The Allen Institute for Brain Science signed an agreement with imec, a nanoelectronics research center, to develop and manufacture an advanced sensor array for recording neural activity in animal brains. The Institute, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and University College London have committed $5.5 million in R&D for the revolutionary neuroscience research tools.

The proposed sensor array is expected to advance current neural probe technology used to detect extracellular electrical activity in the brain. It will incorporate recording electrodes at a much higher density and provide performance an order of magnitude better than existing technology, allowing researchers to record brain activity with an unprecedented combination of resolution and ability from a very large number of sites, according to Christof Koch, Ph.D., CSO of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

Institute researchers believe that these devices, two years in the planning, will have a direct impact in advancing brain research across a broad front, including the BRAIN Initiative, as advocated by U.S. President Barack Obama in his speech last April. (For more on that initiative, click here.) These new probes will address the basic understanding of brain function, such as how sensory information, visual images in the eye or whisker touches flow into and between brain regions and is processed by the cortex.

“The advanced microelectronics built and tested by our consortium will enable any neuroscientist to pick up with ease, using a single piece of machined silicon, the electrical signals generated by hundreds of individual nerve cells. With this advanced tool we can listen to their chattering, bringing us closer to the day when we will fully decipher their meaning and thereby understand the language of the brain,” said Dr Koch.

Over the course of the 38-month project, imec will leverage its silicon design and processing capabilities to develop and test the new tool, and produce a version that can be manufactured and made available to the scientific research community.

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