Sep 12, 2016 | By Nick

A 3D printed electronic implant that can fuse with your own brain tissue and repair damage caused by injury or illness still sounds like science fiction. But it’s one step closer to reality now that the VolswagenStiftung has awarded Dr Ivan Minev more than $1 million (€920,000) in grant money to make it happen. Dr Minev's research could potentially hold the key to curing Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s and a whole host of other conditions that devastate the lives of millions. It could also help people recover from head injuries that would otherwise prove fatal.

For the next five years Dr Minev will enjoy the freedom to focus on this big issue thanks to his newly acquired status as a Freitgeist Fellow. The fellowship is designed to support outstanding scientists and give them the chance to deal with scientific challenges that could change all of our futures. The Freitgeist Fellowship supports free thinkers, innovators and individuals who have the potential to drive the whole human race forward. It sounds grand, and it is, but the world needs such people to break down the barriers between theoretical concepts and concrete scientific progress.

Making a functional brain implant that can promote repair comes with a minefield of problems, so we’re curious to see how much progress Minev makes in just five years. We don't truly understand how the brain functions as of now, so fixing it is a bold step.

While technology of this nature is still more-or-less theoretical at present, Minev is hopeful that he can make great strides and—at the very least—narrow down the basic requirements for brain implants within the next decade. “The next 5 - 10 years should give us a good idea of the road-map we need to follow in order to make it happen,” said Minev. “I will use soft materials and 3D printing to build functional implants for integration with the central nervous system. Implants will be designed to match the mechanical properties of brain and will emulate aspects of tissue architecture.”

Minev will set up shop at Technische Universitat Dresden, in the city that recently claimed to be the European capital of 3D printing. This claim isn't entirely without merit, as the Fraunhofer Society is there, one of every two electronic chips in Europe has its roots in the city and AGENT-3D is also based there. It has certainly established itself as a European center of technical excellence, although the likes of Amsterdam, London and Paris might have something to say about the capital claim.

The 3D printing activity taking place in Dresden means that Minev has a wealth of experts on hand to help him with his research, modeling and materials. That could prove invaluable as he is stepping into the unknown in trying to create an implant that can not only stay inside the brain without causing a massive adverse reaction, but also needs to promote the repair and production of healthy tissue.

“The spirit of scientific collaboration is evident everywhere in Dresden,” Minev said. “The city hosts the University including many research institutions with their own specific expertise. I was impressed by the idea of the Dresden Concept when I first visited. Getting the various research institutes in Dresden to work together creates a critical mass of expertise which enables interdisciplinary research. This is important for me because in the field of bioelectronics, we need input from both the physical and life sciences and engineering.”

Minev might just be the ideal man for this demanding job, as he has worked extensively with neuroprosthetic implants that tackle a lot of the same issues he will now face on a more advanced level. He served as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne’s Center for Neuroprosthetics, where he worked on spinal cord implants that could help disabled patients walk again. That work involved creating materials that were both compliant and compatible with the nervous system, which is a massive challenge on its own. 

When working on his PhD at the University of Cambridge, Minev studied materials and technology that could help create stretchable electronics and experimented heavily with elastomer substrates and thin metallic films that could easily have a biomedical application. 

While the announcement of this fellowship is just the start for Dr Menev and his project, the fact that we’re even talking about advances in medical science on this scale has to be taken as encouraging news. We wish Dr Minev well and look forward to the updates.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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