Now, I’m as suspicious as anyone of the chip-in-our-brain future we seem to be careening towards. But I’m still fascinated by the wealth of applications of this new innovation from UC Berkeley: “neural dust.” While definitely not chips, these incredibly tiny, battery-less sensors could be implanted deep within the body, to transmit information about nerves, muscles, and other components. At the moment, researchers have tested the concept in rats, and are very excited about the huge leap represented by this technology, which is:
“unique in that ultrasound is used both to power and read out the measurements. Ultrasound technology is already well-developed for hospital use, and ultrasound vibrations can penetrate nearly anywhere in the body, unlike radio waves, the researchers say.
‘I think the long-term prospects for neural dust are not only within nerves and the brain, but much broader,’ said Michel Maharbiz, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and one of the study’s two main authors. ‘Having access to in-body telemetry has never been possible because there has been no way to put something supertiny superdeep. But now I can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data.’”
Having something that low profile in our healthcare arsenal could mean greater accessibility for untold amounts of information and therapies. Once the technology is miniaturized enough, neural dust could be used to control prosthetics, suppress appetite, or even monitor hormone levels. (“Neural dust” does sound a little mystical too — thus proving Arthur C. Clarke’s third law?