UT Austin Researchers Receive NIH Funding for Ultra-Flexible Nanoelectronic Brain Probes


The National Institutes of Health has awarded Chong Xie, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and his team with a five-year R01 grant to develop a stable long-term use brain probe that can record electrical activity of individual cells.

The grant will build on previous research, which Xie’s group published in Science Advances earlier this year. Xie and his team have developed ultra-flexible, nanoelectronic (NET) probes that integrate with the brain without forming scar tissue. The probes are thousands of times more flexible than previous counterparts.

Conventional implanted neural probes are important to both fundamental and clinical neuroscience applications. In scientific research, they remain our only option to record data on individual neurons and provide critical information to dissect the neural circuitry. In the clinical setting, neural probes have successfully treated a number of disorders, such as deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s and peripheral nerve stimulation to control pain. Implanted neural probes also allow for direct communication between brain and man-made devices, which could enable futuristic applications such as human brain-machine interfaces with neuroprosthetics.

However, conventional neural probes are limited by unstable performance and substantial invasiveness. A reliable neural interface has been pursued for decades, but remains highly challenging. This instability arises from the distinct physical mismatch between neural electrodes and brain tissue.

Xie has found that ultra-flexibility may be the answer to creating a long-term stable neural probe. His ultra-flexible NET neural probes fully integrate with the local cellular and vascular networks of the brain, without scarring, and demonstrate the possibilities of achieving reliable long-term neural recording.

This new NIH funding will enable Xie and his team to further investigate the performance of NET probes over longer periods of time and in larger animal models with wider ranges of motion, mimicking more closely how the probes could interact in humans. These studies will help Xie and his team optimize the NET probe design and eventually gain experience to enable a reliable neural interface for humans.