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Brain Electrodes That Screw On the Skin 58

An anonymous reader writes "New Scientist says that attaching electrodes to the skin for monitoring brain activity (for example when 'installing brain implants that can allow disabled people to control machines using their mind') is tricky, especially on a hairy scalp, so the new solution from the University of Pittsbugh is an electrode that screws into the skin: its 'teeth dig into the upper layer of skin and become fixed in place, maintaining good electrical contact.' They say that the thing 'should be pain-free.' (Note: it does not go through the skull!)"
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Brain Electrodes That Screw On the Skin

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  • by bky1701 ( 979071 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:34PM (#26083677) Homepage
    I am not sure about anyone else here, but the last time I screwed something into my skin, it wasn't "pain-free". I can't even think of a way that could be pulled off - let alone one practical.
    • by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:43PM (#26083803)

      They say that it only needs to penetrate the very top layer of skin in order to stay in place. I've gotten painless scrapes before where I could see that the skin had been penetrated, but it was just extremely shallow. The patent application says the teeth are only 0.01" long and oriented mostly horizontally, not vertically. Someone in the comments section of TFA from Pittsburgh, where this was invented, says they've tried it an experienced "little to no discomfort". Someone else pointed out that ticks stay attached to you and most people don't even notice.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by anglico ( 1232406 )
        What I was told at phlebotomy school (class) was that the finger stick needles we use can only be 2.4mm in length by law. Everybody complains about them, whether that's because a lot of nerves end in the fingertips or they're just weak, unsure. Anything that penetrates the skin will hurt a little bit, it's just a matter of how much it will hurt because of your threshold for pain. Someone into the whole bondage thing won't care, but a child will definitely be alarmed, as well as the parent.
        • Re:Screwed Into Skin (Score:4, Informative)

          by Facegarden ( 967477 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:23PM (#26084365)

          What I was told at phlebotomy school (class) was that the finger stick needles we use can only be 2.4mm in length by law. Everybody complains about them, whether that's because a lot of nerves end in the fingertips or they're just weak, unsure. Anything that penetrates the skin will hurt a little bit, it's just a matter of how much it will hurt because of your threshold for pain. Someone into the whole bondage thing won't care, but a child will definitely be alarmed, as well as the parent.

          The fingers are, in fact, just full of nerves. I am into the whole bondage thing, and i can take a knife to the back till i bleed, but it still hurts when i prick my finger.

          • by Anonymous Coward
            Better be clear that bondage does NOT necessarily involves pain.
            • Oh, c'mon, pins in the fingers, knives in the bac, that's nothing!! You know what's always sounded entertaining? Toenail removal. :)
              Not a bondage thing, but, I'm a little disappointed that this doesn't trepan [] the skull. *grin* Trepanning has always sounded like an interesting first step towards a wetware port of embedded Linux and/or an Internet implant, no?


        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by beallj ( 594139 )
          If you read the post you're responding to, they are using needles 10 times shorter. Could make a difference.
        • by Goaway ( 82658 )

          2.4mm sure goes further than the upper layer of skin, though, so that's hardly a good comparison.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anti_Climax ( 447121 )

        I just had a 6mm screw threaded into my jawbone through the gum tissue this morning. It's not the first they've done. Some local when they put it in and some aspirin over the next day. Definitely not a big deal - I'd imagine that something just penetrating the first layer of skin on the scalp is a cakewalk compared.

        I'd bet if you asked someone getting a prosthesis that uses this for control, they'd opt for the small pain up front for screws similar to mine than to shave bits of hair off for a solid connecti

      • "Someone else pointed out that ticks stay attached to you and most people don't even notice"

        Hmm, what else could be possibly attached...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      RTFA. The patent picture is a 1/4" wood screw and a bottle of Jack Daniels. You aren't going to feel a thing.

      But seriously, RTFA, or a least look at the pretty picture they throw up there before playing backseat scientist. I'm sure there's a lot of other things you can't think of, but somehow they're getting done!

    • Did you use microscopic teeth, specifically designed for the job?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      This sounds like a job for VELCRO!
    • The article contains a simple explanation that's one sentence long.

      Imagine the impact on the quality of discussions if reading the
      article were somehow enforced. Maybe something like mod points that
      everyone could use that says "obviously didn't read the article".

      For newbies, RTFA means Read the (uh) Fine Article.

      Even a little reminder at the top of the comments that said
      "To read the article, click HERE. Then come back for the discussion.

      A "Did you read the article?" box that comment authors could check

  • Umm, infection? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:39PM (#26083745)

    Captain Obvious flies in and reminds everyone: Anything that penetrates the skin dramatically increases the risk of infection, and early signs of a skin infection would be covered by hair on the scalps. Up, up and awaaaaaay...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      That sounds scary, but alternatives to this technology include needle EEGs and surgical brain implants (e.g., for disabled people to control protheses). I expect those also carry a risk of infection and are far more invasive. Compared to normal contact EEGs (another potential alternative), there may be an additional risk.

      • Hmm, TFA mentions brain implants, but the patent application only discusses contact and needle EEGs as alternatives.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pinckney ( 1098477 )
      The teeth are microscopic. The risk of infection will be no greater than for a small scrape.
    • Captain Obvious wants to know if you've ever heard of iodine or a shaver.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tylerni7 ( 944579 )
        If they are going to shave the patient's head, then why bother with the fancy probes? They would just use normal electrodes if the skin wasn't covered with hair.
        The idea behind these is that you can easily place the electrodes--easy being without cutting all their hair off.
  • FInally! (Score:4, Funny)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <dnaltropnidad>> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:42PM (#26083791) Homepage Journal

    A humane way to attach laser beams to my frikken' sharks

  • I have seen curved needle systems before. Back in the 80's.

    This is an old procedure applied to a new system. Hardly innovative.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      That actually is innovative.

      "the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods"

      • by Gabrill ( 556503 )

        Using the curved needs as conductors for the electrodes would strike me as innovative too, but please strike that stupid method BS from the books.

  • by Wowlapalooza ( 1339989 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:44PM (#26083813)
    I read this headline and immediately thought of the old lightbulb joke:

    How many flies does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

    Two, but how do you get them in there?

    After that, I wasn't sure I wanted to read TFA about something "screw[ing] on my skin". Ick.

  • Not sure I'd want to get close to anything electrical or statically charged, or my leg might suddenly kick or anything else that might pop up unannounced.
  • I worked for an investigator at the Uni many moons ago who was too damn cheap to use disposable gel electrodes, or even to use conductive gel or paste -- he insisted on using 30 gauge needle electrodes instead. Think acupuncture needles with wires connected to them.

    Scared off many an experimental "subject" -- mostly Intro to Psych students who were required to "volunteer" for a certain number of hours of experiments to pass the class. That makes them cheaper than lab rats -- you have to feed the rats a
    • What sort of university's ethics committee would approve that sort of experiment?

      I want names here. If true, that's completely unacceptable, and they should be punished.

  • I mean why would anybody want electrodes that can engage in intercourse, let alone there?
  • EEG (Score:2, Informative)

    by dread ( 3500 )

    If they can use this for EEGs that would certainly make life a whole lot less miserable for those of use who have small kids with idiopathic epilepsies where you do a lot of 24 hour EEG sessions. (Yes, it's a hassle to deal with a 18 month old who likes to be everywhere and hates the electrodes that are stuck to his head with some disgusting white paste.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kbrasee ( 1379057 )
      It would also have been nice when I had the stupid things glued to my head for 10 days during a VEEG. Then again, it wouldn't have helped the worst part, which was the 2-inch electrode probes stuck in beside my cheekbones. Still, it was worth it to validate the viability of surgery, even with the rotten glue.
  • Fetal scalp electrodes are used for internal (in the uterus) monitoring of a fetus during labor. They are inserted through the cervix and short electrodes "screw" gently into the scalp of the fetus. The concept is fairly old, I think.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm like, damn, those are some frisky electrodes!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    who works on developing new electrodes there. They use monkeys for their experiments, and are working on all kinds of cool stuff- the ultimate goal is rejection-free permanent electrodes for humans, I think I remember him saying.

  • Just use one of these things on the arm, strap an rs232 adapter onto it, and use it for nerve-computer communication.

  • Burdock seeds (Score:3, Informative)

    by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:50AM (#26088869) Homepage Journal

    It seems it may be like burdock seeds. These -are- pain-free, and they can attach even to skin. The tips of the spikes surrounding the burdock seeds end with tiny hooks with sharp tips. The tips easily pierce into skin, but due to the bend don't go any deeper than 0.2mm inside the skin, meaning they never get near neurons or blood vessels, never cause bleeding or pain, while retaining a good grip.

  • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:11AM (#26089563) Journal

    If they're going to report science they should have people capable of evaluating the present scientific, or the equivalent technical uses, rather than simply rewriting press releases and thinly veiled advertising. I've used pretty much every available kind of electrode in both settings.

    Screw in electrodes were old when I managed the EEG lab at Virginia Tech and had to decide what to buy and use, and to justify those decisions. They weren't used then, and aren't like to now, because they're not more convenient or accurate, and certainly less comfortable than other alternatives.

    The oldest versions are water soluble glue-on. Most people who've had EEGs done at hospitals are familiar with picking that sticky stuff out of their hair. They needn't have done that, since washing your hair gets it out.

    Newer versions include elastic caps, very much like swimming caps with the electrodes built in. Conduction is based on conductive gel without needing the glue. Newer still is the electrodes sewn together with elastic threads. All the electrodes go on at once, up to 256 of them. The conductive gel gets injected into the center of the electrodes, and has no problem with hair. Conduction and impedance still need to be checked and balanced between electrodes and within the impedance range of the amps.

    Even newer are high impedance electrodes (and impedance matching amps) that require no conduction gel. The electrodes are embedded in small cups containing sponge, and the whole thing gets dipped in salt water prior to application.

    The newest, most accurate and convenient EEG electrodes all go on at once using the elastic thread net attachment. They have the preamplifiers built into the electrode, so impedance matching (ie. accuracy) is not an issue.

    I've used all of them, and have a personal record of 256 channels of accurate, impedance artifact free EEG, being recorded in less than 8 minutes from the time the person sat in the chair.

    I've used screw-pin electrodes as well as straight-needle electrodes for intraoperative electrophysiology (but not EEG, but only because the other options were available and better). These are suitable when the person is under anesthesia. However, skin is elastic and can be torn. Using it as the basis for electrode attachment will result in some of them being torn off, particularly when the person moves. Some of the other methods result in the electrodes being so displaced, but at least they don't break the epidermis and leave a path for infection. Where the skin is thinnest -- the scalp -- the epidermis/dermis thickness is the least, making infection more likely. If initial electrode placement is not optimal, worst present case is having to dissolve the glue and reset the electrode. All other cases are simply done by moving it. If the electrodes in TFA are misplaced, you leave an infection prone hole when you remove it and use a new electrode in the correct spot. Screw- and straight-needle electrodes are used in surgery because they person is adequately cleansed and the ER is fairly free of infective agents.

    When the scalp is injured and recording is required ASAP (by EMT or ER personnel), the whole head caps/nets place the electrodes properly, as they place them according to predetermined sites regardless of condition and displacement of the scalp and will help hold each other and the scalp in place. Placing individual electrodes will require in this instance the same sort of head measurement and individual placement based on the "10-20" system. This is very slow. If the skin shifts due to injury, there goes the electrode placement. If the skin is loose, there goes the electrode. When the procedure is one of deep electrode implantation, a net of electrodes will still be a far better choice, and the few electrodes that must be moved for the implant site are easily shifted out of the way.

    Note that an apparent benefit to these would be in an EMT/ER situation when only a few electrodes are required. The caps/nets still go on faster, and are faster s

  • There is a relatively new piercing technique which might be better than these electrodes since it's a bit more permanent; transdermal (or microdermal) implants. Basically, the technique is the same as pocketing, but some implants feature either "hooks" or have a small mesh in the base which causes the body to heal through it, creating a more permanent bond. This would likely be better for someone with disabilities who needs these since the transdermal implants are extremely unlikely to fall off, which would

  • I remember reading a short story by Isaac Asimov where he made the statement... (not quotes since I can't remember the EXACT wording...) The DNI (Direct Neural Interface) made a bigger and more immediate change to the world of style and fashion than any other invention in history. Nearly overnight, every human being shaved their head.

    Or , something along those lines... It was a story about people who jacked in and starved to death rather than come back out (IIRC)


  • Screw directly to forehead.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead