A medical device commonly used by neurosurgeons has been completely remodelled to help enhance what is possible in the operating room.

Called an electrode grid, the clinical tool is placed on the surface of the brain to measure activity during surgery. It is used by neurosurgeons to pinpoint diseased parts of the brain, to prevent them damaging healthy areas.

The device has remained pretty much unchanged for the past two decades. But now researchers in America have developed a new version that is a thousand times thinner than the standard one. In place of metal electrodes, the team from the University of California San Diego and Massachusetts General Hospital have incorporated a thin and flexible conductive polymer.

The new grid – tested on four patients – performed as well as, or better, than the metal electrode grids.

“These electrodes occupy minuscule volumes — imagine Saran wrap, but thinner. And we demonstrate that they can capture neural activity from the human brain at least as well as conventional electrodes that are orders of magnitude larger,” said UC San Diego electrical engineering professor Vikash Gilja.

The thinner electrode grid has the benefit of sitting more naturally on the brain, which allows practitioners to better monitor how it is performing.

“Our goal is to develop a tool that can obtain more reliable information from the surface of the brain,” explained UC San Diego electrical engineering professor Shadi Dayeh.

The groundbreaking work was first published in the Advanced Functional Materials journal.

“This technology can improve clinical practices and could lead to high performance brain machine interfaces,” added Gilja.