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Better Brain Implants With Ultrathin Carbon Fiber Electrodes 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-the-better-to-track-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new neural interface delicate enough not to damage nerve tissue, but resilient enough to last decades has been made. Made from a single carbon fiber and coated with chemicals, the technology is believed to be fully resistant to proteins in the brain. From the article: 'The new microthread electrode, designed to pick up signals from a single neuron as it fires, is only about 7 micrometers in diameter. That is the thinnest yet developed, and about 100 times as thin as the conventional metal electrodes widely used to study animal brains. “We wanted to see if we could radically change implant technology,” says Takashi Kozai, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh and the lead author on the paper, published today in the journal Nature Materials. “We want to see an electrode that lasts 70 years.”'"
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Better Brain Implants With Ultrathin Carbon Fiber Electrodes

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  • by guttentag (313541) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:08PM (#41952835) Journal
    Somewhere in a hot tub, Paris Hilton is screaming: "They do brain implants, now? Oh my god, I want a set of those! Oh my– call my plastic surgeon and tell him I want those. Not too big. I just had my hair done."
    • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:18PM (#41952877)

      I skimmed this as "Better Breast Implants With Ultrathin Carbon Fiber Electrodes"... now that would be stimulating.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        I am quite sure that is where the money is.
        • You know it got to be some good stuff since it is about "100 times as thin" as the conventional metal electrodes widely used to study animal brains.
    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Fast forward 100 years to a point where genuinely brainpower-increasing neural implants are expensive but available. Someone like Paris Hilton decides to get one because she's rich enough to afford one. Suddenly, she's ten times smarter than any un-augmented human being. Neural enhancements will spell the end of the 'rich but dumb' celebrity.
      • Suddenly, she's ten times smarter than any un-augmented human being.

        And then she looks back on her life so far, and decides it would be best just to kill herself.

  • Jack in. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nyder (754090) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:10PM (#41952851) Journal

    Woot! A start to a scifi dream come true.

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:25PM (#41952931) Homepage
    I imagine that the many science fiction fans in this nerd community will remember the opening of Larry Niven's The Ringworld Engineers [amazon.com] . The protagonist Louis Wu has given up his friends, appetite for food and water and basically his whole life, content to sit still with an electrode delivering current straight to the pleasure centre of his brain. It's the ultimate addiction. Sure, this technology will probably bring myriad benefits, but doesn't it seem like there's some disquieting potential for misuse?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Assuming you do it correctly, you should be able to twiddle the brain's reward systems so as to produce sensations more pleasurable and fulfilling than any lesser stimulus.

      That sounds like one of the myriad benefits, to me...

      • by jvonk (315830) on Monday November 12, 2012 @12:43AM (#41954073)

        Assuming you do it correctly, you should be able to twiddle the brain's reward systems so as to produce sensations more pleasurable and fulfilling than any lesser stimulus.

        That sounds like one of the myriad benefits, to me...

        Depends on your definition of "correctly". Based on the rest of your comment then perhaps the Olds' experiments with rats [cliffsnotes.com] would be ideal:

        In 1954, James Olds and Peter Milner discovered that a rat would press a bar to receive a brief impulse of electricity through an electrode implanted in certain areas of the brain. Although it was known that such stimulation in other areas of the brain could produce motivated behaviors of eating, drinking, sexual behavior, or aggression (and that lesions of the brain could produce the converse behaviors), it now appeared that psychologists had discovered a "brain reward" system. The ESB was serving as a reinforcer. Rats bar pressed at rapid rates for 15 to 20 hours until exhausted in order to receive the stimulation. During the process, they ignored food or water, and rat mothers ignored their pups.

        I'm libertarian, so I believe it would be your right to choose to pay to implant something like this if you were to make a fully informed, mentally competent decision to do so.

        However, I wouldn't want this: every other addiction has some form of intrinsic rate-limiting effect; be it passing out/hangovers for alcohol, male refractory periods for sex, dopamine receptor changes for cocaine, etc, etc. The "correct" implementation of something like this would have no such impediment to instant, ultimate junkie status.

        • It sounds horrible but I would love a device to give me more pleasure from getting shit done than from surfing the internet. A discipline bypass button. It doesn't need to be too strong to change my behavior.
          • by Psyborgue (699890)
            So you're basically talking about behavior modification. If you're doing it to yourself, I see nothing wrong with it. Good idea. If it's mandatory on the other hand, or people are in any way coerced into getting such done... Then there would be definite ethical issues.
        • by cusco (717999)
          Reading Scientific American a couple months ago, more recently they have found that rather than the "pleasure center" it's more of a "desire center". The electrical impulse seems to have stimulated the desire for more stimulus.
      • by Psyborgue (699890)
        I'm not sure i'd want something that would make everything else in life pale in comparison. Same reason i'd only do heroin if I was already terminally ill and close to death.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by siddesu (698447)

      This is the benign alternative. Consider the worse options -- from completely bogus ones like the Matrix, to completely possible ones like bugs in the first few generations that will wreak temporary havoc with your head and cause all sorts of trouble.

      I have a close relative who was mis-prescribed some drug with severe mental "side" effects. As a result of only a few doses, we had to take care of a person who turned schizophrenic by the medicine. It was awful and expensive, and neither the medical professi

      • by bbelt16ag (744938)
        the bugs can't be worse then the stuff we are already putting in our bodies, stuff that leaves you dead or worse that has been fast tracked to approval by the FDA.
        • by siddesu (698447)
          That remains to be seen.
          • by JosKarith (757063)
            My wife was put on a month's course of antidepressants after suffering a breakdown due to workplace bullying. In that month she put on about 2 stone in weight. Since then I've learned that this is a common side effect of the specific antidepressant in females - it makes women ravenously hungry while dialing the metabolism right down. Wierdly enough it doesn't have this effect on men.
            I may be ever so slightly biased here but I don't consider massive weight gain to be an acceptable side effect for an antidep
            • by siddesu (698447)
              I am not saying medicine is harmless (see my first comment above for a story very similar to your own), but I am by no means certain that direct brain stimulation will have milder effects. We just don't know what will be possible yet.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      Yes, except that was already completely feasible with conventional wire electrodes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MangoCats (2757129)

      there's some disquieting potential for misuse

      for anything. The more awesome the thing, the bigger the potential. Personally, I like Nuclear power, the global communication network, and nutella. While nutella is awesome, it's potential for misuse is proportional to its awesomeness, and you can't really misuse it the way you can an atomic chain reaction, or the internet.

      BTW, I'm named inventor on a patent [patentbuddy.com] for using carbon fiber to make an electrode "fuzzy" and therefore more solidly connected into a large nerve fiber. Personally, I think the concept

    • by Kotoku (1531373)
      The only two things in life that truly make us happy: serotonin and norepinephrine.
    • Reminded me of Neural Lace from the Culture series.

  • The brain moves. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by queazocotal (915608) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:45PM (#41953011)

    The brain shifts in the skull, especially during impact.
    Any rigid strong wire risks being ripped out, as the brain stretches, or doing the cheese wire thing.
    Cheesewired brain is bad.

    • Re:The brain moves. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 11, 2012 @10:01PM (#41953379)

      Carbon fibers have a rather low modulus; they are not rigid. The tensile strength is quite high, though. Any physical link would need a slack length between the bone and the point of interest to prevent tissue damage or relocation of the sensor.

      • Carbon fibres modulus, while perhaps low by some measure, is very, very high compared to that of the brain.

      • by cusco (717999)
        That's called a service loop in the security and building automation industries.
    • by tgd (2822)

      The brain shifts in the skull, especially during impact.
      Any rigid strong wire risks being ripped out, as the brain stretches, or doing the cheese wire thing.
      Cheesewired brain is bad.

      I suppose its plausible, if you had enough of them, that they could actually help hold things in place, absorbing that energy rather than sloshing a squishy brain around until it bleeds.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:46PM (#41953021)

    Not to burst anyone's sci-fi bubble, but 7 microns is really more of an incremental improvement in terms of size. In our lab we already use 12 micron wire on a regular basis, but honestly we use 25 or 50 micron wire more often: larger diameter wire equals better signal quality from lower resistance. Impedance of neural electrodes is usually on the order of 10^4 ohms, you don't want to go much higher unless you really enjoy getting miserable signal-to-noise ratios. And if you can't get a signal, it doesn't matter how good your coating is or how much residual damage might be caused.

    In terms of the long-term argument, they're going to need prove recording durability for longer than 6 weeks if this is really going to work. 6 weeks is impressive, but nowhere near the decades-long durability the summary is talking about.

  • Still A Long Way Off (Score:5, Interesting)

    by guttentag (313541) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:56PM (#41953075) Journal
    From the article:

    In order to listen to a neuron for long, or help people control a prosthetic as they do a natural limb, the electrodes need to be able to survive for years in the brain without doing significant damage. With only six weeks of testing, the team couldn’t say for sure how the electrode would fare in the long term, but the results were promising. "Typically, we saw a peak in immune response at two weeks, then by three weeks it subsided, and by six weeks it had already stabilized."

    The electrode has to last for years (the summary says they're shooting for 70), but they only have six weeks of successful testing. The acute rejection subsided, but it could become a chronic, repeated rejection. With artificial hearts, acute rejection is most likely to occur in the first 3 to 6 months. Six weeks seems like a short time for this. Obviously the brain is a very different organ, but part of the reason they're pursuing this is because science knows far less about the brain than it does the heart.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 11, 2012 @08:58PM (#41953083)

    As lab animal sensor technology, it's interesting. As a *stimulator* technology, it's fairly pointless. The current spread has to be enough to actually trigger nearby nodes of Ranvier for myelinated, or to stimulate significant physical areas of myelinated nerves. And stimulating them directly, electrically, requires enough charge deposited to cause hydrolisis around sych fine electrodes. Unless you can magically get the electrodes by the nodes of Ranvier, and *keep* them there or encourage the nodes to keep reforming there for the life of the electrode, you're screwed.

    Oh, and *forget* ever doing an MRI on someone with these in their nerves. The likelihood of forming loops in such fine fibers is very high, and they *will* couple electromagnetically to the MRI, with big pulses of current going around the loops and both thermally cooking and mechanically yanking their way around the brain tissue when the MRI pulses.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Oh, and *forget* ever doing an MRI on someone with these in their nerves. The likelihood of forming loops in such fine fibers is very high, and they *will* couple electromagnetically to the MRI, with big pulses of current going around the loops and both thermally cooking and mechanically yanking their way around the brain tissue when the MRI pulses.

      Holy damn shit.

      That's a whole new nightmare I'd never heard or thought of for cortical implants, especially during the phase when they're common enough that people outside medical studies have them, but rare enough nobody at Podunk County Hospital knows to check for them before a NMR scan.

  • Some will see the Matrix behind this and others will see cool interfaces for disable people. Certainly a good thing, if you need damn implants in your brain.
  • The line forms behind me. I don't care if you have epilepsy, narcolepsy, or some other -epsy. I want my cybernetic implants and I want them now!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Given that the number one limiting constraint on the results of visual cortex implants has been electrode resolution, we may finally get true visual prosthesis for the first time. Still in black and white of course, since color lives in a different layer.

  • by swell (195815) <jabberwock@NOSpam.poetic.com> on Sunday November 11, 2012 @10:50PM (#41953623)

    Boss: So how are things going down here Greeves?

    Greeves: Oh, hi Boss, we've had a breakthrough- we got it down to 1mm thin!

    Boss: Not bad for a start, Greeves, but you know the investors won't be satisfied until it's 100 times as thin. How long till it's 100mm?

    • by gumpish (682245)

      I really wish there was a law about saying "100 times as thin" or "100 times colder" or "100 times slower"...

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @11:23PM (#41953789) Homepage

    We applied the carbon fiber electrodes, but were unable to get a neural response from either patient.

    • by tgd (2822)

      [nt]

      You're from Canada, so you didn't see the last US election. Trust me, it began a long time ago.

A penny saved is a penny to squander. -- Ambrose Bierce

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