Electrode and Flexible Fiber Advances Allow New Ways of Interfacing with the Brain

Achievement date: 

Glassy carbon electrodes and sensors coupled to polymer fibers are aiding better treatment and monitoring of brain activity and disorders. Both were developed at the NSF-funded Center for Neurotechnology (CNT), an Engineering Research Center (ERC) at the University of Washington.


Advances like these lead to an innovative class of neural devices, allowing researchers to discover new ways to help the brain and spinal cord recover and heal after injury.


Conventional electrodes are typically made from metals including platinum or iridium oxide, which are subject to the buildup of scar tissue that limits their use to about eight weeks. Researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU), a CNT member, developed the glassy carbon material and are developing ways to wirelessly clean corrosion from the devices, extending their usefulness as implants. These electrodes also emit and receive stronger signals and were demonstrated to be unaffected by MRI scans.

Meanwhile, electrical recording permits a measure of neural activity but it remains difficult to correlate it with network topography. And while optical imaging can show the architecture of neural circuits, its signals are weakened by brain tissue. CNT researchers at MIT introduced a new, miniature hybrid device consisting of sensors coupled to polymer fibers with integrated electrodes and optical waveguides. The device records deep-brain neural activity and at the same time reveals structural connectivity within the neural circuit. The miniature hybrid device is based on field-effect sensors and the flexible polymer fibers enable multi-spot recordings for studying how ions flow in brain tissues.