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Sprinkling of Neural Dust Opens Door to Electroceuticals

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The sensor attached to a nerve fiber in a rat.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have built the first dust-sized wireless sensors that can be implanted in the body.

Credit: Ryan Neely

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have developed dust-sized, wireless implants that could one day scan and stimulate brain activity to control prosthetics and treat disorders of the brain and body.

The neural dust mote, which can be shrunk to a 1-millimeter cube, contains a piezoelectric crystal that converts ultrasound vibrations into electrical power for a transistor connected to a nerve or muscle fiber. Voltage spikes change the vibration of the crystal, altering the echo detected by an ultrasound receiver, which also generates the vibrations; the resulting backscatter enables researchers to determine the voltage.

"Having access to in-body telemetry has never been possible because there has been no way to put something supertiny superdeep," says UC Berkeley professor Michel Maharbiz. "But now I can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data."

Experiments have been conducted in the peripheral nervous system and muscles of rats, and the researchers say the neural dust also could function in the central nervous system and brain, possibly replacing implantable, wired electrodes.

The motes will need to be miniaturized to 50 microns before the technology can be tested in the brain, and the team also will focus on finding more biocompatible materials for the implant.

From Berkeley News
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