News Release

Improving neural implants

Pitt bioengineer Xinyan Tracy Cui receives $2.37M NIH award to deliver improved neural recording technology

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Pittsburgh

Xinyan Tracy Cui, University of Pittsburgh

image: Xinyan Tracy Cui, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh view more 

Credit: University of Pittsburgh/Swanson School of Engineering

PITTSBURGH (October 8, 2019) ... A microelectrode array (MEA) is an implantable device through which neural signals can be obtained or delivered. It is an invaluable tool in neuroscience research and is critical to advancements in brain-computer interface (BCI) research, which has progressed to allow humans to operate robotic devices with their minds.

Xinyan Tracy Cui, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, developed a coating that improves the performance of MEA technology and received a $2,370,218 award from the National Institutes of Health BRAIN initiative to help bring it closer to commercialization and clinical translation.

"Researchers have yet to find a long-term and stable microelectrode array that provides high-yield and high-quality recordings," explained Cui, "but our lab has developed a biomimetic coating that mitigates the inflammatory host tissue reaction and improves recording quality and longevity.

"Manufacturers and users have expressed strong interest in this technology, but the coating made of biological protein is fragile and may lose bioactivity during the harsh environment of shipping, storage, and sterilization," she continued.

Cui leads the Neural Tissue/Electrode Interface and Neural Tissue Engineering Lab, where they develop new engineering tools to study and clinically control the interface between tissue and implanted neural devices. With this NIH award, Cui and her group plan to optimize the coating stability and develop a protocol to preserve, store, package, deliver, and sterilize the technology.

"The active ingredient of the biomimetic coating is a brain derived neural adhesion molecule that promotes neurons and inhibits inflammatory cell attachment on the electrode," said Cui. "This is a patented technology with proven efficacy to improve neural recording by establishing a healthy electrode-neuron interface. This new project will make the wide dissemination of the technology possible by overcoming the protein stability issues with nanotechnology."

Once her lab has optimized the technology, they will deliver it to collaborators who will test and evaluate the device performance in rodents and non-primate animal subjects. Additionally, they will work with representatives from two manufacturing companies who will help guide them toward commercialization and ensure that the developed procedures are compatible with their devices.

Cui said, "In addition to improvements in BCI research, this technology may greatly improve our ability to perform long-term mapping of neural activity and ultimately give neuroscience researchers a more robust understanding of brain function in learning and memory, development and aging, or disease progression and wound healing."


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