Researchers at the University of California San Diego and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have developed a tiny neural probe that can be implanted for longer time periods to record and stimulate neural activity, while minimizing injury to the surrounding tissue.
The new neural probe, detailed in a paper published June 7 in Nature Communications, is extremely thin — about one-fifth the width of a human hair — and flexible. The team says that this type of neural probe would be ideal for studying small and dynamic areas of the nervous system like peripheral nerves or the spinal cord.
“This is where you’d need a really small, flexible probe that can fit in between vertebrae to interface with neurons and can bend as the spinal cord moves,” said Axel Nimmerjahn, associate professor at the Salk Institute and co-senior author of the study.
These features also make it more compatible with biological tissue and less prone to triggering an immune response, which in turn make it suitable for long-term use.
“For chronic neural interfacing, you want a probe that’s stealthy, something that the body doesn’t even know is there but can still communicate with neurons,” said study co-senior author Donald Sirbuly, professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
While there are other ultra-thin, flexible probes out there, what sets this small probe apart is that it can both record the electrical activity of neurons and stimulate specific sets of neurons using light.
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