$1.34M NIH Grant for Wireless Microscale Neuronal Recording and Stimulation System

ECE Professor Nian Sun, Associate Professor Marvin Onabajo and Assistant Professor Aatmesh Shrivastava were awarded a $1.34M NIH collaborative grant with Massachusetts General Hospital to work on nano-scale neural radio frequency identification (NanoNeuroRFID) devices for wireless neural magnetic modulation and recording.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a three-year, $1.34 million grant to Northeastern University Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Nian Sun, Associate Professor Marvin Onabajo and Assistant Professor Aatmesh Shrivastava, in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), to develop a wireless microscale neuronal recording and stimulation system that may lead to improved treatments for those with brain dysfunction and transform brain-to-computer communication for both healthy and impaired individuals.

“Basically, we are building a brain-computer interface,” says lead investigator Sun, “and the potential applications are enormous.” The project is unique, he explains, because it uses an acoustic antenna for wireless communication between the brain and a computer. He notes that the antenna’s extremely small size makes it more suitable for implanting in the brain without causing much damage.

Under the grant, Northeastern researchers will engineer the system and deliver the hardware, including brain implants and external transceivers; MGH, under the leadership of Dr. Sydney Cash, will conduct biological tests—both in vitro and in vivo—using mice.

A new and transformative approach

The system will be useful for patients with brain dysfunction ranging from Epilepsy to Alzheimer’s disease or, for example, those who have brain damage due to sports injuries or accidents. In addition, the team’s research may enable an individual to communicate his or her thoughts directly to a computer without the need to type on a keyboard. 

The brain-machine interface is “a two-way communication channel,” explains Sun. “Using this interface, we can sense what that person wants to do. The brain thinking can tell the computer what he wants to do through the brain-computer interface; for example, he may want to go out, eat something or get help with a task.”

Sun cites the strong contributions of both the Northeastern and MGH team and its synergy as “critical” to the success of the project. He notes that in the field of brain-computer interface research, there are different approaches being explored by engineers, scientists and clinicians. “The question is: which one will be the winning approach? We have an opportunity to propose something new and transformative. It sounds like sci-fi now, but we’re working very hard to make it real.”



Abstract Source: NIH

Novel Implantable Smart Magnetoelectric Nanorfids for Large-Scale Neural Magnetic Recording And Modulation
A major goal of the BRAIN Initiative is in creating new systems for being able to record and modulate neuronal activity across wide areas of cortex and at the scale of small ensembles and even individual neurons. Current technologies are limited in being wired, requiring a reference, and subject to biofouling. They are also essentially linear – arrays or 2D grids and strips are all that is possible. For this project an interdisciplinary group of researchers spanning fields of engineering, neuroscience and clinical neurology propose an entirely new concept. The engine of this approach is an early-stage project to design, fabricate and characterize a wireless microscale neuronal recording and stimulation system. This system is based on microscale antennas that are ultra-sensitive to changes in magnetic fields and also capable of generating steep local magnetic gradients. We plan to use such antennas to sense neuronal activity as represented in local field potentials and multi- and even single unit activity. These antennas are coupled to nano-scale radio frequency identification (NanoNeuroRFID) elements which allow for data communication and power transmission. The entire unit can be scaled to dimensions of 0.05mm × 1mm × 1mm and works completely wirelessly. They can then be incorporated into sheets or placed directly into the parenchyma of the brain to form a distributed, wireless, networked system for large-scale neural magnetic recording and modulation. This proposal details an interdisciplinary 3-year plan integrating innovative technological developments with basic neuroscience testing with the goal of transforming the way that neural recording and modulation can be used in both the research and clinical environment. Four inter-related aims will be pursued for this project: The first three aims focus on building blocks of the design and engineering of the devices. This includes (Aim 1) optimization of the antenna; (Aim 2) design and fabrication of integrated circuits for wireless magnetoelectric resonant energy harvesting and (Aim 3) creation of bidirectional communication links for the devices. The final aim sets out to use hippocampal slices and in vivo experiments with rodents to provide proof of concept capabilities in recording and stimulating neuronal tissue. This is done in a milestone based fashion, starting first with tests of the antenna as a tethered device (in concert with Aim 1) able to record and stimulate from single neurons help under patch clamp in slice and then moves on to testing of distributed devices in vitro and then in vivo as the fabrication of Aims 2 and 3 are achieved. Together, this integrated program of sophisticated materials science, electrical engineering and biology is poised to create a system which could completely alter the landscape of brain area mapping and modulation.


Related Faculty: Nian X. Sun, Marvin Onabajo, Aatmesh Shrivastava

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering