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Wireless, implantable device stimulates nerves in mice

The device will allow for mice to move more freely during experiments that involve optogenetics.

By Stephen Feller
Wireless, implantable device stimulates nerves in mice
This mouse's own body transmits energy to an implantable device that delivers light to stimulate its leg nerves. Photo by Austin Yee/Stanford University

STANFORD, Calif., Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Scientists developed a wirelessly powered device that can stimulate nerves in the brain, spinal cord or limbs of mice using light, allowing mice to move much more freely during experiments with multiple mice or that involve burrowing or tunnels.

Optogenetics -- using light to control brain activity -- typically involves wires attached to the mice's heads in order for scientists to stimulate their nerves and provide power for the light. The new device is implanted in a mouse, powered by energy transferred from a specially designed power source using the mouse's own body.

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Ada Poon, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, said the device's development is good for research overall because other researchers can use it -- the design of the power source is publicly available and the device is easily customized.

"This is a new way of delivering wireless power for optogenetics," Poon said in a press release. "It's much smaller and the mouse can move around during an experiment. I think other labs will be able to adapt this for their work."

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Optogenetics works with mice who have a genetic modification that makes them susceptible to manipulation of their brains using light. The scientists designed a chamber that transmits radio frequency energy as a mouse walks on it, energy is transferred through the animal's paw to a tiny coil in the implanted device, allowing it to light up.

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Attaching wires to a mouse's head is inconvenient and restrictive, the scientists said, and the trauma of holding their heads while doing so may alter the outcome of experiments.

While the wires have not interfered with experiments on methods to relieve tremors in Parkinson's disease, conditions such as anxiety and depression or that involve complex movements, digging or mazes are more difficult to tackle with wires in the way.

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The study on the design and testing of the device is published in Nature Methods.

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