Medical Design and Outsourcing reports that researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a technology they are referring to as “neural dust”. The devices are tiny sensors, the size of a large grain of sand. When implanted in the body, ultrasound is used to vibrate a piezoelectric crystal in the device, generating electrical power that activates a transistor. The device can both stimulate nerve and muscle fibers and detect voltage changes in the tissue to which it is attached. In one mode it can act as a sensor, in the other as a therapeutic device. It is envisioned that the devices could be employed in a variety of ways, such as part of a brain-machine system for controlling prosthetics and as aids in such things as bladder control and appetite suppression.
Though tiny, the devices are still too big at present to be used in the brain and central nervous system. But the Berkeley team believes they can shrink the technology to the 50-micron scale, which would be sufficient.
Berkeley’s “neural dust” is an exciting new medical technology that will be interesting to watch as it develops.