By KIM BELLARD
Nanoparticles are everywhere! By that I mean, of course, that there seems to be a lot of news about them lately, particularly in regard to health and healthcare. But, of course, literally they could be anywhere and everywhere, which helps account for their potential, and their potential danger.
Let’s start with one of the more startling developments: a team at the University of Miami’s College of Engineering, led by Professor Sakhrat Khizroev, believes it has figured out a way to use nanoparticles to “talk” to the brain without wires or implants. They use “a novel class of ultrafine units called magnetoelectric nanoparticles (MENPs)” to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
“Once the MENPs are inside the brain and positioned next to neurons, we can stimulate them with an external magnetic field, and they in turn produce an electric field we can speak to, without having to use wires,” Professor Khizroev explained. A special magnetic helmet would communicate with the MENPs, in real-time.
Other efforts, such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink, have been looking at using implants to achieve the brain-computer interface, but Dr. Khizroev is skeptical of this kind of approach:
Other efforts have used external instruments like microelectrodes to try to solve the mysteries of the brain, but because of its complexity and difficulty in accessing, such methods can only go so far. There are 80 billion neurons in the human brain, so imagine how difficult it would be to attach 80 billion microelectrodes to access every single neuron. The only way to truly tap in is wirelessly—through nanotechnology.
Professor Khizroev has been working on the technology for over a decade, and has received funding from Darpa as part of its Next Generation Non-surgical Neurotechnology (N3) program (also known as BrianSTORMs), the goal of which is “to develop high-performance, bi-directional brain-machine interfaces for able-bodied service members.”