At last week’s IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting 2015, world-leading nanoelectronics research center imec, KU Leuven, and Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders (NERF, set up by VIB/KU Leuven and imec) presented a set of silicon neural probes that combine 12 monolithically integrated optrodes using a CMOS compatible process. The probes enable optical stimulation and electronic detection of individual neurons, based on optogenetics techniques. They pave the way to a greater understanding of the brain and towards novel treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and epilepsy.
The enormous burden that brain disorders pose on affected individuals and health care systems calls for new ways to prevent, treat and cure these diseases. Currently available devices for recording neural activity to study the functioning of the brain typically have a limited number of electrical channels. Additionally, the brain is composed of many genetically and functionally distinct neuron types, and conventional probes cannot disambiguate recorded electrical signals with respect to their source. Imec’s and KU Leuven’s novel neural probes tackle these challenges, set a path towards greater understanding of the brain, and enable novel treatment options for brain disorders.
Imec’s and KU Leuven’s novel probes combine electronics and photonics to perform extremely sensitive measurements. The fully integrated implantable neural microsystems have advanced capabilities to detect, process and interpret neural data at a cellular scale. The systems feature a very high density of electrodes and nanophotonic circuits (optrodes). Such optrodes are used to optically stimulate single neurons using optogenetics, a technology in which neurons are genetically modified to make them light-sensitive and thus susceptible to stimulation through light pulses.
This research is supported by the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT) through the OptoBrain project.
Imec (imec.be) performs world-leading research in nanoelectronics. Imec leverages its scientific knowledge with the innovative power of its global partnerships in ICT, healthcare and energy. Imec delivers industry-relevant technology solutions. In a unique high-tech environment, its international top talent is committed to providing the building blocks for a better life in a sustainable society. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and has offices in Belgium, the Netherlands, Taiwan, USA, China, India and Japan. Its staff of about 2,300 people includes almost 700 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2014, imec's revenue (P&L) totaled 363 million euro.
Imec is a registered trademark for the activities of IMEC International (a legal entity set up under Belgian law as a "stichting van openbaar nut”), imec Belgium (IMEC vzw, supported by the Flemish Government), imec the Netherlands (Stichting IMEC Nederland, part of Holst Centre which is supported by the Dutch Government), imec Taiwan (IMEC Taiwan Co.), imec China (IMEC Microelectronics Shanghai Co. Ltd.), imec India (Imec IMEC India Private Limited) and imec USA (IMEC Inc).
NERF (Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders) is a not-for-profit academic research initiative set up by the Flemish institutes imec, KU Leuven and VIB with support from the Flemish Government. NERF’s ultimate goal is to form a thorough understanding of brain function at multiple levels of detail ranging from cells and circuits to behavior. NERF aims to use to develop novel electronic, chemical and optical tools that integrate neurobiology and nano-scale engineering to monitor and manipulate brain circuits with high spatial and temporal resolution and get new insights into the operation of brain circuits. In the long term, the basic research at NERF is expected not only to inspire scientists to simulate brain networks, but also to lay a scientific framework to develop novel medical applications for the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.
KU Leuven (University of Leuven)
KU Leuven (kuleuven.be) is a leading European research university dedicated to excellent research, education and service to society. It is a founding member of the League of European Research Universities and has a strong European and international orientation. Its sizeable academic staff conducts basic and applied research in a comprehensive range of disciplines. University Hospitals Leuven, its network of research hospitals, provides high-quality healthcare and develops new therapeutic and diagnostic insights with an emphasis on translational research. The university welcomes more than 57,000 students from over 140 countries. Its doctoral schools organise internationally oriented PhD programmes for over 4,500 doctoral students.