Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Medical engineers at the University of Texas have developed a promising new type of ultra-flexible brain probe. The nanoelectronic thread, or NET, probe can deliver more reliable neural readings without triggering scar formation.
The NET probe is 1,000 times more flexible than previous brain reading technologies. Its flexibility allows the probe to make more reliable and accurate recordings of electrical activity in individual neurons.
Because the probe's unique material does not induce scar tissue formation, it can be used to observe brain activity for longer periods of time.
Other brain-reading technologies present a variety of problems. Some are too big and stiff, causing tissue damage. Others are less accurate and less precise. Most can record electric signals from an individual neuron for no more than a few days before the device's connection becomes degraded.
The new probe is only a fraction of the size of a neuron or blood capillary.
"What we did in our research is prove that we can suppress tissue reaction while maintaining a stable recording," Chong Xie, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Texas, said in a news release. "In our case, because the electrodes are very, very flexible, we don't see any sign of brain damage -- neurons stayed alive even in contact with the NET probes, glial cells remained inactive and the vasculature didn't become leaky."
Typically, tissue begins to scar when it comes in contact with a foreign body. Experiments with mice showed the NET probes doesn't induce scarring.
"The most surprising part of our work is that the living brain tissue, the biological system, really doesn't mind having an artificial device around for months," added Lan Luan, a research scientist at Texas' Cockrell School of Engineering.
Researchers described their new probe in the journal Science Advances. They hope the technology will help them accurately record brain activity for longer periods of time.