Breakthrough Ideas in Neurotechnology

Prize Competition Winners

Thank you all who entered in submissions and cogratulations to the winners listed below:


Zac Davis, Salk Institute
Non-Invasive Optical Imaging Of The Human Brain

Research into the workings of the human brain are limited by the fact that the skull is thick and opaque to the visible light spectrum. While techniques exist to non-invasively study human brain function, they are severely limited in the scope and resolution with which they can do so. Recent developments in the imaging of brain function in animal models have demonstrated that it is possible to use light outside the visible spectrum to observe the brain without opening the scalp or skull. These methods involve using similar techniques astronomers use to study distant stars and planets with terrestrial telescopes, but rather than correcting for the distortion of the atmosphere, images are corrected from the distortion caused by light passing through biological tissue. While promising, these techniques are not quite at the point where they can handle the thickness of the human skull. However, with an interdisciplinary approach between physicists, engineers, and neuroscientists, it may be possible to observe the activity of groups of neurons with microscopes measuring long wavelengths of light that are able to penetrate through the skull and into neural tissue. Should such a technology be feasible, it could revolutionize how we study the function and disease of the human nervous system.

Jinxing Li, UCSD NanoEngineering
MRI-Actuated NanoRobots Operate in Deep Brain

The goal of this idea is to create a MRI-actuated nanorobotic system to enable precise and simultaneous stimulation and mapping of neural activity in deep brain, and to treat conditions of the central nervous system. This proposed tool will provide highly precise substance delivery with minimal trauma by navigating untethered nanoscale robots through the blood-brain barrier and brain tissue. In order to capture the necessary force to penetrate into the surrounding tissue, magnetic nanorobots, with dimensions as small as 50 nm, would resourcefully draw magnetic torque forces from modern clinical apparati –- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) –- to penetrate and propel through the blood-brain barrier. By building such a MRI-coupled nanorobotics system, one can probe molecular and biophysical aspects of individual neurons and also view the human brain in action with MRI simultaneously. Various imaging and therapeutic agents could be delivered to desired locations with high spatio-temporal precision in the deep brain. We envision the proposed tool will have a transformative impact on the broader community’s ability to investigate brain activity and will improve brain therapy.

Elena Vicario and David Adamowicz, UCSD Neuroscience
Magnetic Antibody-coated Nanoparticles with High-contrast Agent for Targeting and Tracking of All Neurotransmitters (MANHATTAN)

This technology would serve as a noninvasive method to stimulate brain activity using the release of chemical messengers at precise locations and with a controlled release mechanism. The initial delivery of the carrier molecules can be accomplished using an intranasal spray since there already exists a direct route to the brain there, followed by magnetic stimulation to ensure accurate targeting and release of the cargo. This method would be adaptable to all kinds of chemical messengers, including ones that are out of balance in conditions such as depression and Parkinson's disease.