Medical Tech on the Horizon with Neural Dust

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Illustration of the thought processes in the brain

The latest in medical tech development sounds like something from a science fiction movie. Engineers have developed “Neural Dust,” a tiny implant controlled by ultrasound and placed virtually anywhere in the body.

CNET quoted UC-Berkeley engineering and computer sciences professor Michel Maharbiz as stating, “Having access to in-body telemetry has never been possible because there has been no way to put something super-tiny super-deep. But now I can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your [gastrointestinal] tract or a muscle, and read out the data.”

A newer, even tinier version of Neural Dust is currently in development for use in the brain, offering hope to patients with epilepsy by creating the possibility of controlling the disease through electroceutical therapy. Currently being tested on rats, the implant is attached to nerve and muscle tissue and uses ultrasound to collect and transmit data as well as to control the device.

Scientists plan future tests involving the control of prosthetic devices. For the time being, prosthetic limbs are controlled by wires implanted in the brain, accessed through tiny holes in the skull, leaving the sensitive tissue at risk for infection. The network of wires lasts a few years and periodically needs replacement. With Neural Dust, patients will have the option of a permanent implant added to the brain, reducing the number of surgeries and the risks associated with them.

While the future is promising, Neural Dust isn’t quite ready for human testing. Scientists are busy engineering tiny backpacks for their rodent subjects. Rat-sized ultrasound machines will be carried while data from their implants can be transmitted more efficiently for study.

Are tiny AI (artificial intelligence) implants next? The future is awesome… and a little scary.