Tiny new LEDs can be injected into the brain


April 16, 2013

The lights themselves can be as small as single cells, and are printed onto the end of a flexible plastic ribbon that’s thinner than a human hair

The lights themselves can be as small as single cells, and are printed onto the end of a flexible plastic ribbon that’s thinner than a human hair

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Optogenetics is the process by which genetically-programmed neurons or other cells can be activated by subjecting them to light. Among other things, the technology helps scientists understand how the brain works, which could in turn lead to new treatments for brain disorders. Presently, fiber optic cables must be wired into the brains of test animals in order to deliver light to the desired regions. That may be about to change, however, as scientists have created tiny LEDs that can be injected into the brain.

The LEDs were developed by a team led by Prof. John A. Rogers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Prof. Michael R. Bruchas from Washington University. The lights themselves can be as small as single cells and are printed onto the end of a flexible plastic ribbon that’s thinner than a human hair. Using a micro-injection needle, they can be injected precisely and deeply into the brain, with a minimum of disturbance to the brain tissue.

A wireless antenna and a rectifier circuit mounted on top of the subject animal’s head harvests radio frequency energy, which is fed down the ribbons to power the LEDs. This energy-harvesting module can be unplugged from the head when not needed. By contrast, when fiber optic cables are used, the animals must be tethered to a laser that provides the light.

Rogers and Bruchas have also developed a variety of other semiconductor microdevices that could be injected into the brain in the same fashion – these include things like heaters, temperature and light sensors, and electrodes capable of both stimulating and recording electrical activity. These could be injected into a variety of organs, not just the brain.

“Study of complex behaviors, social interactions and natural responses demands technologies that impose minimal constraints,” said Rogers. “The systems we have developed allow the animals to move freely and to interact with one another in a natural way, but at the same time provide full, precise control over the delivery of light into the depth of the brain.”

Source: University of Illinois

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

So no using mobile phones after this?


At 1 AM my first thought was reading this makes me light headed.

John Abrams

This is promising for future therputic devices as well. For instance depression could be countered with proper stimulation using engineered cells and the results from research in transcranial brain stimulation.

On the sci-fi becomes real front it could also provide a direct feedback method for cybernetics.


Can a fine injection needle be passed through human brain tissue without causing problems? If yes, this technique sounds like a big advance to me. I believe electrodes have previously been implanted in epilepsy patients, but only as a last resort when nothing else could stop a patient's seizures. This new method might allow more human brain stimulation trials, with less cost and risk. The computer-brain interface is coming!


could have UV frequency tune LEDS injected into the bladder to kill bacteria in people with recurrent/chronic UTI's...

Gary McMurray
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