Innovative neural probe senses and stimulates individual brain cells

Düsseldorf, Germany (Compamed) - November 17, 2010 - Imec, together with its partners within the European FP6 Program NeuroProbes, has created a new neural probe enabling electrical and chemical recording and stimulation of single neurons in the brain. Applications of the new technology are vast, ranging from tools for fundamental research on the functioning of the brain, to instruments for more precise diagnosis of brain seizures before brain-surgery.

To discriminate single neurons in the brain, the recording electrode should be positioned very close to the neuron, ideally within 100 micrometers or less. To date, multi-electrode recording probes have relied on trial and error, as it is not possible to mechanically optimize the position of electrodes independently from each other. The new Electronic Depth Control (EDC) technology, introduced by imec and its NeuroProbes partners, enables individual adjustment of the position of the different electrodes without requiring any mechanical displacement. The EDC neural probe has hundreds of electronically switchable electrodes, allowing to scan for the most informative neural signals, to lock onto them, and eventually adjust their position during the course of an experiment.

The new EDC neural probe technology opens the door to dozens of new research tracks, and even promises to refine work currently underway. Next to fundamental brain research, one of the key roles of the EDC technology is pre-operative diagnostics prior to brain surgery for a variety of conditions. 'It is known that similar probes have been used for decades to discover the focus of an epileptic seizure, for example,' explains Herc Neves, scientist at Belgium's imec and coordinator of the NeuroProbes project. 'You have a patient that is about to be operated on, and you want to remove as little tissue as possible. By pinpointing where the seizure is generated, you remove only that tissue, resulting in safer and less invasive surgery.'

This work was part of the NeuroProbes project (coordinated by imec), partly funded by the European Commission under Framework Program 6. EDC probes have been validated and used successfully in scientific experiments by neuroscientists at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the University of Parma (Italy). EDC technology is the result of a close collaboration with the Microsystem Materials Laboratory of the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) at University of Freiburg (Germany).

About imec
Imec performs world-leading research in nanoelectronics. Imec leverages its scientific knowledge with the innovative power of its global partnerships in ICT, healthcare and energy. Imec delivers industry-relevant technology solutions. In a unique high-tech environment, its international top talent is committed to providing the building blocks for a better life in a sustainable society. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and has offices in Belgium, the Netherlands, Taiwan, US, China and Japan. Its staff of more than 1,750 people includes over 550 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2009, imec's revenue (P&L) was 275 million euro. Further information on imec can be found at www.imec.be.

Imec is a registered trademark for the activities of IMEC International (a legal entity set up under Belgian law as a 'stichting van openbaar nut'), imec Belgium (IMEC vzw supported by the Flemish Government), imec the Netherlands (Stichting IMEC Nederland, part of Holst Centre which is supported by the Dutch Government), imec Taiwan (IMEC Taiwan Co.) and imec China (IMEC Microelectronics (Shangai) Co. Ltd.).

Hanne Degans, External Communications Officer, T: +32 16 28 17 69, Mobile: +32 486 065 175, hanne.degans@imec.be

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