An international team of researchers has developed a method for fabricating nano-scale electronic scaffolds that can be injected via syringe. Once connected to electronic devices, the scaffolds can be used to monitor neural activity, stimulate tissues and even promote regenerations of neurons.
The study entitled “Syringe-injectable electronics” was recently published in the journal Nature.
Nanotechnology and revealed an innovative method to employ tiny electronic devices in the brain, or other parts of the body, as a potential therapy for a wide range of disorders, including neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The study was performed by researchers at the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in China.
The team had previously shown that cardiac or nerve cells grown with embedded nano-scale electronic scaffolds could generate a so-called “cyborg” tissue. The electronic devices could then record the electrical signals generated by the tissues, and measure signal changes when cardio- or neuro-stimulating drugs were administered to the cells.
Minimally invasive targeted delivery of electronics into artificial or natural structures is however a challenge. “We were able to demonstrate that we could make this scaffold and culture cells within it, but we didn’t really have an idea how to insert that into pre-existing tissue,” explained the study’s senior author Dr. Charles Lieber in a news release. Now, Dr. Lieber and colleagues have developed a pioneering method where sub-micrometer-thick mesh electronics can be delivered to their target through injection via a syringe.
Though not the first attempts at implanting electronics into the brain — deep brain stimulation has been used to treat a variety of disorders for decades — the nano-fabricated scaffolds operate on a completely different scale.
“Existing techniques are crude relative to the way the brain is wired,” Lieber explained. “Whether it’s a silicon probe or flexible polymers…they cause inflammation in the tissue that requires periodically changing the position or the stimulation. But with our injectable electronics, it’s as if it’s not there at all. They are one million times more flexible than any state-of-the-art flexible electronics and have subcellular feature sizes. They’re what I call “neuro-philic” — they actually like to interact with neurons.
Source: Science Daily