Thanks to the extensive research on how our brain works, researchers have made it possible for the translation of thought to executable machine directives. The potential of this technology offers unprecedented application to people with neurodegenerative disorders and those with prosthetics.
Brain-computer Interfaces or BCIs have evolved over the years thanks to the significant breakthroughs made by researchers. Currently, a major breakthrough in the technology allows people to control robotic arms with their minds which isno easy feat.
However, even with the advancement in BCI technology, it still relies on chip and electrode implants into the brain where they receive and relay signals from neurotransmitters in the brain. Today’s cutting-edge electrodes are made from thin-film platinum which is vulnerable to corrosion over time.
The CSNE (Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering) –a joint collaboration between MIT, the University of Washington and San Diego State University, is working to significantly refine the technology and have published the research on Nature Scientific Reports.
Under the principle head of the research team, Sam Kassegne; deputy director of the CSNE, the researchers were able to develop electrodes from a type of carbon known as “glassy carbon”. While in a meeting with San Diego State University, Kassegne mentioned that glassy carbon shows a lot of promise for reading neural signals directly from the chemical signals—neurotransmitters. He added that the ratio of signal to noise has essentially doubled, the clarity of the signal is enhanced and easier to interpret.
Additionally, since glassy carbon is 10X smoother as compared to granular thin-film platinum corrosion by electrical stimulation will be much slower. Furthermore, glassy carbon can last longer unlike platinum or any other material that is used for electrodes.
Glassy Carbon is also known as vitreous carbon which is a next-generation material of pure carbon that combines ceramic and glassy characteristics with those of graphite.
Neural growth and stimulation
The researchers believe that glassy carbon could do a lot more than just enhance brain signal transmissions. To further that goal, the researchers are using glassy carbon to record the neuro-signals from inside the brain and along the cortical of the brain simultaneously.
According to Elisa Castagnola, a researcher, assuming that you record deeper inside the brain, you could record from individual neurons and on the surface, you could record from clusters. The unification of the two would give you a much clearer understanding of the intricate nature of brain signals.
But wait the ‘awe’ doesn’t end there. A student fromKassegne’s lab; Mieko Hirabayashi, is currently looking into the possibility of adopting glassy carbon to coerce neural cells located in the spinal cord to grow and replace the already damaged tissues.
Hirabayashi is presently doing rat experiments to assess as to whether the neural growth could be activated using an accurately measure electrical stimulation. If you still haven’t garnered how vital glassy carbon is, then consider this, without the glass carbon electrodes, Hirabayashi wouldn’t be able to stimulate or read the electrical signals or even easily detect neurotransmitters.
With all the breakthroughs researchers have garnered over the years, a future where there is a true form of symbiosis between man and machine isn’t a pipe dream. Because of the significant breakthroughs like that of CSNE’s research team, you’d better buckle up because we’re being catapulted to the future.