Silk Brain Implant may Provide New Treatment Option for Seizures, Brain Injuries

The biocompatible, water-soluble silk dissolves into the brain and leaves the electrodes draped over its contours.

Researchers from several universities in the United States have developed a brain implant, made partly of silk, that can melt onto the surface of the brain that may become a new tool for treating epilepsy and spinal cord injuries.

The team of researchers was led by John Rogers, University of Illinois, Urbana and included colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania and Tufts University. The biocompatible, water-soluble silk dissolves into the brain and leaves the electrodes draped over its contours, according to the researchers.

Writing in Nature Materials, the researchers explain that the bio-interfaced system “relies on ultrathin electronics supported by bioresorbable substrates of silk fibroin.” Silk is also transparent, strong, and flexible, according to the researchers, which would allow them to control the rate at which it dissolves.

Researchers tested the implant on cats who were anesthetized but whose eyes were functioning. The cats were then shown visual images and the signals from the eyes were recorded.

According to Dr. Walter Koroshetz of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which helped to fund the study, this new implant could have far-reaching implications.

"These implants have the potential to maximize the contact between electrodes and brain tissue, while minimizing damage to the brain,” Koroshetz said. “They could provide a platform for a range of devices with applications in epilepsy, spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders."

One such application, according to the researchers, would rely on the ability of such a sensitive electrode to detect a seizure as it starts and then to deliver pulses to counter it. The researchers also believe the implant could be used to route brain signals to prosthetics for patients with spinal cord and other brain injuries.

“These concepts provide new capabilities for implantable and surgical devices,” the researchers wrote.