Soft, rubbery brain implants out of the 3D printer

April 01, 2020 //By Julien Happich
brain implants
MIT engineers are working on developing soft, flexible neural implants that can gently conform to the brain’s contours and monitor activity over longer periods than today’s metal- or silicon-based devices, without altering surrounding tissue.

In the future, such biocompatible flexible electronics could be used beyond brain activity monitoring, to actively stimulate neural regions and ease symptoms of epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and severe depression.


3D-printed soft electronically active polymers
designed a soft and flexible neural electrode.
Images: courtesy of the researchers.

Led by Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering and of civil and environmental engineering, the research team has developed a 3D-printer compatible conducting polymer hydrogel that they can use to 3D print neural probes and other electronic devices that are as soft and flexible as rubber.

In a paper published in the Nature Communications journal, the researchers report the printing of several soft electronic devices, including a small, rubbery electrode which they implanted in the brain of a mouse. As the mouse moved freely in a controlled environment, the neural probe was able to pick up on the activity from a single neuron. Monitoring this activity can give scientists a higher-resolution picture of the brain’s activity, and can help in tailoring therapies and long-term brain implants for a variety of neurological disorders.

“We hope by demonstrating this proof of concept, people can use this technology to make different devices, quickly,” says Hyunwoo Yuk, a graduate student in Zhao’s group at MIT. “They can change the design, run the printing code, and generate a new design in 30 minutes. Hopefully this will streamline the development of neural interfaces, fully made of soft materials.”


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