Development of hydrogels that connect brains and machines

KAIST Bio and Brain Engineering Professor Seong-Jun Park's research team, along with a joint research team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Polina Anikeeva, Professor Xuanhe Zhao, and Dr. It announced on the 21st that it has succeeded in developing the interface.

The results of this study were published in the international academic journal Nature Communications on June 8, 2021.

In order to study brain structure or to identify and treat mechanisms of brain neurological diseases, it is essential to develop an interface that can stimulate the brain and measure signals in real-time. However, the existing neural interface has a problem that the lifespan of the insulating cell layer is formed around it due to a foreign body reaction that occurs because the mechanical and chemical properties are too different from those of the brain tissue, which shortens the lifespan.

To solve this problem, the research team produced a 'brain-mimicking neural interface' by putting a self-made multifunctional fiber bundle into a hydrogel body. The device has not only optical fibers for applying optogenetic technology that can stimulate only a specific neurocytoma with light, but also a bundle of electrodes that can read signals from the brain, and microfluidic channels that can deliver drugs into the brain.

The interface is easy to insert into the body because the hydrogel body has a hard property similar to that of a polymer in a dried state. However, once it enters the body, it quickly absorbs moisture from the body and becomes in a state similar to that of the surrounding tissue, which is soft and rich in moisture, thus minimizing foreign body reactions.

The research team applied a device with these characteristics directly to an animal model, showing that it can measure brain signals up to 6 months after insertion, far exceeding the previous record. In addition, it is possible to conduct optogenetic experiments and behavioral experiments for a long period of time on freely moving mice, and it has been demonstrated that the expression of glial cells and immune cells due to foreign body reactions is significantly reduced compared to the existing device.

Professor Park Seong-jun said, this study is significant in that the lifespan of hydrogel was significantly increased by using hydrogel as a component of a multifunctional neural interface for the first time. It is expected that the research will be further developed.”

Meanwhile, this research is based on the National Research Foundation's new research project, pan-ministerial medical device development project, nanomaterial source technology development project, next-generation intelligent semiconductor development project, KK-JRC Smart Project, KAIST Global Initiative Program, Post-AI It was carried out with the support of the project.

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