Brainwaves: the head-based implant set to stop diseases in their tracks

Scientists are working on a new implantable device that can help to reprogram the brain and stop diseases.

The intention is to use the technology to help service members and veterans affected by conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder through deep brain stimulation technology.

Work on a programme to make this a reality has now started by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) – and has been called SUBNETS.

The group will create an implantable device that is small enough to fit between the scalp and skull and which target regions of the brain involved in a person’s psychiatric or neurological disease.

It will then use recording, stimulation and therapeutic techniques to try and rehabilitate and free the person from their symptoms.

The scientists hope to take advantage of neural plasticity, a feature of the brain by which the organ’s anatomy and physiology can alter over time to support normal brain function.

The research will be conducted over the next five years and will form the basis on an application to the US Food and Drugs Association for the device to be used medically.

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An artists impression of what the device, what would sit between the skull and scalp, could look like.

If the technology is successful and adopted commercially then it could be used to help treat a wide range of neurological diseases.

This could significantly improve the lives of those who have suffered not only in combat situations but also through other conditions.

The device could help to transform neurological treatment and give doctors new tools to treat patients that were otherwise out of their remit.

It could also lead to more targeted treatments for psychiatric disease and advance clinicians’ ability to make accurate diagnoses.

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Justin Sanchez, the Darpa programme manager for SUBNETS, said that the project could help to transform the lives of those who do not respond to other therapies.

He said: “The brain is very different from all other organs because of its networking and adaptability. Real-time, closed-loop neural interfaces allow us to move beyond the traditional static view of the brain and into a realm of precision therapy.

“This lack of understanding of how mental illness specifically manifests in the brain has limited the effectiveness of existing treatment options, but through SUBNETS we hope to change that.

“Darpa is looking for ways to characterize which regions come into play for different conditions—measured from brain networks down to the single neuron level—and develop therapeutic devices that can record activity, deliver targeted stimulation, and most importantly, automatically adjust therapy as the brain itself changes.”


Images two and three courtesy of Darpa 


3D Bioprinting set to be multi-billion dollar industry by 2030

The fledgling 3D bioprinting industry, which is currently at the early stages of creating replacement human tissue, has been predicted to be worth several billion dollars by 2030, according to a report out today.

3D bioprinting at present largely involves the creation of simple tissue structures in lab settings, but is likely to eventually be scaled up to involve the creation of complete organs for transplants.

The technology is also likely to be used for more accurate and speedy drug testing, as potential drug compounds could be tested on bioprinted tissue before human trials commenced. This approach would be more accurate than current animal studies, and could help to rule out ineffective or dangerous compounds earlier in the process.

The report, by industry advisory firm Research and Markets, looked at the current state of the 3D bioprinting industry, including both academic research and commercial start-ups, and identified how demand would grow for 3D bioprinting in the coming years.

Entitled ‘Global 3D Bioprinting Market, 2014-2030: Gain an Understanding of the Current and Future State of Bioprinters and Their Applications’, it suggests that research and development in academic settings is likely to dominate the industry until 2025, with commercial companies leading the way in the latter part of the next decade.

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Although most of the current research is in academic environments, with Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering among the leading research bodies, there are a number of start-ups that are making bioprinting waves.

TeVido BioDevices, for example, is developing breast tissue for use in reconstructive surgery following mastectomies. The company’s first product is designed to improve nipple reconstruction – an area of reconstructive breast surgery that currently leaves a lot to be desired.

The company’s technology utilises each patient’s own living cells to create tissue that the body will accept, and could eventually be used in mainstream cosmetic surgery to provide more natural results in breast augmentation.

One company that is making waves in bioprinting is Organovo, which is involved in the development of 3D bioprinted tissue models for research and drug development. The company has also partnered with The Methuselah Foundation, a non-profit focused on extending healthy life, to encourage the development of a 3D printed liver.

Other companies in the bioprinting market include SkinPrint, which is developing replacement skin for burns patients or those suffering from skin disorders, and Aspect Biosystems, which is developing printed tissue models for drug testing.

SkinPrint’s technology will radically improve skin grafts as it will remove the need for skin to be taken from other parts of the body.

Aspect Biosystems, however, will dramatically cut the cost and time it takes to develop and test drugs, potentially leading to cures for currently incurable diseases as well as cheaper treatment options.

There are also a number of companies developing and selling 3D bioprinters both for research and commercial use. The report identified 14 companies supplying printers to the industry, and this number is likely to increase as time goes on.


Video courtesy of Organovo.