NTT Research, Inc., a division of NTT (TYO:9432), today announced that its Medical and Health Informatics (MEI) Lab has entered a joint research agreement with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) to work on three-dimensionally transformable and implantable electrodes. Dr. Hitonobu Tomoike (M.D., Ph.D.), a renowned scientist and medical researcher, directs the MEI Lab, which will be collaborating with Dr. Bernhard Wolfrum, Professor of Neuroelectronics at TUM in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Munich School of BioEngineering (MSB). The scope of work for this multi-year project includes screening and optimizing functional materials, assembling 3D structures, and evaluating their biocompatibility.
Charged with discovering technologies that can revolutionize patient care, the NTT Research MEI Lab is focusing on the transformation and miniaturization of medical device components. This joint research will address the tendency of conventional electronics to work against and at a relative distance from, rather than with and alongside their targeted organ or tissue. The flexible micro- or nano-scale electrodes envisioned as an outcome of this project are expected to minimize the negative impact that rigid and planar electrode materials have on soft and curvilinear biological samples.
“In order to acquire in vivo biological signals stably, with a high accuracy for a long period of time, a flexible electrode with high biocompatibility is required,” said Dr. Tomoike. “To achieve this, we will use nano and micro-scale conductive polymer thin films that are friendly to living bodies and consider the use of in vivo implant electrodes, as well as the control of structural changes of the functional electrodes in the body.”
The two principal researchers bring considerable expertise to this project. Dr. Tomoike, former Director of the Sakakibara Heart Institute, Director Emeritus at the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Japan, and former Professor of Cardiology at Yamagata University, is known for his work in precision medicine involving bio-sensors and analytics. Dr. Wolfrum’s research focuses on neuro- and bioelectronics. He has developed electrochemical sensor arrays and interfaces to cellular networks and employed microfabrication techniques, advanced printing technologies, and microfluidic cell culture methods with the goal of establishing neuroelectronic hybrids and systems for on-chip neuroscience and bioelectronic medicine.
“The Technical University of Munich has strengths in neuron growth control and electrophysiological measurement and has recently accumulated know-how and knowledge of printing technology for bioelectronics,” said Dr. Tomoike, who is also a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and of the American Heart Association. “We are aiming for breakthroughs in fundamental material science and unprecedented technologies for diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical functions.”
Along with pursuing ambitious research targets, this agreement also advances NTT Research’s goal of engaging with partners around the world. As part of this project, NTT Research MEI Lab will send two of its researchers to Munich. The MEI Lab also plans to open an office in Germany. The research will officially launch in Q1 2020; the first phase of the project may take as long as three years.
“We are very pleased to have entered this long-term joint research agreement with the MEI Lab of NTT Research and believe our combined strengths will lead to promising advances in a critically important field of bioengineering,” said Dr. Wolfrum, who conducted postdoctoral research in nanoscience at Delft University, has led a research group at the Peter Grünberg Institute in Jülich, lectured at Aachen University, and conducted research as a visiting associate professor at Tohoku University in Sendai.
Throughout this interdisciplinary research project, the two organizations are expected to leverage their respective strengths. The Technical University of Munich, which is a member of the TU9 alliance of nine leading German institutes of technology, will be involved through its Neuroelectronics Group (NEL), Munich School of BioEngineering, in the investigation, characterization, and micro/nanofabrication of materials. For its part, the MEI Lab will design experiments and research targets and conduct data analysis based on IoT and AI technologies. Each party will assume roles in evaluating the biocompatibility of fabricated devices.
One notable aspect of this project, according to Dr. Tomoike, is its focus on the physics of soft nanomaterials, the self-assembly of which allows not only for precise control of 3D structures but also reversible transformation of electrodes that interface and function with cells and tissues. Possible applications involve sensing and stimulation electrodes for the brain and heart, brain-machine interfaces, multi-array electrodes for neuronal analysis, and new approaches to vasodilation.
About NTT Research
NTT Research opened its Palo Alto offices in July 2019 as a new Silicon Valley startup to conduct basic research and advance technologies that promote positive change for humankind. Currently, three labs are housed at NTT Research: the Physics and Information Science (PHI) Lab, the Cryptography and Information Security (CIS) Lab, and the Medical and Health Informatics (MEI) Lab. The organization aims to upgrade reality in three areas: 1) quantum information, neuro-science and photonics; 2) cryptographic and information security; and 3) medical and health informatics. NTT Research is part of NTT, a global technology and business solutions provider with an annual R&D budget of $3.6 billion.
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