Team develops ‘pacemaker for the brain’

Israeli cientists have developed an implantable  chip that delivers precise stimulation to control disorders such as depression or Parkinson’s disease.

The platform, says Professor Matti Mintz of the University of Tel Aviv, is flexible enough to be programmed for specific disorders. For example, it could restore lost functions of the brain after a traumatic brain injury from a car accident or stroke.

The team records activity using electrodes implanted in diseased areas of the brain. Based on this, they develop algorithms to simulate healthy neuronal activity which are programmed into a microchip and fed back into the brain.

For now, the chip, called the Rehabilitation Nano Chip (or ReNaChip), is hooked up to tiny electrodes which are implanted in the brain. But as chips become smaller, the ReNaChip could be made small enough to be ‘etched’ right onto the electrodes themselves.

For therapeutic purposes, though, only the electrodes will be inserted into the brain. “The chip itself can be implanted just under the skin, like pacemakers for the heart,” says Professor Mintz.

The researchers say that their ReNaChip could help people whose brains have deteriorated with age or been damaged by injury and disease. The chip will not only provide a bionic replacement for lost neuronal function in the brain – it could, under ideal conditions, significantly rehabilitate the brain.

The team is currently monitoring the progress of the chip in live animals, attempting to rehabilitate motor-learning functions lost due to brain damage.

“We are attaching the chip to the brain to stimulate relatively simple brain behaviors,” says Professor Mintz. A controlled treatment for drug resistant epilepsy, based on the team’s technology, could be only a few years away, he says.