MIT scientists have developed a process by which they can produce flexible, multi-channeled polymer fibers that could simultaneously deliver drugs and optical and electrical signals. The polymer itself has characteristics that resemble human neural tissue, allowing it to remain in the body longer and without damaging surrounding tissue. The MIT process involves creating a large scale arrangement of the fiber and channels design, then heating it and drawing it to shrink the fiber by 200 percent. The fiber can be further reduced in size by selective chemical etching so that it becomes approximately the size of a human hair.
The researchers envision the fiber being employed in such things as precision mapping of neural activity, treatment of neurological diseases, and optogenetic neural stimulation, as well as enabling neuronal electrical activity to be monitored and recorded in real time.
These kinds of advances will help greatly in our quest to understand the brain, which has become a major focus of medical research.