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Memristors: Missing Link in Brain-to-Prosthesis Communication?

Photograph of the memristor chip courtesy of the University of Southampton.

Monitoring neuronal cell activity is fundamental to neuroscience and the development of neuroprosthetics. New research, led by the University of Southampton, England, has demonstrated that a nanoscale device, called a memristor, could be the missing link in the development of implants that use electrical signals from the brain to help treat medical conditions. In a new study, published in Nature Communications, the researchers showed that memristors could provide real-time processing of neuronal signals (spiking events) leading to efficient data compression and the potential to develop more precise and affordable bioelectronic medicines and neuroprosthetics.

Memristors are electrical components that limit or regulate the flow of electrical current in a circuit and can remember the amount of charge that was flowing through it and retain the data, even when the power is turned off.

Lead author Isha Gupta, a postgraduate research student at the University of Southampton, said: “Our work can significantly contribute towards further enhancing the understanding of neuroscience, developing neuroprosthetics, and bioelectronic medicines by building tools essential for interpreting the big data in a more effective way.”

The research team developed a nanoscale Memristive Integrating Sensor (MIS) into which they fed a series of voltage-time samples, which replicated neuronal electrical activity. Acting like synapses in the brain, the metal-oxide MIS was able to encode and compress (up to 200 times) neuronal spiking activity recorded by multielectrode arrays. Besides addressing the bandwidth constraints, this approach was also power efficient-the power needed per recording channel was up to 100 times less when compared to current best practice.

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of Southampton.