Columbia researchers design biocompatible ion-driven soft transistors that can perform real-time neurologically relevant computation and a mixed-conducting particulate composite that allows creation of electronic components out of a single material
Dion Khodagholy, assistant professor of electrical engineering, is focused on developing bioelectronic devices that are not only fast, sensitive, biocompatible, soft, and flexible, but also have long-term stability in physiological environments such as the human body. Such devices would greatly improve human health, from monitoring in-home wellness to diagnosing and treating neuropsychiatric diseases, including epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. The design of current devices has been severely constrained by the rigid, non-biocompatible electronic components needed for safe and effective use, and solving this challenge would open the door to a broad range of exciting new therapies.
In collaboration with Jennifer N. Gelinas, Department of Neurology, and the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Khodagholy has recently published two papers, the first in Nature Materials (March 16) on ion-driven soft and organic transistors that he and Gelinas have designed to record individual neurons and perform real-time computation that could facilitate diagnosis and monitoring of neurological disease.
The second paper, published today in Science Advances, demonstrates a soft, biocompatible smart composite—an organic mixed-conducting particulate material (MCP)—that enables the creation of complex electronic components which traditionally require several layers and materials. It also enables easy and effective electronic bonding between soft materials, biological tissue, and rigid electronics. Because it is fully biocompatible and has controllable electronic properties, MCP can non-invasively record muscle action potentials from the surface of arm and, in collaboration with Sameer Sheth and Ashwin Viswanathan at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Neurosurgery, large-scale brain activity during neurosurgical procedures to implant deep brain stimulation electrodes.
“Instead of having large implants encapsulated in thick metal boxes to protect the body and electronics from each other, such as those used in pacemakers, and cochlear and brain implants, we could do so much more if our devices were smaller, flexible, and inherently compatible with our body environment,” says Khodagholy, who directs the Translational NeuroElectronics Lab at Columbia Engineering. “Over the past several years, my group has been working to use unique properties of materials to develop novel electronic devices that allow efficient interaction with biological substrates–specifically neural networks and the brain.”
Video describing the development of e-IGTs, biocompatible ion-driven soft transistors that can perform real-time neurologically relevant computation
Another major advance is demonstrated by the researchers in their Science Advances paper: enabling bioelectronic devices, specifically those implanted in the body for diagnostics or therapy, to interface effectively and safely with human tissue, while also making them capable of performing complex processing. Inspired by electrically active cells, similar to those in the brain that communicate with electrical pulses, the team created a single material capable of performing multiple, non-linear, dynamic electronic functions just by varying the size and density of its composite mixed-conducting particles.
Video describing the development of MCPs, mixed-conducting particulate composites that allow creation of electronic components out of a single material
“This innovation opens the door to a fundamentally different approach to electronic device design, mimicking biological networks and creating multifunctional circuits from purely biodegradable and biocompatible components,” says Khodagholy.
The researchers designed and created mixed conducting particulate (MCP)-based high performance anisotropic films, independently addressable transistors, resistors, and diodes that are pattern-free, scalable, and biocompatible. These devices carried out a variety of functions, including recording neurophysiologic activity from individual neurons, performing circuit operations, and bonding high-resolution soft and rigid electronics.
“MCP substantially reduces the footprint of neural interface devices, permitting recording of high-quality neurophysiological data even when the amount of tissue exposed is very small, and thus decreases the risk of surgical complications,” says Gelinas. “And because MCP is composed of only biocompatible and commercially available materials, it will be much easier to translate into biomedical devices and medicine.”
Both the E-IGTs and MCP hold great promise as critical components of bioelectronics, from wearable miniaturized sensors to responsive neurostimulators. The E-IGTs can be manufactured in large quantities and are accessible to a broad range of fabrication processes. Similarly, MCP components are inexpensive and easily accessible to materials scientists and engineers. In combination, they form the foundation for fully implantable biocompatible devices that can be harnessed both to benefit health and to treat disease.
Khodagholy and Gelinas are now working on translating these components into functional long-term implantable devices that can record and modulate brain activity to help patients with neurological diseases such as epilepsy.
“Our ultimate goal is to create accessible bioelectronic devices that can improve peoples’ quality of life,” says Khodagholy, “and with these new materials and components, it feels like we have stepped closer to that.”
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