Polina Anikeeva believes magnetic nanoparticles are the key to improving the lives of those with Parkinson’s disease. In most cases, patients suffering from the disease are treated with deep brain stimulation to slow the disease’s progression and relieve some of its debilitating symptoms—but these highly invasive treatments carry significant risk of stroke, infection, and internal bleeding, and have unpleasant side effects. Anikeeva’s safer, noninvasive approach is based on injecting nanoparticles into the brain, similar to how a contrast agent is used for magnetic resonance imaging. Clinicians then use an external magnetic field to activate the nanoparticles.
Working at the intersection of clinical neuroscience and medical device development, Anikeeva and her colleagues have also created flexible polymer-based probes that can optically stimulate neural cells in vivo and record their activity. Patterns tracked by this technique could be used to stimulate injured areas of the body—leading, Anikeeva believes, to a more intimate and intuitive interface between the brain and prosthetic devices. “I’m motivated by brain disorders, but also other forms of neural trauma,” she says. “One day these devices could be used to help car crash victims and our returning wounded war veterans.”