Polymers can be designed to interact with biological systems to perform various tasks ranging from wound healing to drug delivery. In the Rowan lab, we are collaborating with various biomedical engineering groups to create polymers specifically designed to interact with the immune system. We are using polymeric systems to create next generation immunotherapies, developing polymer-based treatments for autoimmune diseases and cancer. We have also developed materials which display greater mechanical compliance in the body and with collaborators have investigated these materials as neural probes.
Objective. The mechanisms underlying intracortical microelectrode encapsulation and failure are not well understood. A leading hypothesis implicates the role of the mechanical mismatch between rigid implant materials and the much softer brain tissue. Previous work has established the benefits of compliant materials on reducing early neuroinflammatory events. However, recent studies established late onset of a disease-like neurodegenerative state. Approach. In this study, we implanted mechanically-adaptive materials, which are initially rigid but become compliant after implantation, to investigate the long-term chronic neuroinflammatory response to compliant intracortical microelectrodes. Main results. Three days after implantation, during the acute healing phase of the response, the tissue response to the compliant implants was statistically similar to that of chemically matched stiff implants with much higher rigidity. However, at two, eight, and sixteen weeks post-implantation in the rat cortex, the compliant implants demonstrated a significantly reduced neuroinflammatory response when compared to stiff reference materials. Chronically implanted compliant materials also exhibited a more stable blood-brain barrier than the stiff reference materials. Significance. Overall, the data show strikingly that mechanically-compliant intracortical implants can reduce the neuroinflammatory response in comparison to stiffer systems.