What’s the connection between jewellery and electrodes?

It takes unexpected skills to turn medical device research into reality. The highly specialised electro-fabrication team are based at our new prototype manufacturing facility, Neo-Bionica. It houses purpose-built cleanrooms for custom, high-quality medical device development. 

What are electrodes for? 

Neo-Bionica Manager of Electrode Fabrication Ross Thomas says that electrodes are a key element of medical devices developed at the Bionics Institute. He said: “In many medical devices, electrodes are essential for gathering data and providing treatments. Electrical impulses generated by implanted electrodes mimic impulses of the nervous system. This allows a device to bypass damage (as is the case in cochlear implants) or stimulate nerve activity (as is the case in our vagus nerve device).” 

It’s a team effort 

The electro-fabrication team make electrodes for a wide range of medical device research projects. 

Working alongside Bionics Institute engineers and researchers, the electro-fabrication team provide expert advice in the design and manufacture of devices to ensure that they will be safe to implant in a human body. 

“We turn the design concepts into the initial prototype implants that meet the requirements of specific research problems, so that researchers can execute their projects,” Ross concluded. 

How are they made? 

Making electrodes is an incredibly intricate and manual process completed using a high precision microscope. The electro-fabrication team are often handling wires that are just a quarter the diameter of a human hair! 

Electro-fabrication technician, Jenny Zhou says the team assemble the electrodes manually using platinum wires, rings and foils. 

She said: “For this reason patience is critical for us to sit down and work for a few hours under microscope.” 

A varied team 

Our electro-fabrication team have come from a diverse range of backgrounds. From microbiology and jewellery to a master cake baker! Ross says: “What they all have in common is an incredibly steady hand, lots of patience and a desire to contribute to new treatments that can help people.” 

Every implant is different 

Each research project is different and being able to make custom implants designed specifically for each purpose is essential to getting the best possible results. This means the electro-fabrication team are continually refining and perfecting all the elements of an electrode implant to improve its efficiency and the quality of data it collects. This includes size, shape, materials, and the number of electrodes included, which can range from 4 in the vagus nerve device to 44 in the bionic eye!