An Implantable Chip That Can Modify Primate Behavior and Bridge Broken Neural Connections

Achievement date: 
2017
Outcome/accomplishment: 

A research team has developed an autonomous, battery- powered recording, computing, and stimulating system—a “Neurochip”—that can be worn by non-human primates. The integrated system was developed at the Fetz Lab, a part of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) based at the University of Washington (UW).

Impact/benefits: 

he Neurochip creates a continuously operating, artificial connection that the brain can learn to incorporate into normal behavior, offering the potential to bridge biological connections lost in spinal-cord injuries. The implantable, brain-computer interface has recorded brain activity in monkeys and responded with stimuli delivered at sites in motor cortex, spinal cord, or muscles. The  stimulation triggered by neural activity also can induce new neural connections, what is called plasticity, potentially generating new pathways around injured nerves. Encouraging targeted plasticity, for example,  could strengthen specific connections weakened by injury or stroke.

Explanation/Background: 

The small Neurochip accomplishes three tasks while a primate moves freely: the recording and digitizing of 32 channels of neural and physiological signals, real-time processing and analysis of these signals with an onboard computer, and the delivery of multi-channel electrical stimulation.

Numerous CSNE research projects already use the Neurochip in research projects involving primates and rats, including the stimulus of cortical plasticity with closed-loop, cycle-triggered stimulation; conditioning monkeys to control neural activity by delivering intracranial stimulation; and producing stronger connections between the brain and spine with intraspinal stimulation. CSNE-funded research will enhance the Neurochip with wireless capabilities and light pulsing for optogenetic stimulation, among other advances. Its developers have distributed the Neurochip to numerous labs performing similar research, with wider distribution planned to labs nationally and overseas.