A new sensor lets doctors see inside the brain

Engineers have developed a new implantable brain sensor that’s transparent, so they can see what’s happening underneath it.

The team, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used scientists’ new favourite miracle material, graphene, to make the sensor. That’s because it conducts electricity well and tends not to be rejected by the body. It also allows them to make the sensor very small – containing an electrical circuit just four atoms thick.

This is the first sensor that’s compatible with different types of brain scan, as it remains transparent at different frequencies. The aim is to use them for patients with neurological conditions including epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Doctors are increasingly using treatments that involve stimulating neurons in the brain, but until now have been unable to see exactly what processes are taking place. See-through implants will solve that problem, and should allow scientists to develop more effective treatments for specific diagnoses in future.

The engineers have already worked with researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago to adapt their design for contact lenses, creating a prototype containing dozens of tiny transparent sensors. This means that contacts of the future could not only replace glasses but also diagnose glaucoma and other eye problems more quickly than you can say ‘ophthalmologist’.

Image credit: Justin Williams research group.

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Diane Shipley

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