CAMBRIDGE, MA – As a highlight of its growing neurotechnology portfolio, Draper has developed a revolutionary technology that, once implanted in the brain, has the potential to successfully treat a variety of neurological disorders, as well as mental health conditions, including addiction, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.
The High Fidelity Neural Stimulation, known less officially as the Transistor-less Neural Stimulator, was developed by a small team of 10 Draper engineers as an IRAD (independent research and development) project. It is the smallest available neural implant powered by radio-waves. Once the highly miniaturized technology is implanted deep in the brain, it is powered using a hand-held transmitter.
The proof of concept for the brain implant was established in animal studies at the University of Texas, where Draper worked with a team of electrophysiologists and neuroscientists to demonstrate that the device was capable of exciting neurons in the sciatic nerve. Early animal studies are designed to evaluate the implants’ ability to reduce symptoms of disease and thus improve quality of life in humans.
In June, Dan Freeman, the lead engineer on the project who also proposed the initial concept of the device, presented the device at the Neural Interface Conference in Baltimore, MD, the premier conference for neural implants, where the possibilities enabled by the implant’s new capability were well received. The project is an important one for Draper and it is part of a larger and growing neurotechnology portfolio that includes next-generation devices for deep brain stimulation and restoration of sensation for amputees.
“We believe the device could be used in any number of applications, in the peripheral nervous system, the spinal cord, and the brain,” said Freeman. “With deep brain stimulation, the successes of treating Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy have led to many clinical trials targeting obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, heroin addiction, and alcoholism, among other conditions. Spinal cord stimulation for the treatment of chronic pain and paralysis are also conditions with significant need for improvement in treatment options. Our device could be used as a wireless alternative to the existing devices that are bulky, battery powered and contain leads that can break or develop scar tissue growth.”
The Draper team is now planning technology development and experiments that would eventually lead to long-term implants to fight chronic illnesses. This fall, Massachusetts General Hospital will conduct pre-clinical studies using the Draper implant.