Medical Devices and Healthcare IT

Nerve-on-a-Chip Designed to Improve Neuroprosthetics

24 October 2018

Neuroprosthetics containing multi-contact electrodes that can substitute certain nerve functionalities may be able to restore amputees' sense of touch and help the paralyzed walk again by stimulating their spinal cords and silencing the nerve activity of people suffering from chronic pain. Stimulating nerves at the right place and the right time is essential for implementing effective treatments, but still a challenge due to implants' inability to Schematic of the nerve-on-a-chip platform. Source: EPFLSchematic of the nerve-on-a-chip platform. Source: EPFLrecord neural activity precisely.

To achieve a more precise nerve stimulation modality, researchers from Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) engineered a nerve-on-a-chip platform to stimulate and record from explanted nerve fibers, just as an implanted neuroprosthetic would. The system includes microchannels embedded with electrodes and explanted nerve fibers that replicate the architecture and functioning of in vivo tissue. By modulating and rapidly recording nerve activity with a high signal-to-noise ratio, the miniaturized electronic platform broadens the scope for using chips to improve neuroprosthetic designs.

The chip can record the activity of individual nerve cells and was used to test a photothermic method for inhibiting neural activity. P3HT:PCBM, a photothermic semiconducting polymer, was deposited on some of the chip's electrodes. As the polymer heats up on exposure to light, the sensitive electrodes measured a difference in activity between the different explanted nerve fibers. The activity of the thinnest fibers, the sensory neurons that cause pain, was observed to be blocked.

The researchers will next use the polymer in an implant placed around a nerve to monitor the neural inhibition effect in vivo as a possible way to treat chronic pain.

The research has been published in Nature Communications.

To contact the author of this article, email

Powered by CR4, the Engineering Community

Discussion – 0 comments

By posting a comment you confirm that you have read and accept our Posting Rules and Terms of Use.
Engineering Newsletter Signup
Get the GlobalSpec
Stay up to date on:
Features the top stories, latest news, charts, insights and more on the end-to-end electronics value chain.
Weekly Newsletter
Get news, research, and analysis
on the Electronics industry in your
inbox every week - for FREE
Sign up for our FREE eNewsletter