The transformation of brain implants
Nicolas Vachicouras, CEO of Neurosoft Bioelectronics, tells us how Neurosoft’s electrode implant aims to reduce inflammation and scar tissue for patients, provide higher quality brain recordings for surgeons and neurologists, and potentially administer medication where needed most in the body.
“Electrodes have been on the market for many years and are used for a lot of applications. They can either record activity from the brain or send electrical pulses,” says Nicolas. “What Neurosoft created is an implant made of soft materials that lie directly on the surface of the brain and minimise the side effects often seen with thicker implants.”
Many implants used today are viable, though Nicolas says their general configuration has not changed much in the last 50 years.
They are thick and stiff – especially compared to the brain’s dura mater – causing a higher likelihood of a foreign-body reaction in the brain, and scar tissue can develop around the implant.
Nicolas states Neurosoft developed a soft, thin, stretchable implant that can lessen the likelihood of these negative side-effects due to its composition, especially in patients with brain injuries.
For patients with epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, or a brain tumour, an implant used short-term can effectively analyse brain activity and determine the appropriate treatment path.
An example of a short application is typically intraoperatively for brain tumours, where the implant is on the brain for a few hours. The electrodes then map the area around the tumour to ensure no damage is caused to critical parts of the brain during a resection.
“For epilepsy, in the case where a patient is drug-resistant and has to undergo surgery, sometimes physicians have trouble localising where the seizures come from,” Nicolas says. “What they do is put electrodes on the brain for two to three weeks and record the brain’s activity. When a seizure occurs, they can pinpoint where the seizure comes from, from the recordings.”
“When you have something rigid, especially on curved parts of the brain, it can compress the brain or even damage blood vessels. We expect to lower this risk a lot simply because the implant is softer.”
The Soft ECoG is made of medical-grade silicone, as many implants are, but their design is thinner. The technology behind the devices used to record a patient’s brain activity is made of gold electrodes coated with a composite made of platinum and silicone, which Nicolas says provides for more accurate readings.
“Metals usually break when you stretch them, but we’ve come up with a method to allow for the gold metals not to break when stretched,” Nicolas notes. “This allows the implant to be pliable and easily conform to the shape of the patient’s brain.”
The implant lies on the brain’s surface and is intended for maximum use of 30 days. During that time, patients are free to undergo an MRI with the implant in place.
Some electrodes on the market are sizeable rigid metal discs and can interfere with the electromagnetic fields within an MRI machine.
“Because the gold metal tracks are so thin, below 200 nanometers thick, they do not interact much with the MRI field. Surgeons or neuro neurologists were excited about this because it’s beneficial to be able to image the brain around the device,” Nicolas states.
Neurosoft’s creation is not the only implant available that can remain in the body during an MRI scan due to being comprised of thin-film electronics. Still, Nicolas says it was a pleasant surprise.
Assessing drug effectiveness using biomarkers
Examining an implant’s physical versatility is only one aspect of determining how it can help improve patient outcomes. They could also determine how patients are affected by their treatment.
The convergence of implants and drug therapies is another promising route for these devices. The benefit of such devices for brain treatment is the ability to integrate small microfluidic channels next to the electrodes to dispense medicine directly where it is needed most in the body – avoiding systemic effects that typically occur with drugs taken orally or through intravenous injection.
The application of electrical biomarkers can also improve drug development and research. Biomarkers can help monitor the safety of a specific therapy, determine treatment effectiveness, and predict which patient may respond better to a particular drug.
One of Neurosoft’s ultimate goals is to explore how their devices could detect specific brain signals that are biomarkers for different disorders to indicate how a drug is performing.
“Suppose the patient is given a drug for epilepsy. You could record brain activity from the electrodes and immediately see, as you give the drug, a change in the physiological activity,” says Nicolas.
“In the future, we believe our devices could be leveraged to understand better how drugs work or determine the right moment to give a drug based on biomarkers detected.”
Detecting secondary brain injury
Another biomarker-based project the company has underway is determining how electrode implants can help detect secondary brain injury.
Patients who suffer a significant impact on their head can develop traumatic brain injury, also known as primary damage.
Two to seven days post-injury is a critical period where more damage can occur, called secondary brain damage, which can lead to death.
To reduce the possibility of secondary brain damage, researchers are looking at different types of markers, such as blood pressure, oxygenation of the brain, and the brain’s temperature.
One marker of interest over the past ten years is a particular brain activity called spreading depolarisations. Preliminary clinical data indicate spreading depolarisations might be a good predictor of secondary brain injury.
“The idea here is if we detect that marker reliably, then we can start giving drugs that could potentially reduce spreading depolarisation and, therefore, reduce the rate of secondary brain damage. That’s still in research, but that’s an application we’re looking at,” Nicolas states.
The company has high hopes for their technology and is currently in the research phase for much of its intended uses.
“There’s a lot of potential, and one of the biggest bottlenecks in the industry is really with hardware, including implants. Once you get beyond this hurdle, it opens up many potential applications for this technology.”
Read more about Neurosoft’s technology at Neurosoft-Bio.com.
About the interviewee
Nicolas Vachicouras is CEO, co-founder, and quality affairs manager of Neurosoft Bioelectronics. He received an MSc in Microengineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 2014, and started a PhD in Microelectronics, where he focused on developing soft neural interfaces. During his PhD, Nicolas worked as an R&D consultant for Aleva Neurotherapeutics. In 2019, Nicolas co-founded Neurosoft Bioelectronics. In addition to raising approximately $5M in non-dilutive funding, he was actively involved in establishing a medical-grade manufacturing line to produce neural implants and has been managing regulatory and clinical affairs.
About the author
Jessica Hagen is a freelance life sciences and health writer and project manager who has worked with VR health companies, fiction/nonfiction authors, nonprofit and for-profit organisations, and government entities.