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Neuroscience technology

Create innovative solutions for neural monitoring and stimulation by leveraging imec’s toolbox of micro- and digital technologies.

Nearly 1 in 6 of the world’s population suffer from a neurological disorder – meaning an illness caused by a malfunctioning in the brain or the peripheral nervous system. In a world where many of us, thankfully, reach old age, illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease take on epidemic proportions.

Meanwhile, progress in treating these neurological disorders is steady but slow. That’s mainly because our understanding of the mind-boggling complexity of the brain and its mechanisms is far from complete. Both at the level of individual neurons and larger structures, important questions remain unanswered.

To crack those mysteries – and find new cures for neurological disorders – the scientific and medical community needs new, more sophisticated tools. And that’s where micro- and digital technology comes in. After all, electrical signals play a key role in the workings of the brain and the nervous system. So it makes sense that miniaturized electronics can be used to interface with neural systems.

Neuroscience technology tools can be used to ‘eavesdrop on neural conversations’ to expand our insights into the workings of the brain. But they can also support the development of electroceuticals that provide neurostimulation for therapeutic reasons – replacing or complementing chemical treatments with a more targeted approach that exhibits fewer side effects.

Implantable neuroscience tools

There are several reasons why microchips are increasingly used for direct interaction with nerves:

  • They’re ultra-small with sensor/actuator electrodes at unprecedented densities.
  • They can be directly integrated with signal processing, wireless communication, photonic and microfluidic elements, ...
  • They can be encapsulated in biocompatible and hermetic packages for long-term implantation inside the body.

Implantable neurotechnology is essential for research purposes – such as neural probes. It’s increasingly used for therapeutic applications such as neuromodulation, prosthetics, and brain-machine interfacing. In time, the use of neural implants for human augmentation is no longer science fiction.

Imec has a long track record in bringing chip microfabrication to the implantable neurotech domain. In 2017, we introduced the world’s first thin-silicon implantable chip for high-precision haptic prosthetics. We also work to advance wireless high-rate data transfer and data compression.

Below are highlighted two current projects: Neuropixels and our work on peripheral nerve stimulation.

Neuropixels neural probes

Neural probes are primary tools for neuroscientists aiming to uncover the working of the brain by picking up signals both from single neurons and across wider areas.

By downsizing neural probes with integrated electronics using advanced CMOS technology, imec has been one of the key drivers behind the most sophisticated generation of neural probes. The Neuropixels probes, developed within an international collaboration and fabricated at imec, are universally considered the gold standard for neuroscientific research.

Visit the Neuropixels website for more info

Neuropixels neural probes

The two generations of the Neuropixels neural probes

Peripheral nerve stimulation

The principle of peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) is to alter the default electrical activity of neural fibers in the peripheral nervous system. This form of bioelectronic medicine (BEM) is explored for afflictions such as epilepsy, chronic pain, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

A major deficit of current PNS technologies, however, is their limited selectivity and the fact that they often require a complex implantation procedure. Imec’s selective PNS technology aims to remedy this by introducing intermittent interferential current stimulation (i²CS) and leveraging imec’s long-standing expertise in implantable technologies – including wireless powering, ultra-low-power radio for data transfer, and algorithms for closed-loop solutions.

Click here to read more about imec’s PNS research activities

Non-invasve neuroscience tools

Non-invasive neurotechnology plays an invaluable role in assessing and modulating brain states for research and therapeutic purposes. However, current non-invasive brain monitoring and stimulation devices usually have one or more of these drawbacks:

  • They’re relatively expensive.
  • They need to be administered by experts.
  • They deliver an output – such as long EEG traces – that’s hard to interpret.
  • They focus on a single modality: either monitoring or stimulation.

Through improvements in neuroscience technology, imec develops platforms for non-invasive brain monitoring and stimulation devices that are affordable, convenient and relevant for clinical applications.

Imec’s non-invasive neuroscience platform leverages technological building blocks such as:

  • ergonomic and practical design with state-of-the-art dry electrodes
  • extremely low power consumption and wireless operation
  • digital active electrodes (DAE) where each electrode is accompanied by an IC to immediately digitize the signal for improved signal properties
  • advanced algorithms for real-time data analysis and automatic signaling of abnormal brain activity

 Building on these technologies, we’ve also developed a platform that enables you to explore non-invasive brain stimulation.

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Join one of our R&D programs to get access to our technology platforms and tune them to your own product requirements. Or enter into a bilateral collaboration with imec and rely on our in-house expertise to guide you through the entire development of your neurotechnology system.