Combining electronics and photonics in neural probes

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Imec, KU Leuven, and Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders (NERF) have presented a set of silicon neural probes that are claimed to combine 12 monolithically integrated optrodes using a CMOS compatible process. The probes enable optical stimulation and electronic detection of individual neurons, based on optogenetics techniques. They pave the way to a greater understanding of the brain and towards novel treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and epilepsy.

The enormous burden that brain disorders pose on affected individuals and health care systems calls for new ways to prevent, treat and cure these diseases. Currently available devices for recording neural activity to study the functioning of the brain typically have a limited number of electrical channels. Additionally, the brain is composed of many genetically and functionally distinct neuron types and conventional probes cannot disambiguate recorded electrical signals with respect to their source.

Imec’s and KU Leuven’s novel neural probes combine electronics and photonics to perform extremely sensitive measurements. The fully integrated implantable neural microsystems feature advanced capabilities to detect, process and interpret neural data at a cellular scale. The systems feature a very high density of electrodes and nanophotonic circuits (optrodes). Such optrodes are used to optically stimulate single neurons using optogenetics, a technology in which neurons are genetically modified to make them light-sensitive and thus susceptible to stimulation through light pulses.