Fractal Interfaces for Stimulating and Recording Neural Implants
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From investigating movement in an insect to deciphering cognition in a human brain to treating Parkinson's disease, hearing loss, or even blindness, electronic implants are an essential tool for understanding the brain and treating neural diseases. Currently, the stimulating and recording resolution of these implants remains low. For instance, they can record all the neuron activity associated with movement in an insect, but are quite far from recording, at an individual neuron resolution, the large volumes of brain tissue associated with cognition. Likewise, there is remarkable success in the cochlear implant restoring hearing due to the relatively simple anatomy of the auditory nerves, but are failing to restore vision to the blind due to poor signal fidelity and transmission in stimulating the more complex anatomy of the visual nerves. The critically important research needed to improve the resolution of these implants is to optimize the neuron-electrode interface. This thesis explores geometrical and material modifications to both stimulating and recording electrodes which can improve the neuron-electrode interface. First, we introduce a fractal electrode geometry which radically improves the restored visual acuity achieved by retinal implants and leads to safe, long-term operation of the implant. Next, we demonstrate excellent neuron survival and neurite outgrowth on carbon nanotube electrodes, thus providing a safe biomaterial which forms a strong connection between the electrode and neurons. Additional preliminary evidence suggests carbon nanotubes patterned into a fractal geometry will provide further benefits in improving the electrode-neuron interface. Finally, we propose a novel implant based off field effect transistor technology which utilizes an interconnecting fractal network of semiconducting carbon nanotubes to record from thousands of neurons simutaneously at an individual neuron resolution. Taken together, these improvements have the potential to radically improve our understanding of the brain and our ability to restore function to patients of neural diseases.