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Connecting the brain with fibres as thin as hair

The exploration of a living brain has made significant progress in the last ten years thanks to optogenetics, a set of technologies that makes neurones sensitive to light (through genetic manipulation by inserting a virus into the neurone) light the neurones and detect their electrical activity (see video clip for a better explanation).
So far experiments have been carried out on animals, mice in particular, and this is fine since "brains are brains" and understanding the machinery of one brings knowledge to understand all the others. Clearly there are differences and researchers would love to peer inside human brains as well.
A prerequisite is a significant improvement in optogenetics, in its technologies.
One step in this direction has been announced by MIT RLE (Research Laboratory of Electronics). Researchers have created a probe, thinner than a hair, that can be inserted in a brain with minimal side effect.
The probe contains 2 microfluidic channels to inject viruses to carry opsin to condition the neurones to respond to light, an optical waveguide to illuminate the neurones and six electrodes to detect neurones electrical activity.  The probe is so thin (200µm) and light (0.5g) that several of them can be inserted in a mice brain without compromising the brain activity. This allows researchers to monitor various parts of the brain in parallel. Additionally, the probe is made with biocompatible materials, polyethylene with graphite flacks,  so it can remain in the brain for quite some time with no adverse reaction.
If you have 20 minutes to spare take a look at the second video clip. It shows the convergence of may technologies to help us understand the brain. It looks like science fiction, but it is … just science!
We are on track with the forecast of 2020 being the decade of the brain.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.