U-M Researchers Build LED Probe Designed to Understand, Treat Neurological Diseases


University of Michigan researchers have built and tested small, implantable LEDs that can probe the brain measuring neuron activity. The researchers say the probes could be used to better understand and treat neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.

"Hundreds of millions of people suffer from neurological diseases, but treatment methods and drugs are currently very limited because scientific understanding of the brain is lacking," says Fan Wu, a researcher in electrical engineering and computer sciences at U-M and co-author of a published paper of her findings. "We have developed a tool that is needed to better understand how the brain works — and why it doesn't work — to try to solve to these problems."

Wu says each probe contains 12 LEDs and 32 electrodes. He says the LEDs are as small as a cell’s body, so they can turn single neurons on and off. The microelectrodes measure activity at the single-neuron level, reporting how a change in one neuron's behavior affects the surrounding network.

"Now we can know how a group of cells, both adjacent and farther away, are responding to the activation of a single cell," Wu says. "This will help us better understand how these cells are communicating with each other."

The probes were made at U-M and tested on mice in labs at New York University. The probes were used to measure how signals pass through the brains of mice, focusing on the area of the brain responsible for short- and long-term memory.

The research paper was recently published in Neuron