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Bio-integrated light sources / optogenetics

Schematic illustration of how the use of bioimplantable OLEDs provides a massive increase in the spatial resolution of optogenetics compared to traditional fibre based approaches.

Optogenetics is an emerging method for non-invasive control of neuronal activity with light. It allows for specific activation and silencing of neurons by genetic addition of light-sensitive ion-channels into the neuronal membrane. In combination with optical read-out of neuronal activity through genetically encoded Calcium or voltage sensitive fluorescent markers, it can provide all-optical write/read capability. However, most currently available light sources for optogenetics provide only poor spatial control (fibres) or are highly invasive (microscope).

We address this limitation by using microscopic OLEDs to activate firing of individual cells [Advanced Materials, 2015]. OLEDs have so far mostly been used for consumer electronics (smartphone displays, TVs) and lighting. In contrast to the widely used inorganic LEDs, OLEDs can be deposited on a very wide range of substrate materials, which is a major advantage for optogenetics and other biophotonics applications. A particular focus of our work in this area is to deposit OLEDs on microscopic silicon chips that contain the driver electronics to operate millions of individual OLED pixels, each having dimensions similar to the size of a neuron. To achieve this, we have dramatically improved the brightness and stability of OLEDs which is required to achieve reliable optical activation of neurons [Advanced Optical Materials, 2020]. We have used this technology to study Drosophila melanogaster [Scientific Reports, 2016, Nature Communications, 2020a] and primary neuronal cultures [Advanced Biosystems, 2019].

A related effort looks at using OLED light for fluorescence imaging through combination of OLEDs with distributed Bragg reflectors. Here we have been able to show live imaging of neuronal activity in the CNS of Drosophila [Advanced Materials, 2019].

For future use of OLEDs as implanted light sources, we are also developing ultra-thin substrateless OLEDs with a robust thin film barrier encapsulation. The may ultimately enable lamination of OLEDs onto brain tissue for high resolution local photo-stimulation of specific regions of the brain [Nature Communications, 2020b].