We are now entering a tremendously exciting phase in our quest to understand the human brain. With large-scale programmes like the US BRAIN Initiative, EU Human Brain Project, Japanese Brain/MINDS, China Brain Project, etc, there is currently a huge appetite for new neurotechnologies. There is also, more recently a concerted effort (e.g. Galvani Bioelectronics, NIH SPARC, DARPA HAPTIX) on electroceuticals – bioelectronic devices that target individual nerve fibres within the peripheral nervous system to treat an array of conditions.
We have already witnessed the impact made by devices such as cochlear implants and deep brain stimulators, with hundreds of thousands of individuals that have and are benefitting every day. Soon, similar assistive technology will emerge for the blind, those suffering from epilepsy, and many others. Electroceuticals will furthermore provide targeted therapy to a range of conditions that have not normally been associated with the nervous system. These could range from allergies, migraines, asthma and obesity all the way up to hypertension, infertility and possibly even cancer.
With the current capability in microtechnology, never before have there been so many opportunities to develop advanced devices that effectively interface with the nervous system. Such devices are often referred to as neural interfaces, or brain-machine interfaces, and range from wearable systems to fully implantable devices. Neural prostheses use such interfaces to bypass dysfunctional pathways in the nervous system, by applying electronics to replace lost function.
Our research at the Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology and Next Generation Neural Interfaces (NGNI) lab is aimed, ultimately at developing such assistive technology by exploiting the integration capability and scalability of modern semiconductor technology.
We are working on addressing the following 10 key technology challenges:
- Scalability - to interface to more neurons/nerve fibers;
- Selectivity - to be able to target specific neurons/nerve fibers;
- Signal processing - to extract useful information (instead of communicating raw data);
- Bandwidth optimization - to use compression to communicate more information;
- Energy efficiency - to reduce power requirements and/or achieve more functionality with same power budget;
- Power delivery - to transfer power in an efficient way (where battery capacity is insufficient);
- Wireless connectivity - to communicate information without wires;
- Miniaturization - to make devices smaller and less intrusive;
- Biocompatibility - to ensure devices do not cause harm;
- Packaging - to protect devices from the body.
These will serve to ensure next generation neural interfaces are safe, effective and secure.
Our current research portfolio is funded by the EPSRC, and the Wellcome Trust. All our projects are collaborative, multidisciplinary and endeavour to explore the limits, extend current capabilities and develop next generation neural interface technology.
Enabling Technologies for Sensory Feedback in Next Generation Assistive Devices - developing a bidirectional PNS interface for upper-limb prosthetics
Empowering Next Generation Implantable Neural Interfaces - creating truly wireless, autonomous chip-scale implants for distributed sensing
Controlling Abnormal Network Dynamics with Optogenetics - creating a new type of brain pacemaker for the treatment of drug-insensitive epilepsy