Flexible sensor for diagnosis of brain disorders

Credit: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Scientists from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has created a flexible brain activity sensor that is less expensive than the ones currently available in the market.

Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders are diagnosed through mapping the brain’s electrical activity. The current technology for brain activity mapping involves Michigan or Utah arrays – multielectrode arrays made from conductive silicon needles. However, these arrays may cause tissue inflammation as layers of these needles are pierced through the scalp. Because of this, the arrays cannot be implanted for more than a year.

KAUST Scientists Muhammad and Aftab Hussain cite this reason why they wanted to build a surface-mounted brain sensor. If the device is made soft and flexible enough to be attached on the surface of the intracranial space then tissue damage can be completely avoided.

“The challenge is to keep the electronics away from the brain,” said Muhammad Hussain. He explains that the electronic circuit that is part of the sensor might generate heat. This heat could lead to permanently damaged brain tissues which is why they will be attaching the integrated circuit on the flip side of the device.

The sensor is made from gold electrodes encased in a polymer coating. The connections are vertically oriented so that they may pass through the polymer support and allow the separation of the IC from the brain surface.

Keeping the electronic components away from the brain is not only for safety purposes. By maximizing the space covered by the sensor array, the number of neurons mapped by the device is also maximized.

Hussain explains how this is done: “The sensor is in contact with the soft tissues of the brain where it collects activity data, and the IC is placed on top, with a soft insulating polymeric material separating them, allowing a larger area to be mapped and a reduction in the heating effect.”

The KAUST team hopes that their development may lead to mass production of these safer sensors. The cutting edge technology used in their design also improved the mapping capabilities as well as its durability and robustness. The mapping interface system still needs improvement and the team is now working with the Harvard-MIT Medical Institute.

More information can be found at: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

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