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NIH R01 Award to Develop Next-Generation Dry Electroencephalography (EEG)

By Gina Myers

John Medaglia

August 09, 2021

Most people have probably seen an electroencephalography (EEG) test, whether they experienced it firsthand or saw it portrayed in a movie or other popular media. Picture small metal discs with wires coming from them attached to someone’s head to measure that person’s brain waves and you get the idea.

In practice, the test is perhaps best known for epilepsy monitoring and sleep studies where people are looking at the quality and duration of sleep. However, it can be used in every kind of clinical diagnosis in which people are trying to understand whether a circuit or process in the brain is affected in some way.

“It’s one of the oldest but longest-lasting neuroscience techniques at over 100 years old,” explains John Medaglia, PhD, assistant professor of psychology. “The materials have changed a little bit and some of the ways people analyze the data has gotten a little more sophisticated over time, but the basic materials to record EEG have remained fundamentally unchanged.”

But that is all about to change. Medaglia and collaborator Flavia Vitale, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, have been awarded an R01 research project grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a next-generation dry EEG using MXene electrodes. Yury Gogotsi, PhD, DSc, Distinguished University and Charles T. and Ruth M. Bach Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, is also involved as co-investigator at Drexel.

The idea to pursue this collaborative project came when Medaglia saw Vitale present her work with electrodes made out of MXenes, a class of two-dimensional inorganic compounds discovered at Drexel University by Gogotsi and Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Michel Barsoum, PhD.

Medaglia was impressed with the incredible data Vitale was able to get from these tiny electrodes and approached her after her presentation to discuss the possibility of using them in EEG. The two began to pilot some of the ideas to see if the electrodes would work on the scalp and improve upon the current EEG test, which has some limitations due to the large electrodes, whose size impedes readings. The test also causes patient discomfort, as the electrodes have to be attached using a paste and are ground into the scalp in order to get the electrical sensitivity needed.

Medaglia is excited by the early results. “It works better and faster than anything I have ever seen in a human subjects lab,” he says. The new EEG using MXenes solves the discomfort issue for the patient since the electrodes can be applied dry and do not have large suctions. The smaller size also allows for greater density, which leads to better and more precise readings.

“We can place these really tiny electrodes millimeters apart to create dense grids. Before where you would have one electrode, now there are 16 electrodes covering that area. With these ultra-dense arrays, you can pull out signals and significantly classify things in ways that we did not think was possible a few years ago,” says Medaglia. “We are going to be able to track brain signals much better and at a much higher density. We might have better precision about where the signals are coming from.”

Medaglia is excited to be working with MXenes and to be here at Drexel, where so many researchers are working with these compounds. “The Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and Yury’s work is just going to explode in ways we can’t predict. I feel really grateful and in awe of the opportunity to do this stuff, and I couldn’t be working with a better group of people.” 

With the rapid development in MXenes and their wide application, Medaglia says it’s hard to imagine what questions researchers will be asking in only a few months.

“The next ten years are going to teach us a lot more than the hundred years before that.”