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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Engineers Develop Brain Implant to Treat Neurological and Other Disorders

Draper’s Transistor-less Neural Stimulator Undergoes Pre-Clinical Trials this Fall

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.

Draper’s Transistor-less Neural Stimulator is pictured on a penny. The device measures only 0.6mm across, small enough to be injected deep in the brain to provide therapeutic stimulation for a variety of neurological disorders.
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Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.

Biomedical Solutions

Draper’s Biomedical Solutions capability centers on the application of microsystems, miniaturized electronics, computational modeling, algorithm development and image and data analytics applied to a range of challenges in healthcare and related fields. Draper fills that critical engineering niche that is required to take research or critical requirements and prototype or manufacture realizable solutions.  Some specific examples are MEMS, microfluidics and nanostructuring applied to the development of wearable and implantable medical devices, organ-assist devices and drug-delivery systems. Novel neural interfaces for prosthetics and for treatment of neurological conditions are being realized through a combination of integrated miniaturized electronics and microfabrication technologies.

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