Flexing neurotech – Neurosoft Bioelectronics is developing new implantable electrode technologies that interface with nervous tissue.
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Neurosoft Bioelectronics, a spin-out company from EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, is laser focused on developing new implantable electrode technologies to interface with the nervous tissue. With over 9 years of neurotech expertise, research, and development, the team at Neurosoft has developed small, thin implantable electrodes that can both stretch, flex and reducing dramatically the foreign body reaction and scarring associated with traditional implantable devices.
These unique mechanical properties allow enhanced long-term performance, even in hard-to-reach areas such as the brain sulci and can reduce scar tissue formation around the electrodes. When implanted, these soft, thin, and flexible electrodes can both record and stimulate the brain, which Neurosoft believes may be able to help in indications such as tinnitus and epilepsy. Ultimately, the goal of Neurosoft is to leverage its technology and build fully implantable brain-computer interfaces to treat severe neurological disorders.
“Therapeutic outcomes from clinical neural implants are limited by their mechanical properties,” explains Nicolas Vachicouras, Founder and CEO of Neurosoft Bioelectronics. “Their stiff and rigid designs present a mechanical mismatch compared to the soft and curved tissues they interface with, thereby constraining the physiological motion dynamics of the nervous system. At Neurosoft Bioelectronics, we are addressing this issue by engineering elasticity in thin film materials to manufacture implantable electrodes that are much softer and flexible, and that can seamlessly interface with the nervous system.”
Vachicouras, always dreamt about the possibilities of biomedical engineering since he learned about the mechanisms of the retina at high school. To pursue this dream, Nicolas threw himself into studies of microelectronics at EPFL and in 2012 he joined the Laboratory for Soft Bioelectronic Interfaces, ran by Professor Stéphanie Lacour, where he worked on soft microelectronics for neural interfaces.
Inspired by the medical potential of these devices, he pursued various research projects in that field at EPFL and Harvard Medical School, and eventually started a PhD with Prof. Lacour on the translation of these technologies to the clinic. He initiated the start-up one year before the end of his PhD and in 2018 Ludovic Serex, a long-time classmate of Nicolas’, joined the team to share his expertise in microtechnologies (specifically cleanroom microfabrication).
Neurosoft is a pioneering company in soft bioelectronic interfaces. Other companies competing in this area tend to use plastic-based technologies which can be flexible but, due to the intrinsic rigidity of these materials, must be manufactured very thin and can have very sharp edges. When creating an interface with the brain, sharp edges and stiff materials can cause damage to brain vessels and put a patient’s safety at risk. Neurosoft Bioelectronics is one of the only companies in the world that are developing truly soft, stretchable, and flexible electrodes. This soft electrode technology can drastically reduce the risk of damaging neural structures, as the devices are 1000x softer and 2x thinner than current clinical electrodes.
Additionally, they are MRI compatible and can easily be folded in the sulci, allowing unprecedented access to typically unreachable brain regions. Finally, the electrode sites integrated on the devices can be 100x smaller in surface area, providing high resolution for both recording and stimulation.
Patients implanted with Neurosoft’s electrodes should benefit from the lower risk of scarring and device failure, avoiding complications which can require costly surgical device removal and re-implantation. Furthermore, the high resolution recording performance of these electrodes improves the ability to detect disease-related electrical biomarkers such as for epilepsy. Moreover the high-resolution stimulation reduces the risk of off-target stimulation which can typically lead to unwanted side-effects.
Neurosoft Bioelectronics has a portfolio of 24 patents, including 11 granted in the USA, Europe and China, relating to its proprietary connector technology, its soft electrode technology and other specific embodiments of their technology. With more than nine years of research and development already completed, the level of expertise in this field will be hard for another company to emulate.
“Many of the technologies that are on the market today are all made with the same materials and techniques, regardless of what neurological target they have,” says Vachicouras. “It’s my core belief that having soft devices is a smarter way if you are interfacing with softer tissues, like the brain or spinal cord”
One of Neurosoft’s main goals is to treat severe tinnitus using cortical neuromodulation. To ensure this goal is met, the company have partnered with one of the leading experts in the world, Professor de Ridder, who pioneered cortical neuromodulation for tinnitus, and showed that there is strong scientific evidence of neuromodulation efficacy when applied to tinnitus , but didn’t pursue this further when he lacked the correct electrode materials for interfacing with neural tissue.
Other academic and research collaborations include partnerships with EPFL and Stéphanie Lacour’s laboratory, where most of the company’s infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities currently reside. The company also has a strong relationship with the Wyss Center, a private foundation that helps start-up companies in the field of neurotech and is known as one of the best neurotech incubators in Europe. Its soft electrode technology is also currently being tested with other clinical collaborators at Harvard Medical school and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
To ensure it can collect data on its materials and devices, Neurosoft Bioelectronics has also made strategic relationships with various hospitals and clinics, including Utrecht medical centre, which is one of the largest epilepsy centres in Europe, the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV).
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