Neuroengineers working at Rice University have developed an implant that can stimulate the nervous system without a battery or wired power source because it relies on magnetic energy. The implant is about the size of a single piece of rice, but provides a signal that is usually achieved by battery-powered implants currently used for people with chronic pain, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and other disease that affect the nervous system. Other attempts to do this have included the use of light, magnetic coils, radio waves, and ultrasounds, all of which either create excessive heat or have problems with the living tissue around the devices.
The use of magnetoelectrical material allows for energy to convert to voltage without these problems. Tests on rodents who were awake and mobile have show positive results for what magnetoelectrical devices could do to help those who suffer from a range of issues. An additional benefit to the study, which used rodents, was that it forced the team to come up with solutions that were incredibly small. As it is tested in larger animals, the size will not need to be adjusted. If it proves successful in humans, this small device will be able to be installed with noninvasive surgery because of the small size of the device.
To accomplish the small device with such potential, two layers were combined into one film that took up less space. This was required because the development team had submitted a paper saying that it was possible to make their original device smaller. The response to that paper was that if they could make it smaller, they should go ahead and do it. It took about a year to come up with the single film layer solution. The successful minimization of the device was attributed to a grad student, Amanda Singer.
The full development process took over five years because the system was developed from scratch.
This article covers the basics of the technology. If you are interested, the article, Tiny, Magnetically Powered Neural Stimulator goes into a lot more detail, describing the way the technology works.