Recording and Stimulating Single Neurons with Wearable Devices for People on the Move

Innovative technologies like wearable devices have revolutionized the way we live our lives, providing new ways to monitor our health and stay connected on the go. Now, researchers are taking the capabilities of these devices to the next level by using them to stimulate single neurons in people with autism. This groundbreaking approach could have significant implications for the treatment of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, offering a new way to target specific areas of the brain in real-time. In this article from Spectrum, we explore the latest research on wearable devices and their potential to revolutionize the field of autism research.

A new study has revealed that a wearable device called Neuro-stack, which can create single-neuron research on freely moving behaviours, has been invented. Previously, single-neuron researches on freely moving behaviours were limited to laboratory animals, but the microchips that make up Neuro-stack can simultaneously record the activities of up to 32 single neurons, plus local field potential activity, in up to 128 spots in the brain. Until now, bulky neuron monitors had to be carried on carts and participants were largely limited to stationary activities. The Neuro-stack platform can be used to investigate electrical stimulation to quell epileptic seizures, which may occur in nearly half of autistic people. It might also help identify individual neurons involved in everyday activities, such as spatial navigation and memory recall. According to the researchers, future research is needed to test Neuro-stack’s safety, reliability, and to make it more compact and cost-effective.

The research tested Neuro-stack in participants’ hospital rooms while the participants were already in the hospital for doctors to monitor their seizures, and the volunteers walked near walls in their hospital rooms. The device detected an increase in low-frequency theta brain waves, showing “remarkable similarities with brain signals in experimental animals”. Neuro-stack further proved capable of delivering electrical stimulation to three participants, with greater flexibility and customization in the shape and timing of its electrical pulses than current implantable devices, which may expand brain-stimulation research and lead to more effective therapies for brain disorders.

Neuro-stack may one day help to analyze social behaviour, a key area in which autistic and neurotypical people differ. To study the neural bases for such behaviours, scientists ideally need to measure them in naturally occurring settings as individuals navigate through their real lives. As researchers can control Neuro-stack remotely via a wireless link and an interface that runs on Windows-based tablets or laptops, they can also combine it with other technologies, such as virtual reality, “to expand its applications and deepen our understanding of the brain’s functioning in naturalistic settings,” the researchers said.

In conclusion, the development of wearable devices that can record and stimulate single neurons has opened up new possibilities for understanding and treating neurological disorders like autism. With these devices, researchers can study the neural activity in real-life settings, allowing for a better understanding of the brain and the conditions that affect it. While there is still much research to be done in this field, wearable devices represent an exciting step towards more personalized and effective treatments for individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as other neurological conditions. As technology continues to advance, we can look forward to even more innovative solutions for understanding and treating the brain.

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