A Battelle team of researchers has received funding to continue work on the second of a three-phase Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program called Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3).
The program is designed for teams around the country to develop a high-performance, bi-directional brain-computer interface (BCI) for noninvasive clinical applications or for use by able-bodied members of the military. Such neural interfaces would provide the enabling technology for diverse medical and national security applications and could enable enhanced multitasking during complex military missions.
Battelle and its project partners from Cellular Nanomed Inc., the University of Miami, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Air Force Research Laboratory are working on an interface called BrainSTORMS (Brain System to Transmit Or Receive Magnetoelectric Signals). It employs magnetoelectric nanotransducers (MEnTs) localized in neural tissue for BCI applications. One of the key MEnT attributes are their incredibly small size—thousands of MEnTs can fit across the width of a human hair. The MEnTs are first injected into the circulatory system and then guided with a magnet to the targeted area of the brain. “Our current data suggests that we can non-surgically introduce MEnTs into the brain for subsequent bi-directional neural interfacing,” said Patrick Ganzer, a Battelle researcher and the principal investigator on the project.
Several technology development goals and N3 program metrics were achieved during Phase 1, such as precise reading and writing to neurons using this breakthrough technology, leveraging the multi-modal expertise of the BrainSTORMS team across the domains of electromagnetics, nanoscale materials, and neurophysiology.
“We are committed to achieving the Phase 2 metrics of the DARPA N3 program, building on the ground-breaking results we achieved in Phase 1 of the BrainSTORMS project,” said Ping Liang, the lead researcher at Cellular Nanomed Inc responsible for developing and building the electronics, power and control systems that interact with the MEnTs to achieve the BCI functions.
Phase 2 efforts will focus on maturing the capability sets of the MEnTs for writing information to the brain and advancing the construction and testing of the external writing interface.
“In Phase I, we demonstrated the main physics of MEnTs, i.e., two-way conversion of magnetic-to-electric field energy to control contactless activation of neurons. In Phase II, we will develop a next generation of MEnTs to achieve faultless multi-channel performance,” said Sakhrat Khizroev, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Miami, in charge of the MEnTs’ synthesis.
If work progresses to the third phase, the Battelle team would implement a regulatory strategy developed with the FDA in phase two in order to support future human subjects testing.
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