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RFID and the Brain

Radio frequency identification tags, and the human brain. They don't appear to have much in common, at first glance. Yet, there is a way to merge the two into one device, a procedure being pioneered by MicroTransponder, a Dallas-based start-up.

RFID tags are tiny, and don't need a power source. They can be implanted under the skin and deep within the body, without issue. Thus, why not use them for a distributed array of electrode arrays? With one passive RFID tag providing power for each electrode array, multiple arrays can be spread all over and into the soft tissue of the brain, with no wiring connecting them.

Meanwhile, on the outside of the body, an electrical coil is placed against the skin. This delivers micro-amp charges on a different frequency to the one the brain uses normally. These charges both power the RFID devices, and can be encoded with the ID number of a particular tag. This serves like an IP identification, prompting the tag to deliver power to the electrodes and stimulating neural cells around them. At the moment, the FRID technology is unmodified, so they serve as stimulators rather than readers, but there is no reason to believe an RFID tag could not be modified to pulse collected data back, as well as deliver a charge.

The neurostimulator RFID tags are fired in precise patterns, determined by a worn microprocessor attached to the power coil. If the stimulation pattern needs to change, simply reprogram that - no necessity for further surgery.

The research is still in a very early stage. Researchers have developed a prototype device, which they are testing in rats. The device can effectively stimulate peripheral nerves in rats, although it's not yet clear whether the electrical stimulation alleviates chronic pain. (Scientists assess chronic pain in rats by recording how much the animals eat; a rat in pain won't eat as much.)

Some scientists are skeptical that the device will be powerful enough to deliver a therapeutic level of stimulation. "The main limitation of any electronic device small enough to be injected into the body is that it must receive enough power to operate its circuitry and provide the required stimulation parameters," says Gerald Loeb, director of the Medical Device Development Facility at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Loeb has also developed an injectable radio-powered microstimulator, which he says has encountered substantial limitations in range and power.

References

MicroTransponder

Tiny Implants for Treating Chronic Pain

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