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Technology Transfer and Industry News

Monday, 16 September 2019

CaixaImpulse awards an ICN2 project on engineered graphene for neural interfaces

The selected InBrain Technologies project is led by Damià Viana, PhD student from the ICN2 Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group. CaixaImpulse is an acceleration programme that helps early stage biomedical research projects to validate their asset and define their valorisation plan. The programme aims to facilitate the leap from basic research to the market.

In an event celebrated today in Barcelona, “la Caixa” Foundation has announced the winners of the prestigious CaixaImpulse Programme. This initiative supports research projects to test and validate new innovations to, in a posterior phase, bring these innovations to the market. The ICN2 awarded project aims to valorise a new technology for neural interfacing with the objective to develop and commercialise the next generation of safer and more precise neural implants. Such implants could become tools to monitor, prevent and treat neural diseases, disorders and conditions by interfacing electrically with the nervous system. They are able to record and stimulate electrically neural activity once implanted in the nervous tissue.

Currently, most neural implants are based on metallic microelectrodes made of platinum, platinum-iridium, iridium oxide or titanium nitride. These materials interact with the living tissue, causing the degradation of both electrode and tissue. Metals are also rigid and can damage the nervous tissue due to mechanical mismatches. Moreover, the performance of metals strongly drops in microelectrodes of tens of micrometres in diameter, which limits the spatial resolution of neural interfacing. Another limitation of the implantable devices currently available is that they are designed either to record activity or to electrically stimulate tissue.

Broader acceptance of neural implant therapies will only be possible if the performance of the current devices is boosted. This is the objective of PhD student Damià Viana, from the ICN2 Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group, who leads this project. The neural implants based on graphene that the team aims to valorise, achieve clinical uptake and commercialise in this programme can overcome the above limitations of the state of the art technology.

EGNITE (Engineered Graphene for Neural Interface) is a graphene-based material that outperforms the electrochemical performance of metallic electrodes used for neural interfacing by between 10 and 100 times, enabling the recording and stimulation of the neural activity with higher precision and safety. Moreover, it provides breakthrough innovations in neural implants such as flexibility. The technology has been successfully assessed by end-users in preclinical settings. A patent about the EGNITE material has been filed and the fabrication details of the neural implants are under a trade secret.

The awarded InBrain technology is mature enough to be upscaled for clinical market applications. The scientific team developing it focuses on a short-term implant for intraoperative brain mapping, which could be used for recording and stimulating brain activity during brain resection surgery in patients with epilepsy or brain tumours. Beyond this device, a new generation of disruptive neural implants based on EGNITE's platform technology can provide safer, more precise and novel therapies for patients suffering from neural diseases, disorders or conditions that can be monitored, prevented or treated by invasive neural implants.