Scientists from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, announced that they are working on developing tiny implantable sensors that could help treating multiple health conditions.
This advanced research falls within the Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) of President Barack Obama's Brain Research initiative. According to the publication, Scientific American, such technology has the potential to blur the boundaries between electronics and biology.
Computerworld reports that a research team is developing sensors that are only the size of dust particles. These tiny sensors dubbed "neural dust" could be implanted inside the body in order to stimulate the muscles or brain, to keep track of how much we're exercising or to monitor how certain organs are working.
Engineers at UC Berkeley have built wireless sensors that are just dust-sized. They could be implanted in the human body to monitor everything from organs to muscles and nerves.
The "neural dust" sensors have already been tested in implants inside the muscles and peripheral nerves of rats. Scientists believe that the tiny implanted sensors could be used to stimulate nerves and muscles. They can have various applications such as possibly treating epilepsy or inflammation.
Associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley, Michel Maharbiz, said in a statement that he believes that the long-term prospects for neural dust are much broader that just within nerves and the brain.
According to Maharbiz, until now it has never been possible to have access to in-body telemetry because the technology to deeply implant something super tiny has been missing. However, now tiny implants can be placed next to a muscle, GI tract, nerve or organ and read out the data.
According to the research team at the UC Berkeley, the implant sensors fit into a 1 millimeter cube. For comparison, this is about the same size as a grain of sand. But scientists are working to shrink the sensors even further down to a cube of 50 microns per side. That is half the width of a human hair or about two thousandths of an inch.
Researchers explained that sensors that small could be implanted inside the muscles, nerves or even inside the brain. A piezoelectric crystal would power the implanted sensors.
According to scientists, because of applied mechanical stress, piezoelectricity is the charge that builds up in various solid materials, such as crystals, DNA and bone. The ultrasound vibrations outside the body could be converted by the piezoelectric crystal into electricity used by the sensor's onboard transistor.