Optical devices for neural engineering

Optical devices for neural engineering


[Steve Blair, Ph.D.]
Recently my group
has been interested in optical neural stimulation
or recording techniques. Electrical stimulation
recording has been known for, and used for many years, and
more recently there have been some significant developments
in the use of light to control and record neural activity. One of those mechanisms
is called optogenetics, which uses engineered proteins
that respond to specific colors of light that allow the
stimulation of neural activity. One of the challenges in
using light to stimulate and record neural activity
is the fact that light doesn’t penetrate very deep into
tissue–typically only as deep as the, about the width
of a human hair, and that really
limits your access to the types of
neural structures that you can stimulate
and record from. One of the devices
that we’re developing is very similar to the Utah
electrode array except that instead of using needles
to penetrate tissue and deliver electrical stimulation, we guide
light through those needles to be able to deliver
light deeply into tissue — up to many
millimeters into tissue, which can access many of
the structures of the cortex. It can access deep
structures in peripheral nerves. One of the things that motivates
me in my research is being able to get my research
out of my own lab, out of my own community. The work we’re doing in neural
engineering has impact well beyond people in my
community of phototics. It has impact to people who
are doing basic neuroscience, to neural prosthetics research,
and ultimately their goal is to help understand disease and to help improve
the human condition.

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