MIT researchers have developed a 3D printing method for flexible, active brain implants that are a safer alternative to standard metal implants. Flexible polymeric materials can be a replacement for metal, standard brain implants.
In information published on the MIT website, we read that brain tissue is one of the most delicate structures in the human body. Still, brain implants are most often made of metal and other rigid conductive materials that can cause inflammation and scarring over time.
Searching for alternatives, MIT researchers proposed 3D printed, active brain implants, which due to their flexible structure can safely adhere and monitor brain tissue. Flexible structures, thanks to the ability to conduct electrical impulses, can be an alternative to existing metal electrodes designed to monitor brain activity. The material can be used for 3D printing of probes and brain implants that stimulate nerve areas to relieve the symptoms of epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or severe depression.
The elements are made of hydrogel saturated with nanofibers, which is a kind of 3D printing ink. Conductive polymers are an area intensively explored by scientists due to the unique combination of plastic-like elasticity and metal-like electrical conductivity.
A team of researchers led by Professor Xuanhe Zhao managed to create 3D printed structures that allow stable conduction of electrical impulses. What’s more, the use of 3D printing technology allows you to create an implant with a complicated pattern in a short time.
The first elements have already been tested on animals – the implant has been implanted in the brain of the mouse and allows you to monitor its activity. Hyunwoo Yuk, a PhD student in the Zhao group at MIT, says that thanks to demonstrating the correct operation of the solution, the device will soon be able to undergo clinical tests. Preliminary tests give reason to believe that a new type of implant may be more effective at mapping brain activity areas.
The research results were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications in the article “3D printing of conducting polymers“, in which technical details of the entire undertaking are also available.