To better understand the brain function, many researchers used electrode arrays to map the electrical activity of different regions of the brain. However, these arrays are only capable of detecting the activity over a certain frequency threshold. Recently, a group of researchers from Barcelona built a new technology that not only overcomes the technical limitation but also unlocks a myriad of information found below the frequency of 0.1 Hz, paving its way for future brain-computer interfaces.
The technology – developed at the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona (IMB-CNM, CSIC), the CIBER-BBN, and the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology – is ahead from the use of electrode arrays and employs a novel transistor-based architecture that amplifies the signals of the brain in situ before sending them to the receiver.
To develop the new architecture, the researchers used graphene which allowed the resulting implant to support many more recording sites compared to a standard electrode array. Additionally, it is slim and flexible enough to cover large areas of the cortex without interfering the normal function of the brain.
According to the researchers, it resulted into continuous mapping of low-frequency brain activity known to transmit important information about major events in the brain including how epileptic seizures and strokes begin and end.
On the new technology Brain-Computer Interfaces, Prof. Matthew Walker, world specialist in clinical epilepsy from University College London said that neurologists will now have access to previously inaccessible activity of the brain. It is a groundbreaking technology, promising to shift the way researchers record and observe electrical activity of the brain, he added.
Future applications of the new technology will include deeper insights into onset and progression of seizures, enabling improved approaches to diagnosis and epilepsy treatment.
In addition to treatment of epilepsy, the precise mapping and interactions with the brain will also find other exciting applications. Further, as a part of the European project called ‘BrainCom’, researchers are adapting the new technology to restore speech and communication, owing to the capability of transistor configuration to develop arrays with numerous recording sites through multiplexing strategy.
As reported in the journal Nature Materials, the new technology is promising to deliver a new generation of brain-computer interfaces which are able to examine and repair high-level brain functions with a specific focus on speech impairment caused due to spinal cord or brain injuries.