Professor Nick Opie and Associate Professor Tom Oxley featured in the Weekend Australian magazine

Professor Nick Opie and Associate Professor Tom Oxley were featured in the Weekend Australian Magazine on Saturday 25 August to discuss the Stentrode.

Synchron founders Nick Opie and Tom Oxley photographed at Melbourne Connect at the University of Melbourne. Picture: Sean Davey.

Professor Nick Opie and Associate Professor Tom Oxley from the Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital were featured in the Weekend Australian Magazine's The Ideas issue. They discussed the groundbreaking brain implant, the Stentrode, which enables paralysed individuals to control digital devices with their thoughts.

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Read an excerpt below, written by Natasha Robinson from the Australian.

In a basement laboratory at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Opie sits hunched over a microscope in the early morning as the darken-ed city outside shivers through the winter. The lab is a dedicated space where Opie can experiment, building and testing prototype neural stents. Surrounded by reams of wire, soldering irons and laser welders, the biomedical engineer and Head of the Department of Medicine’s Vascular Bionics Laboratory works with tiny tools to fashion the “Stentrode”, a neural inter-face built using a self-expanding mixture of nickel and titanium known as nitinol, a commonly used material in medical products that must be flexible but very strong, and proven safe inside the body.

“It’s almost meditative to sit there and be making one of these devices,” Opie says. “The wires that we’re using are point nothing of a millimetre, the electrodes are less than half a millimetre, so all of this is done under micro-scope with fine tweezers. And you really just sort of get in a groove and get in a nice mindset and you just get transported away and en-grossed in what you’re doing.”

It takes years of experiments for Opie to land on the ideal positioning of the electrodes on the stent’s expanding cage. The more electrodes, the better the signals that will be picked up from the brain.

In the medical field alone, Oxley believes the application for brain-computer interfaces could be very wide. Controlling robotic arms will be the next frontier for the technology, and the implants could even play a role in combating treatment-resistant depression. Oxley estimates that worldwide, around 5 million people could benefit from the technology.

“The corollary to this is the cracking of the genetic code,” Oxley says. “The genetic code was cracked about 20 years ago, when the genome was mapped.  Now, there’s this incredible industry emerging out of understanding what the genetic code is made up of, and how to build medicines around that.

“This is the beginning of the cracking of the brain’s code. And once that has been under-stood, and opened up, there is going to be an enormous renaissance in brain therapies that weren’t previously considered possible.”