Scientists Create Wireless Neural Dust to Monitor Health and Treat Disorders

Researchers create tiny implants that promise new medical treatments via breakthrough brain-machine interaction.

Would you want to have precise scientific knowledge about what’s going on with your body at any given moment, catching any diseases early on? Or maybe you need help losing weight or treating a brain disorder? Perhaps, simply, you've already accepted that one day you'll become a cyborg. You might not have to wait too much longer as science is boldly marching into science fiction territory, with researchers unveiling new wireless implants or “neural dust motes” that will lead to next-level interfacing between the brain and machines.

Scientists from the University of California at Berkeley created tiny implants that are about 3 millimeters long, 1 millimeter high, and almost a millimeter thick. That’s smaller than a grain of rice. 

Each such “mote” has a piezoelectric crystal that can convert power from ultrasonic pulses outside the body into electrical power. The crystals in the mote can reflect some of the pulses, while electronics inside the neural dust can alter the pulses, which basically means they can transmit the collected data. Scientists already tried this out on rats and found that the implanted motes were able to record and transmit electrical data.

What is the upshot of this new tech? Previously, researchers had to rely on wired implants. Doing it wirelessly opens up a way to avoid inflaming tissue and otherwise bothering the body.

This ingenious approach was funded by a DARPA bioengineer and neuroscientist Doug Weber, who said to Popular Science that:

"I was really skeptical of this concept at first, since it was so out of the box. But it's a really elegant approach, and it works pretty well. This is a breakthrough technology that really changes what's possible in terms of sensing and stimulating nerve activity, especially nerves deep inside the body.”

The goal now is to shrink these neural dust motes even more, to about 50 microns wide, which is about half the width of an average human hair. That will make it even easier for the body to withstand the implants.

Researchers are also working on making the motes electrically stimulate the body. The objective is to engineer motes that can not only monitor a person’s health, but be able to administer electroceutical therapies that can treat brain disorders like epilepsy or even work on appetite suppression. 

Another long-term goal is to come up with more biocompatible materials for packaging the neural dust motes and to use them in the brain, the spinal cord and other places in the body.

Michel Maharbiz, an electric engineer who participated in the study, explained:

"In the long term, we want to be able to send energy to and communicate with implants all over the body, to record data from a variety of organs in many different ways, maybe even report on the conditions of tumors or cancer therapies.”

You can read the full paper here, in the journal Neuron.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Think you’re bad at math? You may suffer from ‘math trauma’

Even some teachers suffer from anxiety about math.

Image credit: Getty Images
Mind & Brain

I teach people how to teach math, and I've been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I've met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions

The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.

Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
  • The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
  • The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Keep reading Show less