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Oct 25, 2020

Neural Dust: Millimeter-Sized Brain Stimulators

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, computing, Elon Musk, engineering, neuroscience

“In a breakthrough study published on February 19th in Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers connected neural dust implants reduced to 1.7 cubic millimeters to rat sciatic nerves. The implanted device, called the StimDust system, consisted of very few components, which will be scaled down for future applications. A piezoceramic ultrasonic transducer generated power allowing for wireless communication and stimulation. A capacitor stored any excess energy generated from ultrasonic beams. Bipolar stimulating electrodes directly interfaced with the nerve while a cuff attached to a small circuit-board allowed the device to adhere physically to the nerve. These components were sufficient to generate or record nerve-impulses. In anesthetized rodents, they elicited muscular contractions with the StimDust system.”


While Neuralink, Elon Musk’s startup-venture focused on creating a brain-computer interface, garners lots of coverage in the biotechnology space, other bioelectronics ventures continue innovating in this space.

iota Biosciences, a spin-off company from UC Berkley formed in 2017, made news two years ago by securing $15 million in Series A funding and again last year announcing a partnership with Astellas Pharma Inc. Bolstered by studies in rodents, iota Biosciences advances towards their vision. In a press release on their partnership, founders Jose Carmena and Michel Maharbiz commented:

We envision a future in which our ultra-small implantable devices will be used in combination with, or as an alternative to, conventional diagnostics and therapies. Through our collaboration with Astellas, we expect to make our innovative technologies available to patients around the world.

Carmena and Maharbiz are right on track, winning the prestigious 2017 McKnight Technological Innovation in Neuroscience Award. While electric stimulation devices for the heart, cochlea and brain already exist, Carmenas and Maharbiz recognized the key limitations of existing technologies.

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