Graphene Brain Implant Turns Thoughts Into Speech

More than 5 million people worldwide suffer annually from aphasia, an extremely invalidating condition in which patients lose the ability to comprehend and formulate language after brain damage or in the course of neurodegenerative disorders. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), enabled by forefront technologies and materials, are a promising approach to treat patients with aphasia. The principle of BCIs is to collect neural activity at its source and decode it by means of electrodes implanted directly in the brain. However, neurorehabilitation of higher cognitive functions such as language raises serious issues. The current challenge is to design neural implants that cover sufficiently large areas of the brain to allow for reliable decoding of detailed neuronal activity distributed in various brain regions that are key for language processing.


BrainCom is a FET Proactive project funded by the European Commission with 8.35M€ for the next 5 years. This interdisciplinary initiative involves 10 partners including technologists, engineers, biologists, clinicians, and ethics experts. They aim to develop a new generation of neuroprosthetic cortical devices enabling large-scale recordings and stimulation of cortical activity to study high level cognitive functions. Ultimately, the BraimCom project will seed a novel line of knowledge and technologies aimed at developing the future generation of speech neural prostheses. It will cover different levels of the value chain: from technology and engineering to basic and language neuroscience, and from preclinical research in animals to clinical studies in humans.

This recently funded project is coordinated by ICREA Prof. Jose A. Garrido, Group Leader of the Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology – ICN2) and deputy leader of the Biomedical Technologies Work Package presented last year in Barcelona by the Graphene Flagship. The BrainCom Kick-Off meeting is held on January 12-13 at ICN2 and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).

Recent developments show that it is possible to record cortical signals from a small region of the motor cortex and decode them to allow tetraplegic people to activate a robotic arm to perform everyday life actions. Brain-computer interfaces have also been successfully used to help tetraplegic patients unable to speak to communicate their thoughts by selecting letters on a computer screen using non-invasive electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings. The performance of such technologies can be dramatically increased using more detailed cortical neural information.

BrainCom project proposes a radically new electrocorticography technology taking advantage of unique mechanical and electrical properties of novel nanomaterials such as graphene, 2D materials and organic semiconductors.  The consortium members will fabricate ultra-flexible cortical and intracortical implants, which will be placed right on the surface of the brain, enabling high density recording and stimulation sites over a large area. This approach will allow the parallel stimulation and decoding of cortical activity with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.

These technologies will help to advance the basic understanding of cortical speech networks and to develop rehabilitation solutions to restore speech using innovative brain-computer paradigms. The technology innovations developed in the project will also find applications in the study of other high cognitive functions of the brain such as learning and memory, as well as other clinical applications such as epilepsy monitoring.


How To Triple The Production Of Biogas

Researchers of the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have developed the new BiogàsPlus, a technology which allows increasing the production of biogas by 200% with a controlled introduction of iron oxide nanoparticles to the process of organic waste treatment.

The development of BiogàsPlus was carried out by the ICN2‘s Inorganic Nanoparticle group, led by ICREA researcher Víctor Puntes, and by the Group of Organic Solid Waste Composting of the UAB School of Engineering, directed by Antoni Sánchez. The system is based on the use of iron oxide nanoparticles as an additive which “feeds” the bacteria in charge of breaking down organic matter. This additive substantially increases the production of biogas and at the same time transforms the iron nanoparticles into innocuous salt.

iron Oxyd nanoparticle
We believe we are offering a totally innovative approach to the improvement of biogas production and organic waste treatment, since this is the first nanoparticle application developed with this in mind. In addition, it offers a significant improvement in the decomposition of organic waste when compared to existing technologies”, explains Antoni Sánchez.

According to researchers, today’s biogas production is not very efficient – only 30 to 40 per cent of organic matter is converted into biogas – when compared to other energy sources. “The first tests conducted with BiogàsPlus demonstrated that product increases up to 200% the production of this combustible gas. This translates into a profitable and sustainable solution to the processing of organic waste, thus favouring the use of this renewable source of energy”, affirms Eudald Casals, ICN2 researcher participating in the project.