Medical Devices

According to the World Health Organization, a medical device is an instrument, software, material or other similar or related article, intended to be used for human beings by means different from pharmacological, immunological or metabolic and with the purpose of, between others, diagnosing, preventing, treating, monitoring and alleviating symptoms. Our work at NGNI encompasses the development of therapeutic (next generation neural interfaces, also known as Brain-Machine interfaces) and assistive devices.

Examples of medical devices. Left: a cochlear implant, middle: a prosthetic arm, right: a pacemaker.
Examples of medical devices. Left: a cochlear implant, middle: a prosthetic arm, right: a pacemaker.

Neural Interfaces

Neural interfaces are electronic devices that interact with the nervous system. There are many different types of neural interfaces, and they all can be categorized based on their level of invasiveness. They range from completely non invasive (collecting the cumulative signal of the whole brain with an headset, like EMOTIV), to completely invasive (implanted inside the brain and either stimulating or recording signal from a small area of the brain, like Deep Brain Stimulators). While non-invasive technologies can be really useful to monitor some general brain functions, invasive devices are necessary for targeted stimulation and recording and, therefore, for therapeutic aims.

Our main contributions to this field come from the ENGINI (Empowering Next Generation Implantable Neural Interfaces) and CANDO (Controlling Abnormal Network Dynamics with Optogenetics) projects. The former sees the development of a new mm-scale distributed probe, with the added benefits of reduced infection rate (due to the wireless nature of the probe), long term biocompatibility and no need for calibration. The latter regards the design of a device with the purpose of increasing quality of life for people suffering from focal epilepsy, by detecting and stopping the onset of a seizure.

Implantable neural interfaces. Left: a Utah array electrode, middle: a cuff electrode, left: a concept illustration of the ENGINI probe
Implantable neural interfaces. Left: a Utah array electrode, middle: a cuff electrode, left: a concept illustration of the ENGINI probe.

Assistive technology

Assistive technology refers to devices or systems that help maintain or improve a person’s ability to do things in everyday life. It ranges widely and covers devices such as pill reminders,  wheelchairs, hearing aids, prosthetic devices and many more.

Through the Care Research & Technology Centre (Dementia Research Institute) we are working to develop new technologies for the healthy home, following three different approaches. The first one is related to the use of radar biosensing to unobtrusively sense physiological (respiration, position, movement and heart rate) and behavioral (sleep monitoring, position tracking and cardiovascular dynamics) parameters through a not-wearable, low cost and compact device. The second one relates to the development of hearables, i.e. in-ear sensing, to obtain EEG, ECG, PPG, temperature, light and sound levels, and information on sleep. The third approach, which also connects to our work on neural interfaces, concerns the repurposing of injectable and implantable devices for new interventions and longitudinal studies, e.g. the use of DBS electrodes to increase blood flow to the brain and to gather more data.