Entry Date:
October 21, 2013

Optoelectronic Neural Scaffolds: Materials Platform for Investigation and Control of Neuronal Activity and Development

Principal Investigator Polina Anikeeva

Project Start Date February 2013

Project End Date
 January 2018

This proposal aims to bridge the gap between advanced optoelectronic materials design and invasive and outdated devices used to treat neurological disorders. By developing flexible, biocompatible polymer-based optoelectronic scaffolds (OPTELS) a strategy for incorporating individual optically sensitive neurons into neural recording and stimulation devices will be created. These trapped neurons will be investigated as relays of optical stimulation or inhibition to intact neural networks, which will potentially enable future clinical applications of optogenetics, a powerful optical neural stimulation tool, without genetic modification of the patient. Specifically the project will be focused on the following objectives: (1) Developing fiber-inspired fabrication methods for hollow-core polymer-based OPTELS and employing them to isolate key materials parameters (surface geometry, charge, flexibility) contributing to survival and growth of electronically active neurons; (2) Using OPTELS to investigate and control neuronal growth with the goal of axonal guidance along the OPTELS core.

The proposed study will explore chemical, optoelectronic and mechanical stimuli and employ OPTELS ability to record and stimulate neural activity to determine factors contributing to axonal growth; (3) Employing neurons trapped in OPTELS cores as relay devices of optical neural interrogation. Genetic modification will be applied to the neurons trapped within the OPTELS cores to enable expression of light-sensitive ion channels -- opsins. The controlled formation of synapses between these relay neurons and the outside networks will be applied to the investigation of optogenetic interrogation of the network without directly genetically modifying it.

Broader Impact: The proposed project will explore materials interfaces between optoelectronic devices and neural tissues providing a pathway towards intimate physiological neuroprosthetic devices for treatment of debilitating neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease or spinal cord injury. The educational and outreach components of the project are designed to enhance materials engineering and optoelectronics education at MIT and at inner city community colleges through classroom training and hands-on laboratory internships. Specifically the outreach program aims to increase awareness about the impact of engineering in medicine among community college students and teachers through the seminar series "Medical Electronics and Optics: Life-saving Engineering," and 10-week research and education summer internships in the PIs laboratory. In addition new lecture material and device-design based assignments will be developed for the core undergraduate course on optical and electronic materials and a graduate photonics course will be adapted to senior undergraduates with the goal of advancing optoelectronics knowledge among the students. The educational materials will be made available to worldwide community of learners through an open MIT web-based resource.