Next-generation pacemakers for the brain just a few years away

A great treatment for certain mental disorders is electrical stimulation of the brain. Now a new computer chip implanted directly onto the brain provides precise stimulation - and could cure depression.

The device, known by the abbreviated ReNaChip, is the brainchild of a team of engineers at Israel's Tel Aviv University. Led by Professor Matti Mintz, they believe they are only a few years away from having a chip that can be implanted into humans and fully regulated just when and where patients require stimulation.

The chip works on a simple enough principle - the team uses electrodes to record neural activity in diseased areas of the brain. They next figure out what electrical stimulation should be added to those areas to simulate normal activity, and then they program a computer chip with that simulation. Electrodes are implanted directly into the brain, connected to the programmed chip, which is put under the skin in the patient's scalp.

At present, the most obvious targets for the chip are disorders like severe depression or Parkinson's Disease, both of which are already treated using brain stimulation. However, Mintz and his team believe they can go further, using the technology to restore brain function after a stroke or traumatic injury. While the current emphasis is on simply restoring very basic functions, the hope is that the chip could prove flexible enough to rehabilitate damaged brains in ways not currently thought possible.

[American Friends of Tel Aviv University]