Salt Lake City-based Blackrock unveiled the interface at the Society for Neuroscience 2022 event this week.
It designed the Neuralace platform as an ultra-high channel count, flexible electrode. The company said in a news release that it provides a glimpse into the technology set to fuel its future BCIs.
“Neuralace demonstrates our belief in where the science must go in order to unlock the true potential of BCI,” said Marcus Gerhardt, co-founder and CEO of Blackrock. “This concept technology is the start of Blackrock’s journey toward whole-brain data capture that will transform the way neurological disorders are treated.”
Building upon established technology
Blackrock develops the NeuroPort Array neural interfacing system. The system, used in human BCIs since 2004, helped patients regain tactile function, movement of limbs and prosthetics and the ability to control digital devices. They can achieve this despite diagnoses of paralysis and other neurological disorders.
The company said next-generation BCIs could extend further beyond those capabilities. Blackrock envisions BCIs for areas like vision and memory restoration, performance prediction and the treatment of mental health disorders like depression. However, these require interfacing with more neurons.
Neuralace features 10,000+ channels and a scalable system integrated on a flexible, lace-structured chip. Blackrock designed it to potentially capture data at a magnitude far greater than existing electrodes. This allows for an exponential increase in capabilities and intuitiveness.
“If our BCI today can help people move and feel again with only six hundred channels, imagine what we can do with ten thousand or more,” said Florian Solzbacher, Blackrock co-founder and president. “We are actively imagining new therapies — for anxiety, depression, and other neurological disorders — that this technology will enable. This is a glimpse of what’s possible in the future of BCI.”
More info on Blackrock’s Neuralace
The company said Neuralace comes in at a size even thinner than an eyelash. It can be engineered with a number of materials and patterns to interface with wide swaths of the brain’s surface. The thin structure allows Neuralace to conform to the fissures and sulci of the brain. This increases the surface area from which the system gathers data.
Neuralace’s adaptable structure also allows for improved biocompatibility, Blackrock said. Its porous form factor could mean a more natural integration with neural tissue. This supports the flow of cellular fluids and the diffusion of biomolecules that otherwise may trigger immune responses and/or inflammation.
“Decreasing the invasiveness of neurotechnological approaches without sacrificing device performance is one of the core challenges of neural engineering,” said Solzbacher. “The holy grail is a device that minimizes invasiveness and also enables the most powerful BCIs. With Neuralace, we are leapfrogging toward the dream of ‘neural dust’ by interfacing directly with ever larger portions of the brain while minimizing tissue irritation. This is the groundbreaking next step that will enable a paradigm shift in the design and architecture of high-performance implantable BCIs.”
Blackrock said it is currently preparing its NeuroPort Array-based BCI, MoveAgain, for commercial launch as a medical device. It currently expects Neuralace to become available as a tool for the research community by 2024.
The company later plans to explore visual prosthesis applications in humans for the platform. It aims for first-in-human demonstrations of a Neuralace visual prosthesis by 2028.