Illinois Researchers to Develop Neural Probe for Monitoring Brain Chemistry

National Institutes of Health provides $3 million grant to fund chemical neural development.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering, and Chemistry joined forces to develop a highly sensitive neural probe to monitor brain chemistry. The team received $3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a silicon platform technology for monitoring simultaneously a broad range of neurochemicals in the brain with high spatio-temporal resolution and minimal tissue damage. 

This project is a true cross-disciplinary collaboration as it combines expertise across schools, departments, and centers. Silicon nanotechnology, monolayer-thin graphene membranes, nanofluidic droplet generation, and advanced mass spectrometry are to be combined to record neurochemicals transients deep in the brain. The project is led by: Yurii Vlasov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Jonathan Sweedler, a professor of chemistry—both members of Beckman's Neurotechnology for Memory and Cognition Group; and Rashid Bashir, dean of the College of Engineering, a professor of bioengineering, and a member of Beckman's Molecular Design and Engineering Group. Technology development will span across the campus and will involve facilities at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the Micro-and Nanotechnology Center, Materials Research Laboratory, Micro-and Nanomechanical Systems Laboratory, as well as School of Chemical Sciences.   

“This project holds a promise to make a strong impact on our understanding of the brain," Vlasov said, "since the developed instrumental platform will allow monitoring concentration gradients of various neuromodulators and drugs from precise brain location, time-synchronized with recordings of neural activity and behavior that should enable advances in fundamental systems neuroscience as well as accelerate development of new treatments for neurological diseases.”

“Monitoring the neurochemical concentration gradients in the brain using mass-spectrometry methods will be essential so that we can discover what chemical changes occur in specific brain locations, enabling us to provide better treatments and to understand the underlying mechanisms of neurological diseases,” Sweedler said.

“This is an example of cross-disciplinary projects that cross the borders of schools and departments and have a potential to become a manufacturable technology to impact our society," Bashir said. "I believe that the technology development, if successful, will have a strong impact on science and possibly even on health care. With our newly established (Carle Illinois) College of Medicine, the results of this development can be on a short path to large animal and potentially human use”