A new brain implant that can record neural activity while it simultaneously delivers electric current has been implanted into a patient for the first time.
The new device from Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical device company, can also adjust its electrical output in response to the changing conditions of the brain. This automated control could one day improve deep-brain stimulation treatment and even enable doctors to use the device to treat more conditions, say experts.
More than 100,000 patients have received deep brain stimulation for treating movement problems associated with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders. The treatment is also being explored for use with patients with epilepsy, severe depression, and other brain disorders. The pacemaker-like devices deliver electric shocks to the brain to correct or prevent disruptive neuronal activity associated with symptoms of these conditions. With current devices, the pattern and strength of the electrical pulses must be preset by a specialist and then adjusted to meet a patient’s needs. The new device from Medtronic and others currently in development could change that.
“Everything that is on the market today is a one-way stimulator,” says Joseph Neimat, a neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who specializes in deep brain stimulation implants. “The devices don’t record or respond to a patient,” he says. “What would be better would be to have a system that could anticipate or read a patient’s state and respond with an appropriate stimulus.”