Millions of people suffer permanent damage to the peripheral or central nervous system as the result of physical injuries, strokes or brain tumors. The long-term consequences often include impaired motor functions and paralysis. A new therapeutic approach targeting the affected areas of the body might soon be possible, thanks to interactive micro implants. By the recording of nerve signals and electrostimulation of the affected regions, it may be possible to completely or partially compensate for lost physiological or motor functions.

State of the art

The advantage of centrally controlled, multichannel implant systems is their simplified energy supply and wireless communication functions. The size of the implant system is determined by the number of components and their power requirements, which in turn determines the necessary energy storage capacity. The maximum reliable range over which the implants can communicate depends on the length, circumference and number of required electrode leads and on the physical characteristics of the area of the patient’s body in which the implants are placed. The system’s central control unit, which supplies the implants with energy and »intelligence« is normally situated outside the patient’s body.

The INTAKT project

INTAKT (which stands for interactive micro implants) is a collaborative project involving 18 partners from industry, science and clinical medicine. Its purpose is to develop an entirely new concept that will make patient therapy more effective and improve human-technology interaction. The proposed solution consists of a network of up to 12 interconnected, interactive micro implants. The implants can be placed in the direct vicinity of the affected areas of the patient’s body, without the need for transcutaneous electrode leads. Whereas in earlier systems the implants could communicate only with the extracorporeal control unit, here they can also communication with one another. A smart network of micro implants can be used to stimulate specific nerves, restoring a certain degree of control over impaired physiological or motor functions. External interfaces allow the interactive micro implants to communicate with the physician or with the patient. In the future, such systems will provide physicians with secure data access to relevant information, enabling them to adapt the further treatment plan to the individual needs of each patient. The built-in intelligence and wide scope of applications for connected solutions of this type opens up a new world of personalized therapy that embraces all aspects of symptomatic treatment.

In the INTAKT project, implants are being developed for three very different applications:

  • Treatment of tinnitus
  • Treatment of gastrointestinal motility disorders
  • Partial restoral of gripping function of the hand following paralysis

Contribution by Fraunhofer IIS

To ensure the long-term, reliable operation of a large network of micro implants, the size of each implant must be kept as small as possible in order to minimize the burden on the patient. The only way to reduce the footprint of the implanted devices, while maintaining a high function density, is to integrate the components in ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits). Fraunhofer IIS’s role in the INTAKT project is to develop a mixed-signal ASIC with integrated, multichannel biosignal recording, e.g. for EMG, EEG and electrical neurostimulation. The volume of the implants can also be minimized – and patient comfort improved – by reducing their power consumption and thus the size of the energy storage component. To do so, new circuit architectures are being developed that have extremely low power requirements and yet are adaptable to a wide range of different applications.

More information on the INTAKT project (in German).