Although NeuroLux was founded recently, in 2015, the core technology represents the outcome of a development effort that began in the spring of 2011 as a collaboration between the research groups of Prof. J. Rogers in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign (UIUC) and Prof. M. Bruchas. The work started as an outgrowth of conversations that occurred during a visit by Prof. Rogers to give a seminar in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at WUSTL on April 19, 2011. The goal was to consider technology solutions to the severe limitations and practical difficulties associated with standard fiber optic approaches in use at that time by the Bruchas lab for optogenetics studies, by leveraging emerging capabilities in soft, biocompatible semiconductor devices under development in the Rogers group. The outcome was a concept in ultra-miniaturized, flexible optoelectronics systems capable of injection into targeted regions of the brain, with wireless power delivery and control. An intense, collaborative effort yielded an initial technology with all of the right attributes for this application, as described in a publication in Science in early 2013. An invited paper in Nature Protocols (2013) reported all of the fine details of the technology, including step-by-step procedures in fabrication and operation. Follow-on research included further development and delivery of devices not only to the Bruchas lab but also to the group of Prof. R. Gereau of the Department of Anesthesiology Basic Research in the School of Medicine at WUSTL for use with the sciatic nerve and the spinal cord in the context of the neuroscience of pain responses. In parallel, the Rogers group continued to improve the technology, through significant miniaturization (Journal of Neural Engineering, 2015) enabled by advanced antenna designs and operating frequencies in the range of a few GHz. His group, in collaboration with the team of Prof. Y. Huang at Northwestern University also reported studies of fundamental aspects in materials, mechanics and heat flow (e.g., Proceedings of the Royal Society A – Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences, 2012). The most advanced systems that emerged from these collective efforts served as the basis of a paper with the Gereau group, published in Nature Biotechnology in late 2015
Continuous interactions with Bruchas and Gereau through this period and, starting with Rhodes in 2014, led to the realization that the original, far field radio frequency wireless power delivery and control strategies, while effective when used by experienced electrical engineers, simply did not afford the kind of simple, reliable operation necessary for broad distribution to the neuroscience community. In particular, successful optogenetics experiments with these technologies were possible with the Bruchas, Gereau and Rhodes groups only when researchers from the Rogers group were intimately involved in optimizing the setups and the tuning of the devices. In addition, as outlined in great detail in the Nature Protocols paper, these devices require many fabrication steps that must be performed by hand, in a way that is difficult to align with established manufacturing practice. This situation motivated a fundamental shift in wireless strategy and device design to a magnetic, near-field coupling scheme and a planar architecture, respectively. These new concepts, initiated in the summer of 2015 and demonstrated live in a booth at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting in October 2015, leverages the substantial consumer technology base in near field communications (NFC) for wireless payments, RFID tags, and other commodity electronics. Extensive trials in the Bruchas, Gereau and Rhodes labs through the summer and fall of 2015 demonstrated an exceptionally high level of usability and robustness in operation; initial conversations and prototype run with manufacturers in the flexible printed circuit board industry convinced us of the potential to identify low-cost production schemes.
These considerations, together with the tremendously positive response from potential customers at the SfN event, led us to launch NeuroLux as an entity for translating the technology from our academic labs to widespread commercial distribution to the neuroscience community.
All of the fine details of the NeuroLux technology is published and featured in Neuron (2017). Two recent studies reported in PAIN (2017) and Nature Scientific Reports (2017) demonstrate the versatility of the core technology for optogenetic research in spinal cord and bladder, respectively.