Blackrock Neurotech, a leading brain-computer interface company, revealed itsnext-generation neural interface, Neuralace, at Society for Neuroscience 2022. The ultra-high channel count, flexible electrode gives an important glimpse into the innovative technology that will fuel the company’s future BCIs.
“Neuralace demonstrates our belief in where the science must go in order to unlock the true potential of BCI,” says 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.”
Today’s BCI, reimagined
Blackrock’s long-tested NeuroPort Array, widely considered the gold standard of high-channel neural interfacing, has been used in human BCIs since 2004 and powered many of the field’s most significant milestones. In clinical trials, patients using Blackrock’s BCI have regained tactile function, movement of their own limbs and prosthetics, and the ability to control digital devices, despite diagnoses of paralysis and other neurological disorders.
While Blackrock’s BCI enables patients to execute sophisticated functions without reliance on assistive technologies, next-generation BCIs for areas such as vision and memory restoration, performance prediction, and treatment of mental health disorders like depression will need to interface with more neurons.
Neuralace is designed to capitalize on this need; with 10,000+ channels and the entire scalable system integrated on an extremely flexible lace-structured chip, it could capture data that is orders of magnitude greater than existing electrodes, allowing for an exponential increase in capability 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.”
Whole-brain data capture, seamless connectivity, improved biocompatibility
Thinner than an eyelash, Neuralace can be engineered with a variety of materials and patterns to interface with wide swaths of the brain’s surface. Because of its thin structure, Neuralace can conform to the fissures and sulci of the brain, increasing the surface area that data is gathered from. Neuralace’s adaptable structure also means improved biocompatibility. The body’s immune response has been a challenge for all neural implants, but Neuralace’s porous form factor would allow more natural integration with neural tissue, supporting the flow of cellular fluids and diffusion of biomolecules that could otherwise trigger immune response 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.”
While Blackrock prepares its NeuroPort Array-based BCI, MoveAgain, for commercial launch as a medical device, the company expects Neuralace to become available as a tool for the neuroscience research community by 2024, joining its extensive portfolio of clinical and research electrodes in the market. The company will later explore visual prosthesis applications in humans, with aims to have first-in-human demonstrations of a Neuralace visual prosthesis by 2028.