A Breakthrough to Enhance the Potential of Precision Therapeutics

Human beings are known for many different things, but most importantly, they are known for getting better on a consistent basis. This tendency to improve, no matter the situation, has empowered the world to clock some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, predicated upon its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for a second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component, in fact, did a lot to give the creation a spectrum-wide presence, and as a result, initiate a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, this revolution eventually went on to scale up the human experience through some outright unique avenues, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

The researching team at Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science has successfully developed the world’s first ever stand-alone, conformable, fully organic bioelectronic device, which has the means to not only acquire and transmit neurophysiologic brain signals, but it can also provide power for device operation. To understand the significance of such development, we must acknowledge how scientists across the globe have long been struggling to realize a wider presence for all those bioelectronic devices that are today playing a major role in a host of therapeutic approaches. But why the stated struggle is there in the first place? Well, you see, these devices require specialized components to conduct optimal signal acquisition, processing, data transmission, and powering. Furthermore, they need to be fast and sensitive enough to record rapid, low-amplitude biosignals, while still being able to transmit data for external analysis. Hold on, as the devices must also be biocompatible, flexible, and stable in their nature, if they are to deliver the intended therapeutic effect over a long period. However, the technology we have seen so far in this area cannot claim to have any of those features. Instead, they have appeared as fairly rigid and non-biocompatible, thus leading to tissue disruption and severe discomfort for the patient across many cases. Fortunately enough, Columbia University’s latest brainchild might just be the answer to our conundrum.

Understood to be almost 100 times smaller than a human hair, the stated bioelectronic device delivers on its promised value proposition by leveraging an organic transistor architecture that incorporates a vertical channel, and a miniaturized water conduit.  Talk about why the researchers picked transistors as the medium, the answer lies within their biocompatibility, performance stability, conformability for in vivo operation, and their penchant to demand low voltage power. The incentive for using this architecture also talks to the prospect of high electrical performance, including fast temporal response, high transconductance, and crosstalk-free operation. That being said, the silicon-based transistors do have a sense of inflexibility to them, alongside an inability to establish a very efficient ion interface with the body. The researchers, on their part, would overcome these limitations through one scalable, self-contained, sub-micron IGT (internal-ion-gated organic electrochemical transistor) architecture, vIGT. In case you aren’t aware, the vIGTs are composed of biocompatible, commercially available materials that do not require encapsulation in biological environments, and guess what; they are not impaired by exposure to water or ions. Another thing is how their flexibility and compatibility, powered on the back of a stable setup and low inter-transistor crosstalk and high-density integration capacity, link-up to construct efficiently integrated circuits.

“Organic electronics are not known for their high performance and reliability,” said Dion Khodagholy, the study’s leader and associate professor of electrical engineering. “But with our new vGIT architecture, we were able to incorporate a vertical channel that has its own supply of ions. This self-sufficiency of ions made the transistor to be particularly fast—in fact, they are currently the fastest electrochemical transistors.”

As if the existing speed wasn’t that impressive, the team went ahead and roped in advanced nanofabrication techniques to miniaturize and densify these transistors at submicro-meter scales.

“This work will potentially open a wide range of translational opportunities and make medical implants accessible to a large patient demographic who are traditionally not qualified for implantable devices due to the complexity and high risks of such procedures,” said Jennifer Gelinas, assistant professor of neurology, electrical and biomedical engineering and director of the Epilepsy and Cognition Lab.

For the immediate future, the researching team will partner with neurosurgeons at CUIMC to validate the capabilities of vIGT-based implants in operating rooms. On a more granular level, their objective is going to be developing soft and safe implants that can detect and identify various pathological brain waves caused by neurological disorders.

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