Tiny brain implant delivers drugs with a remote control

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Tiny brain implant delivers drugs with a remote control

An implant, the size of a human hair, can deliver drugs to the brain with the click of a button. A team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois have demonstrated the wireless technology in mice. While a previous iteration of the device delivered LED to neurons that respond to light, the latest experiment successfully introduced pharmacological agents directly to the brain. A drug was first sent to one side of the brain that made a mouse move around in a circle. Next, shining a light onto cells that cue the release of dopamine rewarded the mice with happy feelings. When the rodents came around for more, the researchers used a remote control to interject with a drug that put a halt on the dopamine effect.

Previous experiments required that drugs or other compounds be delivered while the animals were tethered to tubes. But the mice in this particular demonstration roamed free (in a maze) while the drugs were carried wirelessly to the brain. "We've designed it to exploit infrared technology, similar to that used in a TV remote," Jordan McCall, a graduate student at the lab said in a statement. "If we want to influence an animal's behavior with light or with a particular drug, we can simply point the remote at the animal and press a button."

This remote-controlled technology, for now restricted to lab animals, has a specific purpose. Over time it might be used to treat depression or epilepsy by directly targeting specific parts of the human brain with therapies. The soft implant is designed to fit in with the rest of the brain tissue so it can stay lodged for a long time without causing inflammation or damage.

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[Image credit: Lyn Alweis via Getty Images]

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