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Posted: Nov 07, 2013
New partnership to develop innovative neural probe technology
(Nanowerk News) The Allen Institute for Brain Science announced today that it contracted with imec, a nanoelectronics research center, to develop and manufacture a state-of-the-art sensor array for recording neural activity in animal brains. The Allen Institute for Brain Science in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and University College London (UCL), have committed $5.5 million in R&D for the revolutionary neuroscience research tools.
The proposed sensor array will advance current neural probe technology used to detect extracellular electrical activity in the brain. The innovative solution will incorporate recording electrodes at a much higher density and provide an order of magnitude better performance than existing technology, allowing researchers to record brain activity with unprecedented combination of resolution and ability to record from a very large number of sites. The sensor arrays under development have the potential to enable transformational neurobiology experiments and contribute to a fundamentally improved understanding of how neurons in the brain work together to process information and control behavior. We expect these devices, two years in the planning, will have a direct impact in advancing brain research across a broad front, including the BRAIN Initiative, as advocated by U.S. President Barack Obama in his speech on April 2, 2013. These new probes will address the basic understanding of brain function, such as how sensory information, visual images in the eye or whisker touches, flows into and between brain regions, and is processed by the cortex.
"The advanced microelectronics built and tested by our consortium will enable any neuroscientist to pick up with ease, using a single piece of machined silicon, the electrical signals generated by hundreds of individual nerve cells. With this advanced tool we can listen to their chattering, bringing us closer to the day when we will fully decipher their meaning and thereby understand the language of the brain," said Christof Koch, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.
Engineers at imec will work closely with scientists at HHMI, the Allen Institute and UCL (with grant funding from Gatsby and Wellcome) to design, develop and test the new probes. Over the course of the 38-month project, imec will leverage its state-of-the-art silicon design and processing capabilities to develop and test the new tool, and produce a version that can be manufactured and made available to the scientific research community.
"We continually strive to bring value to HHMI and the other leading institutes by customizing state-of-the-art semiconductor technology through our dedicated and experienced semiconductor development teams," stated Peter Peumans, director bionanoelectronics at imec. "This research partnership will enable imec to provide the most advanced neural probe technology to academia and research institutes, enabling the acquisition of signals from whole brain regions rather than small samples of those regions."
"We're launching this project because current methods for studying brain activity are inadequate," said Tim Harris, director of the Applied Physics and Instrumentation Group at HHMI's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. "We are committed to creating better tools that will enable us to collect better quality data and reduce the number of animals that are needed for this essential research."