Neural Interfaces

We have a primary research area of collaborating in the development of new neural interfaces and studying the underlying neural tissue.

Closed-loop neuroprostheses

The historical successes of cochlear implants and recent advances with retinal implants demonstrate the potential for neural engineering approaches to overcome neurological disorders or dysfunctions. Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is one such approach, in which direct activation of nerves or muscles can generate limb movement or provide control over other bodily functions like bladder continence and micturition. A similar approach is called neuromodulation, in which electrical stimulation is applied to the nervous system to modulate activity and/or activate reflex pathways. Many FES and neuromodulation projects are driving towards the primary objective of regaining function without focusing on secondary goals like efficiency. Ultimately, to regain natural control with electrical stimulation, integration of sensory feedback will be essential. We are investigating the use of recordings from sensory nerves as feedback to improve upon neuromodulation approaches to restore function.  We are studying the use of different decoding algorithms to turn these sensory nerve recordings into robust estimates of organ state and applying closed-loop stimulation based on the estimates. We are also examining methods for observing and detecting events during awake, behaving movements by experimental subjects.

Novel Electrodes

In the last twenty years, the use of penetrating microelectrodes arrays has yielded unprecedented amounts of data about the structure and function of the brain. Over time, research groups have used these arrays in the peripheral nervous system to stimulate nerves to control function or to record neural signals for feedback. We are collaborating with experts in electrode fabrication to develop and test novel interfaces that are designed for specific peripheral nerve targets and that will promote improvements in signal stability and longevity over current approaches. In particular we focus on dorsal root ganglia (DRG), unique structures in which the cell bodies of sensory peripheral neurons are packed together where multiple peripheral nerves converge together at the spinal cord. We have also collaborated on the development of new electrodes and cuff designs for targets more peripheral than DRG.

Neural anatomy

It is critical to understand underlying anatomical structures when developing new electrode interfaces. Dorsal root ganglia (DRG) are a neural interface location for which the cellular distribution needs further study. We have analyzed histological samples towards building a model of DRG for different species, including humans. We are also examining the fascicular anatomy of other neural targets to inform the development of improved interfaces.

Check out our publications for recently completed studies.