'See-through' sensors for the brain are transparent to imaging diagnostics

See-through sensors developed by a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers--Courtesy of UW-Madison

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have come up with an implantable sensor so thin that scientists studying the brain can see through it using a wide range of imaging technologies.

The team used graphene--a form of carbon only recently discovered--on a flexible plastic backing that can mold itself to the shape of tissue. Graphene is not only very flexible and compatible with living tissue, but it is also transparent because the electronic circuit elements are only the thickness of 4 atoms, according to a press release.

The microelectrode arrays work in tandem with a range of imaging technologies and are transparent across a large spectrum--from ultraviolet to deep infrared.

"One of the holy grails of neural implant technology is that we'd really like to have an implant device that doesn't interfere with any of the traditional imaging diagnostics," Justin Williams, a professor of biomedical engineering and neurological surgery at UW-Madison, said in a statement. "A traditional implant looks like a square of dots, and you can't see anything under it. We wanted to make a transparent electronic device."

The newly developed sensors could provide a huge boost to neuromodulation therapies, which are being used more and more by physicians to control symptoms, restore function and relieve pain in patients suffering from a wide variety of ailments, including hypertension, epilepsy and Parkinson's, the researchers said.

The project was funded by the Reliable Neural-Interface Technology program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The program is part of President Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, under which scientists hope to map the brain to better understand the biology behind the human mental process, as well as to find new technology to discover how the brain is wired.

It is hoped that the research uncovered by the BRAIN Initiative will help further the treatment and prevention of diseases including Alzheimer's and schizophrenia. An estimated 5 million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer's and 2.4 million from schizophrenia.

- see the UW Madison release
- read DARPA's release
- check out the abstract

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