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Neurosurg Focus 20 (5):E5, 2006

Robert J. Sclabassi, M.D., Ph.D., Qiang Liu, Ph.D., Steven A. Hackworth, M.S.E.E.,Gusphyl A. Justin, M.S. B.M.E., and Mingui Sun, Ph.D.

Departments of Neurological Surgery, Electrical Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

There is a lack of adequate and cost-effective treatment options for many neurodegenerative diseases. The number of affected patients is in the millions, and this number will only increase as the population ages. The developing areas of neuromimetics and stimulative implants provide hope for treatment, as evidenced by the currently available, but limited, implants. New technologies are emerging that are leading to the development of highly intelligent, implantable sensors, activators, and mobile robots that will provide in vivo diagnosis, therapeutic interventions, and functional replacement. Two key platform technologies that are required to facilitate the development of these neuromimetic and stimulative implants are data communication channels and the devices’ power supplies. In the research reported in this paper, investigators have examined the use of novel concepts that address these two needs. These concepts are based on ionic volume conduction (VC) to provide a natural communication channel to support the functioning of these devices, and on biofuel cells to provide a continuously rechargeable power supply that obtains electrons from the natural metabolic pathways, The fundamental principles of the VC communication channels, including novel antenna design, are demonstrated. These principles include the basic mechanisms, device sensitivity, bidirectionality of communication, and signal recovery. The demonstrations are conducted using mathematical and finite element analysis, physical experiments, and animal experiments. The fundamental concepts of the biofuel cells are presented and three versions of the cells that have been studied are discussed, including bacteria-based cells and two white cell-based experiments. In this paper the authors summarize the proof or principal experiments for both a biomimetic data channel communication method and a biofuel cell approach, which promise to provide innovative platform technologies to support complex devices that will be ready for implantation in the human nervous system in the next decade.

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