Korean MIT student develops fibre for neural signal
‘Once the fibre is connected to the spinal cord, peripheral nerve signals can be controlled and delivered,’ claims Park Seong-jun, the Korean graduate student who made a breakthrough with his research team
By Yoon Sung-won
Park Seong-jun, a Korean graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has developed a fibre that can deliver neural signals to the brain through the spinal cord, according to the institute, Thursday.
The fibre is expected to be used to improve functionality of artificial limbs. Park and his research team said they will make the fibre more stable and better fit for a living body so it can be used in humans and other animals.
“Once the fibre is connected to the spinal cord, peripheral nerve signals can be controlled and delivered. This can also be applied to the brain-machine interface,” Park said. “The research team’s ultimate goal is to make a better world where disabled people and patients with general paralysis can move their artificial limbs by simply thinking.”
Park majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Seoul National University. He moved to the United States to acquire his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at MIT. He is currently in the doctoral degree course at the institute’s electrical engineering and computer science department.
The MIT graduate student explained that the key in his research was to enable computers to read electric stimulus in the spinal cord when it is stimulated by light. He also said the use of flexible materials that do not break the spinal cord has been an important part.
In optogenetics, researchers look into technologies that enable micro-control of nerve cell movements using light. These technologies require a channel called waveguide to deliver light without loss.
Based on optical fibres used in optical communications, Park and his team produced the fibre that is less than 135 micrometres in diameter. This is thinner than a human hair. Park’s team coated the fibre with silver nanoparticles to allow it to read optical, electrical, and chemical signals of nerve cells.
The researchers tested the fibre on experimental rats. They transplanted the fibre into a rat, replacing its spinal cord nerve. Consequently, the rat perceived the electric signal from its spinal cord through the fibre.
Park’s research results have been released through the international scientific journal “Science Advances” on Thursday, according to MIT.