An interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers at Carnegie Mellon University has produced a new type of neural probe with an innovative design, improving the way researchers study neurons deep in the brain.
The work, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, combines CMU’s expertise in materials science, engineering and biological sciences to advance the field of neuroscience.
Neural probes are not new — scientists have been using these tools to record brain activity for years. When neurons are active, they generate an electrical signal which the probes can record. This allows them to decipher how neural circuits are formed and how neurons talk to each other. Modern neuroscience requires bi-direction neural probes, meaning that they can “write” as well as “read.” Using a technique called “optogenetics,” specific neurons can be stimulated using light from small light sources embedded in a neural probe.
The new probes developed in the Chamanzar Lab are bi-directional, and the first to use an integrated fabrication process that allows engineers to build many micro-light emitting diodes (microLEDs) directly on a flexible implantable neural probe. This is a big change from the way optical neural probes have traditionally been designed, with commercial microLEDs affixed to the probe later or implementing microLEDs on a stiff probe substrate that can damage the tissue.
“Off-the-shelf light sources have been used in the past and bonded to flexible neural probes,” said Maysam Chamanzar, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and a member of the Carnegie Mellon Neuroscience Institute, who led the work. “This usually involves a tedious process to flip-chip bond microLEDs one by one. Moreover, the microLEDs that you can purchase off the shelf are pretty large.”
Source: “Inventing design illuminates neurons deep in the brain”, Caroline Sheedy, Carnegie Mellon University, College of Engineering