Rewiring a damaged brain

September 28, 2010

Microelectronic circuitry to guide the growth of axons in a brain damaged by an exploding bomb, car crash or stroke is being developed by researchers at Case Western Reserve University and Kansas University Medical Center. The goal is to restore normal behavior and movement by rewiring the brain connectivity and bypassing the region damaged by trauma.

They found that during the month following injury, the brain is redeveloping, with fibers that connect different parts of the brain undergoing extensive rewiring.

How it works: brain-machine-brain interface

They developed a multichannel microelectronic device to bypass the gap left by injury. Their “brain-machine-brain interface” comprises microelectrodes implanted in two regions of the brain and a circuit board (outside the body) with a microchip that amplifies neural action potentials produced by neurons in one part of the brain.

An algorithm separates the brain spike activity from noise and other artifacts, and the microchip then sends a current pulse to stimulate neurons in another part of the brain, artificially connecting the two brain regions.

Their work is inspired by the traumatic brain injuries suffered by ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite improvements in helmets and armor, brain trauma continues to be the signature injury of these wars. Brain damage carries a heavy toll that may include loss of coordination, balance, mobility, memory and problem-solving skills, with soldiers suffering from mood swings, depression, anxiety, aggression, social inappropriateness and emotional outbursts.

The researchers, Pedram Mohseni, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Case Western Reserve University, and Randolph J. Nudo, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at Kansas University Medical Center, began collaborating in 2007. This month they received a $1.44 million grant from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program to continue their work and begin testing and improving the device.

During the next four years, they expect to understand the ability to rewire the brain in a rat model and to determine whether the technology is safe enough to test in non-human primates. If tests show the treatment is successful in helping recovery from  traumatic brain injury, the researchers foresee the possibility of using the approach in patients 10 years from now.

More info: Case Western Reserve University