tissue, where it could gather data from signals, decode them and stimulate the brain in a self-contained package without wires. In the interim, the UF researchers are studying the implantable devices in rats.


‘Developing these techniques is a big step forward in understanding how to best decode a patient’s intent from their brain waves and should have broad implications for delivering therapy,’ Sanchez said.