New semiconductor fibers may be available for neural interfaces

Donghua University researchers Wang Gang and Academician Zhu Meifang, together with Jiang Su, associate professor of hand surgery at Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University, realized the controllable construction of nanoscale ion heterojunctions on the surface of one-dimensional curved structures for the first time, and obtained electron-ion hybrid semiconductor functional fiber devices with kilometer-level manufacturing potential. Based on the unidirectional transmission characteristics of signals at the interface of fiber ion junctions, the core components of fibrous ion semiconductors (ion diodes, ion bipolar junction transistors) are designed and developed, and the “0-1” logic operation of ion signals is initially realized through the integrated fiber ion logic gate. In addition, it can be used as a neural interface to achieve continuous electrical stimulation of distal nerves after peripheral nerve injury, delay distal muscle atrophy, and provide the possibility for patients who miss early treatment after nerve injury to recover better motor function. The study was recently published in Nature Communications.

According to reports, the new research has made innovative breakthroughs in the design and preparation of semiconductor functional fiber neural interface devices. The research team adopts the design idea of “integrated reverse charge grafting”, chemically grafts ion groups with opposite charges on the surface of commercial polymers, and adopts the method of continuous multi-layer coating to load two polyelectrolytes with opposite charges on carbon nanotube fibers to realize the cross-scale continuous preparation of the device from nanoscale to kilometer. “Our design approach makes it easier to prepare materials. At the same time, the low cost and material availability of commercial polymers also make the future industrialization and scale of the device more potential and prospective. Wang Gang, the corresponding author of the paper, said.

“Different from previous neural interface devices, the electron-ion hybrid semiconductor fiber devices we developed are more similar to human natural nerves in morphology and conduction function.” Wang Gang introduced that electron-ion hybrid semiconductor fiber devices can simulate the depolarization of natural nerves through the one-way transmission of ion current at the interface of ion heterojunctions to realize the conduction of nerve impulses. “Its structural features also allow us to perform implantable neuroelectric stimulation of multiple specific neural branches by integrating multiple neural interfaces on single-fiber devices after various modifications to the device.” Because it can be in direct contact with the target nerve, this stimulation method is more effective and precise. ”

Miniaturized one-dimensional (1D) fibrous neural interface devices are morphologically similar to nerves, with significantly reduced bending stiffness, and can be implanted in a minimally invasive manner, which has better applicability in disease diagnosis, medical treatment, and human body enhancement. In order to further explore the application potential of electron-ion hybrid semiconductor fiber devices as neural interfaces, the team anastomosed them with the sciatic nerve of mice to test its ability to conduct nerve signals. The experimental results show that after implantation in mice, the device can effectively transmit nerve signals as a neural interface of fibrous ion diodes, successfully induce fine movement of hindlimb joints, and delay the atrophy of distal muscles. In addition, by integrating the ion transistor neural interface for single-fiber devices, unidirectional transmission of neural signals can be achieved in milliseconds, which is potentially valuable for unidirectional stimulation clinical applications of certain nerves, such as the vagus nerve.

Wang Gang said that as a potential neural interface device, the current electron-ion hybrid semiconductor fiber device is still a certain distance from large-scale application, and a large number of preliminary tests are still necessary to ensure its safety, reliability and effectiveness. “Based on the research and development theory and experimental basis of the device, we believe that after its optimization, the mass production and standardization of the device can be realized, and finally it can be used as a neural interface, which is widely used in the development of biomedical equipment such as diagnosis and treatment, bionic neuronal computer interface and brain-like intelligence,” Wang Gang said.

The article was guided by Academician Zhu Meifang and Professor Wang Hongzhi of Donghua University. The research is supported by the Major Research Program of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Special Fund for Basic Scientific Research Funds of Central Universities, and the Shanghai Natural Science Foundation of China.

Electron-ion hybrid semiconductor fiber device and application diagram. Photo courtesy of Donghua University

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