Acta Physico-Chimica Sinica

Special Issue: Neural Interfaces

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Utah Neural Electrode Technology for Brain-Computer Interface

Fan Xie, Ye Xi, Qingda Xu, Jingquan Liu   

  1. National Key Laboratory of Science and Technology on Micro/Nano Fabrication, Department of Micro/Nano-electronics, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, P. R. China
  • Received:2020-03-05 Revised:2020-04-05 Accepted:2020-05-11 Published:2020-05-14
  • Supported by:
    The project was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFB1002501), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (61728402), the Research Program of Shanghai Science and Technology Committee, China (17JC1402800), the Program of Shanghai Academic/Technology Research Leader, China (18XD1401900).

Abstract: A human brain is composed of a large number of interconnected neurons forming a neural network. To study the functional mechanism of the neural network, it is necessary to record the activity of individual neurons over a large area simultaneously. Brain-computer interface (BCI) refers to the connection established between the human/animal brain and computers/other electronic devices, which enables direct interaction between the brain and external devices. It plays an important role in understanding, protecting, and simulating the brain, especially in helping patients with neurological disorders to restore their impaired motor and sensory functions. Neural electrodes are electrophysiological devices that form the core of BCI, which convert neuronal electrical signals (carried by ions) into general electrical signals (carried by electrons). They can record or interfere with the state of neural activity. The Utah Electrode Array (UEA) designed by the University of Utah is a mainstream neural electrode fabricated by bulk micromachining. Its unique three-dimensional needle-like structure enables each electrode to obtain high spatiotemporal resolution and good insulation between each other. After implantation, the tip of each electrode affects only a small group of neurons around it even allowing to record the action potential of a single neuron. The availability of a large number of electrodes, high quality of signals, and long service life has made UEA the first choice for collecting neuronal signals. Moreover, UEA is the only implantable neural electrode that can record signals in the human cerebral cortex. This article mainly serves as an introduction to the construction, manufacturing process, and functioning of UEA, with a focus on the research progress in fabricating high-density electrode arrays, wireless neural interfaces, and optrode arrays using silicon, glass, and metal as that material of construction. We also discuss the surface modification techniques that can be used to reduce the electrode impedance, minimize the rejection by brain tissue, and improve the corrosion resistance of the electrode. In addition, we summarize the clinical applications where patients can control external devices and get sensory feedback by implanting UEA. Furthermore, we discuss the challenges faced by existing electrodes such as the difficulty in increasing electrode density, poor response of integrated wireless neural interface, and the problems of biocompatibility. To achieve stability and durability of the electrode, advancements in both material science and manufacturing technology are required. We hope that this review can broaden the scope of ideas for the development of UEA. The realization of a fully implantable neural microsystem can contribute to an improved understanding of the functional mechanisms of the neural network and treatment of neurological diseases.

Key words: Neural electrode, Implantable, Utah electrode array, Surface modification, Biocompatibility


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