Researchers from the School of Electrical Engineering at KAIST have developed a soft neural implant that can be wirelessly controlled using a smartphone. The neuroscientists believe that the first-of-its-kind wireless neural technology can speed up efforts to uncover brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and help to treat addiction, depression, and pain.

With Lego-like replaceable drug cartridges and powerful, low-energy Bluetooth, the device targets specific neurons of interest using drugs and light for prolonged periods.

The study, led by Raza Qazi, a researcher with KAIST and the University of Colorado Boulder, was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Conventional methods of deliver drugs and light typically involve rigid metal tubes and optical fibers.

To achieve chronic wireless drug delivery, scientists had to solve the critical challenge of the exhaustion and evaporation of drugs. A replaceable drug cartridge within the neural device allowed the neuroscientists to study the same brain circuits for several months without worrying about running out of drugs.

The "plug-n-play" drug cartridges were assembled into a brain implant for mice. The cartridges, with a soft and hair-thin probe, consisted of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs, for unlimited drug doses and light delivery.

With the smartphone user interface, neuroscientists can easily trigger any specific combination or precise sequencing of light and drug delivery in any implanted target animal, without the need to be physically inside the laboratory.

This work was supported by grants from the National Research Foundation of Korea, US National Institute of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Mallinckrodt Professorship.