Imagine a future where neurological disorders are cured with a single injection into the top of your skull. That's the expectation placed on the shoulders of Charles Lieber, a Harvard chemist who has developed a groundbreaking technology that has the potential to change medicine. The process involves building a tiny fishing net out of conducting threads that can support microscopic sensors across its surface. It's so small that you can use a regular-sized but stronger needle to inject it via a tiny drill hole straight onto the brain. Then, this mesh begins to unfurl and sit on the top of your noggin, shifting around as your grey matter does normally.
This technique overcomes two of the biggest problems that currently dog neuroscientists. Firstly, getting access to the brain is a long, complicated and blunt process. Secondly, any implants have to fight your body's self-defense systems, which attack the foreign body, assuming that it's hostile. Lieber's mesh, by comparison, has spaces for cells to sit and is sufficiently soft and slender that, so far, they've been ignored.
For now, the tests have centered on implanting the technology onto the brains of sedated mice. Once they've woken up, Lieber's team were able to monitor the activity of individual neurons and even stimulate portions of the brain. There's still a considerable amount of work to do, but we might be on the cusp of a whole new area of medical science. Oh, and let's hope the scientists can get WiFi onto this thing, since wandering around with a tiny wire sticking out of your head makes it difficult to wear a hat.
[Image Credit: Lieber Research Group / Harvard University]