Whether you make the stuff out of girls scout cookies or flake it off a chunk of graphite, miracle material graphene could soon be coming to an neural implant near you.
Researchers in the US have been given almost half a million dollars to work graphene – which they think will be more stable than traditional materials – into implantable electrode systems.
Mark Ming-Cheng Cheng, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Wayne State University thinks graphene might do better than the platinum and iridium oxide electrodes more commonly used because it carries such a large amount of charge and is, by virtue of its two-dimensional nature, extremely thin. These qualities would overcome the difficulties faced by the current technology which, when it is made small enough to fit, doesn’t carry enough charge to deal with scar tissue.
From the announcement: "Neural disorders and diseases result when parts of the brain don’t interact properly or stop interacting altogether. Cheng said that over the past 50 years, electrodes used to stimulate connections between those parts typically stop working after a few weeks because scar tissue forms around the electrode, and the materials that comprise the electrode can’t carry enough charge through the scar tissue."
Graphene’s flexibility, however, is a problem. To stabilise it, "Cheng plans to utilize a porous silicone backbone that discharges anti-inflammatory medication, while carefully and gradually biodegrading into brain tissue to restrict the generation of scar tissue".
Such an electrode might have an operational life of five years or so, opening up new possibilities for therapeutic and other uses, Cheng said.