Nature is full of physical patterns – from our breathing and the heart beating in our chests to the tides that lap the shore. The Conformable Decoders group at MIT believe that if such patterns can be “decoded,” they can provide a rich seam of information that can help in designing a variety of devices that can better integrate with and affect natural systems, such as the human body.

The group members have numerous ongoing projects
that reflect this ethos. A major focus is on tiny electromechanical systems
which can influence and explore the human body, some of which have been covered
by Medgadget previously. For
instance, a material that can harvest
power from the movement of internal organs
in the
body has led to a swallowable
flexible sensor that adheres to the stomach wall and can transmit information
about stomach peristalsis
.

Other projects include an implantable miniaturized neural drug delivery system, which can be controlled remotely and deliver tiny amounts of drugs to highly specific locations within the brain.

See a video about the device below:

In fact, the group has recently authored a review in
the journal Advanced Materials
,
which covers current developments in neuroimplantable devices. The review deals
with barriers to the commercialization and clinical use of such devices, and
proposes strategies to help streamline this process.

Medgadget caught up with Professor Canan Dagdeviren, Director of the Conformable Decoders group, to discuss her team’s ongoing work.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: How did you get interested and involved in this area?

Canan Dagdeviren: I have been always
interested in science. When I was a little kid, I wanted to see atoms. To do
so, I was smashing stones in my hometown in Turkey. My father explained to me
that we couldn’t see atoms with our naked eyes, but needed an electron
microscope to do so. A few years later, my dad handed me a book about Marie and
Pierre Curie, and that book changed my life profoundly. In the book, Pierre
Curie demonstrated that an electric potential was generated when crystals were
compressed, and later that the reverse was true, that crystals could change
form when an electric field was applied to them. Pierre Curie had discovered
piezoelectricity (electricity resulting from compression or pressure) in 1880,
and I, reading about piezoelectricity, had discovered my life’s passion. In my
research group, we develop piezoelectric-based biomedical devices to decode the
magic of the human body’s physical patterns.

Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the ethos of the Conformable Decoders group.

Canan Dagdeviren: Our is vision is to
convert the patterns of nature and the human body into beneficial signals and
energy. We believe that we live in an ocean of physical patterns: heartbeats,
respiration, muscle movements, neural activity, tidal waves, airflow, ambient
humidity, temperature change. These patterns contain information–coded
messages–that need to be excavated, refined, and defined; to do so, we need
sophisticated interfaces to effectively access and evaluate such information.
The Conformable Decoders group explores novel materials, device designs, and
fabrication strategies to create micro- and nanoscale electromechanical systems
with mechanically adaptive features, which allow intimate integration with the
objects of interest. These systems enable us to collect and convert essential
patterns into beneficial forms in order to gain insights into our world, and
enhance interactions with nature and each other. Our long-term mission is to
shape the minds of young people who will drive the future. They must be logically
brave and firmly fair; they must speak kindly, think deeply, live simply, and
generously love their science; and they should seek to design economically
feasible and socially desirable futures for all. Our short-term mission is to
have a vigorously beating heart to pursue our dream projects every single day.

Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the miniaturized neural drug delivery system developed by the group.

Canan Dagdeviren: We aimed to bridge the gap
between cutting-edge neuroscience research and novel engineered devices by
developing a multi-functional neural system capable of exploring—and eventually
treating—Parkinson’s disease. This multi-functionality makes it a powerful tool
to modulate specific neural pathways in animal models.

The
biocompatible, remotely controllable Miniaturized Neural Drug delivery System,
called MiNDS, permits dynamic neural adjustment with pinpoint spatial
resolution and cell-type specificity. With dual chemical-delivery channels and
an electrode embedded in a stainless-steel needle carrier, microfabricated
MiNDS can chemically modulate local neuronal activity and related behavioral
changes in animal subjects while simultaneously recording neural activity to
enable feedback control. In this way, it becomes possible to decrease both
systemic toxicity and therapy time.

Medgadget: What are the major hurdles to approval and clinical use of neuroimplantable devices?

Canan Dagdeviren: The main obstacle at this
point is that most early design decisions for neuroimplantable devices are made
without considering the downstream effects of those decisions on FDA approval
and clinical use. Most of the time, researchers try to create a device that is
novel in some way. However, any new materials, form factors, or implantation techniques
must be thoroughly evaluated by the FDA before clinical use can be approved.

Medgadget: What advice would you give to help increase the adoption, approval, and use of such technologies?

Canan Dagdeviren: At this moment there exists a gap between researchers and the FDA, which makes the downstream approval process quite lengthy. If researchers would like to design a new concept for a neuroimplantable device, they could achieve accelerated clinical approval by using materials, form factors, and implantation strategies for which there exists an FDA precedent, i.e. they have already been approved for clinical use in another medical device, not necessarily intended for the brain. For example, the Stentrode(TM) conducts ECoG readings from cerebral vasculature using FDA precedents for materials (platinum, tungsten, nitinol), form factor (stent), and implantation strategy (angiography). By reimagining long-approved medical tools and techniques for declogging arteries into a platform for reading neuronal signals, the Stentrode(TM) team achieved remarkably fast FDA approval. In order to bridge this gap and accelerate the clinical approval of neuroimplantable devices, especially ones that necessitate the use of new materials, form factors, or implantation strategies, we further suggest that researchers begin discussions with the FDA early on in their design process, so that devices can be streamlined for biocompatibility, mechanical robustness, and clinical use. Just like the Bosphorus Bridge in my home country connects two separate continents, we hope that our review paper can help guide and inspire researchers to connect with the FDA, enabling accelerated creation of clinically approved neuroimplantable devices, and eventually, a better world for all.

Link: Conformable Decoders



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