Carnegie Mellon University Sept. 5 announced that two of its faculty members, Rahul Panat and Eric Yttri, were the recipients of an R01 grant worth $1.95 million from the National Institutes of Health.
The grant will allow for Panat and Yttri to use a low-cost, rapid additive manufacturing method to create a new class of high-density neural probes to record neurological data.
The grant, which is part of the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, supports research that will create an entirely new manufacturing method for the fabrication of neural probes based on 3D nanoparticle printing, according to a CMU news release.
This new technology will dramatically increase accessibility to brain tissue, as well as the number of electrodes that can fit in a small area, and will give researchers the ability to prototype new electrode configurations at the click of a button, on-demand, within a few hours, it said.
"This research proposes to use a novel additive manufacturing (AM) method that uses 3D nanoparticle printing to fabricate customizable, ultra-high density neural probes, such as brain-machine interfaces or BMIs," Panat, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and a member of Carnegie Mellon's Next Manufacturing Center, said in a statement.
"The recording densities of the probes will be an order of magnitude higher than that made by any current method," he said.
Many existing 2D and 3D arrays of silicon electrodes are prohibitively fragile and expensive, and thus they are impractical for use in many contexts. Additionally, these existing arrays have a relatively low density of electrodes, meaning that they cannot achieve the resolution required for applications such as precision neuroprosthetics, according to the CMU report.
However, Panat and Yttri's new 3D nanoparticle printing technology promises to overcome the field's current limitations in terms of sampling, structure, reliability, and cost. By producing customizable, 3D printed neural probes, the team believes that their research has the potential to profoundly change the course of neuroscience research, it said.
Panat and Yttri, who are both members of the Carnegie Mellon Neuroscience Institute, will combine their research expertise to make an entirely 3D printed microelectrode array, the first of its kind.
By using 3D printing to manufacture the arrays, Panat and Yttri will achieve a degree of customizability that is unheard of, the university said.
The long-term goal for this project is to create precision medical devices, such as brain-machine interfaces. Not only will these devices be more precise, but they will be more customizable. A patient needing an electrode for a neuroprosthetic, for example, could be given a device that, using structural MRI, could be customized on a patient-by-patient basis to map to the individual curves of the brain, it said.
"We are applying the newest advances in microelectronics manufacturing to neuroscience in order to realize the next generation of tools for the exploration of the brain," Panat said. "This research will lead to a more precise 3D mapping of neural circuits and precision neuroprosthetic devices that can restore significantly more of patients' previously lost functionality. The research will also lead to new avenues for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as paraplegia and epilepsy."
In March 2018, the project received preliminary seed funding from the DSF Block Grant program, an innovative program that supports cross-disciplinary foundational science research in the life sciences, that brings together researchers from Carnegie Mellon's Mellon College of Science and the university's other colleges, the university said.