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Electrical Stimulation Implant Bypasses Open Brain Surgery

Melbourne researchers have developed a permanent implantable device that electrically stimulates the brain from inside a blood vessel. The device, called a Stentrode, could lead to a range of potential treatments that currently require open brain surgery, including deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and motor neurone disease.

Deep brain stimulation requires open brain surgery, with one or more holes drilled through the skull so the electrodes can penetrate the brain. The Stentrode, however, can place electrodes into the brain via blood vessels originating in the neck.

The researchers implanted a 4 mm diameter Stentrode into blood vessels in sheep, and achieved localised stimulation of brain tissue. “Stimulation-induced responses of the facial muscles and limbs were observed, and were comparable to those obtained with electrodes implanted following invasive surgery,” the researchers announced in Nature Biomedical Engineering. (https://goo.gl/tjBR9e). However, “additional data is required to validate chronic safety and efficacy of the Stentrode”.

Lead researcher Dr Nick Opie of the University of Melbourne said the Stentrode could operate as “a two-way digital communication device. In one application, the Stentrode could be used as a tool to record the onset of an epileptic seizure, and provide stimulation to prevent it.”

Co-author Dr Sam John added that the device “offers hope of less invasive treatments for the symptoms of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder”.

In an upcoming clinical trial, the Stentrode will receive and interpret neural signals to enable a person with motor neurone disease to control communication software. Eventually the technology could be used to help all people suffering from paralysis to control computers, wheelchairs and exoskeletons.

“From within a blood vessel in the head, the Stentrode can pick up brain signals when people think about moving”, Opie said. “These can be converted into commands that enable direct-brain control of computers, vehicles or prosthetic limbs. With stimulation, sensory feedback is possible, and people may be able to feel what they are touching.”