Graphene implant could be the key to new epilepsy treatments

18th March 2020

Researchers have developed a new graphene-based implant that could have a huge impact on the advancement of epilepsy treatments. The implant is able to monitor and record electrical activity within the brain at extremely low frequencies that were previously too low to monitor. 

It’s this discovery that has unlocked new data, which is found below the frequency of 0.1 Hz. It’s this information that could potentially lead to new and improved epilepsy treatments. 

Graphene is the revolutionary material, a semimetal that is unbelievably lightweight and thin, whilst also incredibly strong. Graphene has been noted for its potential impact on a wide variety of sectors, including technology and medical science. This particular implant was developed by Barcelona Microelectronics Institute (IMB-CNM, CSIC), the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), and ICFO. 

Currently, researchers use electrode arrays to monitor electrical impulses within the brain and have done so for decades. The limitation of this approach is that these arrays can only detect activity over certain frequencies, and cannot detect anything lower. The new implant overcomes this technical limitation by employing an innovative transistor-based architecture. This essentially amplifies the brain’s signals before transmitting them back. 

The thin and lightweight nature of graphene also means that it can be used to record over larger areas of the brain. It’s small and flexible enough to support more recording sites over larger areas of the cortex without danger of being rejected or impacting brain function. The result of which means more powerful mapping over a larger area, an unprecedented advancement in the field. 

José Antonio Garrido, one of the leaders of the study explained: “Beyond epilepsy, this precise mapping and interaction with the brain has other exciting applications. In contrast to the common standard passive electrodes, our active graphene-based transistor technology will boost the implementation of novel multiplexing strategies that can increase dramatically the number of recording sites in the brain, leading the development of a new generation of brain-computer interfaces.”

Andrea C. Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship added: “graphene and related materials have major opportunities for biomedical applications. The Graphene Flagship recognised this by funding a dedicated Work Package. The results of this study are a clear demonstration that graphene can bring unprecedented progress to the study of brain processes.” 

This exciting news could potentially be the starting point for a series of research proposals that lead to more effective treatments for people with epilepsy. This could be especially prevalent for those who have epilepsy syndromes that are resistant to current treatment options. We’ll keep you updated as new information on this implant and its findings come to light.