Australian scientists aiming for mental illness-treating implant

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Scientists in Australia are working on a brain implant that could help treat some forms of mental illness. The implant would provide stimulation and drug delivery directly to impaired areas of the brain and be tailored to both the illness to be treated and the patient themselves.

The device is derived from the technology used to make today's high-tech cochlear implants for the hearing impaired. Plastic electrodes implanted in the frontal area of the brain would provide electrical stimulation to help improve connections between brain cells.

The research team is comprised of two different research groups at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute in Victorian Australia and the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute at the University of Wollongong. The goal is to move treatment for schizophrenia in particular away from antipsychotics and towards more cause-oriented treatments - treatments that target the physical cause of the illness.

The Illawarra institute studies mental illnesses and their physical causes. The Wollongong facility studies advanced polymers, some of which are similar to human neural cells, being made of the same organic matterials (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen). Their combination of elasticity and conductivity make them perfect for the research direction that Illawarra is taking.

The study is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council grant from the Australian government and involves four universities and their facilities. The device is slated to be animal tested next year.


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