Bioelectronic medicine today is growing in leaps and bounds, with ambitious new technologies entering the clinic and already changing the lives of more than a million patients worldwide. Materials scientists are called to craft biomedical devices that are smaller, smarter, and less invasive. We propose to create implantable photovoltaic devices which can wirelessly stimulate the nervous system and enable a new type of minimally invasive optoelectronic medicine. To achieve this, we will use biocompatible organic semiconductors which can efficiently absorb light in the near infrared part of the spectrum, where biological tissues are transparent. By micropatterning stimulation pixels on ultrathin conformable substrates, we will create optoelectronic nerve cuff electrodes which will be orders-of-magnitude thinner than what is used clinically today. We will explore deeply the physics of this new type of electrolytic photovoltaic stimulator. The designs will be optimized to operate with safe light intensities delivered from outside of the body. Benchmarking the targeting of precise optoelectronic stimulation will be done in ex vivo and in vivo nerve models. Via control of spatial patterning and localized light actuation, we will develop unique understanding of highly specific and nuanced neural control. The unique aspect of precise neuromodulation wirelessly positions us to explore a number of fundamental questions in applied neuroscience. The project is driven by answering milestone scientific questions in device physics, photoelectrochemistry, and electrophysiology, however the project is simultaneously designed to tackle an important clinical application: vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). We will apply our findings to implement an implantable stimulator actuated transcutaneously by portable light sources. We will develop standard operating procedures for chronic optoelectronic VNS in rodent animal models, paving the way for future clinical trials.
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