A new graphene-based brain implant could help to provide information on the onset and progression of seizures, and pave the way for next-generation brain-computer interfaces. It is an innovative sensor able to record the brain electrical activity at notably low frequencies and on large areas, providing access to information detectable at frequencies below 0.1 Hz: precious clues that the brain “whispers”.
Graphene: the material of the future
Discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, while conducting experiments on a graphite crystal, graphene turned out to be a “super-material” with extraordinary properties capable of revolutionizing the field of technology and opening up roads to incredible and futuristic applications.
Graphene is about 100 times stronger than the strongest steel and it conducts heat and electricity very efficiently, properties thanks to which it is considered the material of the future.
Graphene-based brain implant: the brain’s conquest is near
The new technology, developed by the Graphene Flagship partners at the Microelectronic Institute of Barcelona (IMB-CNM, CSIC), the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) and ICFO, represents a major step towards the conquest of the brain. In order to understand the functions of the brain, for decades scientists have used electrode arrays to record and map electrical activity in different brain areas, trying to analyze and discover the causes in case of malfunction or disease. So far these arrays have been able to detect brain activity only above a certain frequency threshold. This technical limit has been overcome thanks to the technology developed by Graphene Flagship, which allows unblocking the information under 0.1 Hz, laying the groundwork for future brain-computer interfaces.
The device, born from the collaboration between three Graphene Flagship partners (CNM, ICN2, and ICFO) and IDIBAPS experts, differs from the classic electrodes and uses an innovative architecture based on transistors that amplify brain signals in situ before transmitting them to a receiver. According to the Graphene Flagship, the use of graphene to construct this new architecture allows the resulting implant to support many more recording sites than a standard electrode array. As described in Nature Materials, the scientific journal on which the study was published, the implant is thin and flexible enough to be used on large areas of the cortex without being repelled or interfering with normal brain function. The result is a unique and unprecedented mapping of low-frequency brain activity, known to bring crucial information on different events such as the onset and progression of strokes and seizures.
“Beyond epilepsy, this precise mapping and interaction with the brain have other interesting applications”, said José Antonio Garrido, research professor and leader of the ICN2 Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group. “In contrast to common standard passive electrodes, our active graphene-based transistor technology will increase the implementation of new multiplexing strategies that can dramatically increase the number of recording sites in the brain, driving the development of a new generation of interfaces brain-computer.”
Graphene once again demonstrates its extraordinary properties, thus reclassifying itself as the material of the future, able to offer important opportunities for biomedical applications and above all to bring unprecedented progress in the study of brain processes.