A $6.6 million grant to develop neurostimulator for mental disorders

Mahsa Shoaran © 2020 EPFL

Mahsa Shoaran © 2020 EPFL

Professor Mahsa Shoaran, leading the Integrated Neurotechnologies Laboratory of EPFL, has been awarded a prestigious grant from the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to develop a new implantable brain stimulation system that can measure and control oscillatory brain networks to treat severe psychiatric illness, especially mood and anxiety disorders.

This $6.6 million grant spans over a period of five years and allows Shoaran and her research team to develop a cutting-edge implantable microchip for psychiatric disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the lead federal agency in the US for research on mental health. In this project, Shoaran and her team will work with Dr. Alik Widge, an assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Gregory Molnar, an associate professor of neurosurgery in the UMN Medical School. The team could have a device that is ready for first-in-human use in as little as five to six years.

“Mental disorders seem to arise more from communication failures between brain regions, than from dysfunction of any single region. We will develop a new implantable microchip for treating severe psychiatric illness, by adjusting the patterns of activity in certain brain circuits. Our device will implement new algorithms that measure and control the rhythmic firing of neurons in distributed brain networks, restoring patterns of healthy communication in the brain”, explains Shoaran, assistant professor of Electrical Engineering at the School of Engineering and a PI at the Center for Neuroprosthetics. If successful, the device could provide a new treatment option for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and more. This would be suitable for people whose symptoms no longer improve with medications and other treatments.

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“The translational challenge is that efficient, real-time synchrony monitoring requires signal processing capabilities not found in any existing or anticipated neuromodulation device. We have developed power-efficient synchrony estimation circuits, specifically optimized for DBS-like implants, that will enable us to achieve this goal”, says Shoaran.

Shoaran’s lab specializes in low-power integrated circuits for neural signal processing and closed-loop stimulation. Her systems incorporate modern machine learning techniques, directly on the chip, allowing brain function tracking at unprecedented power efficiency. Mahsa Shoaran completed her PhD at EPFL, then continued her research at the California Institute of Technology and Cornell University before returning to EPFL as a tenure track assistant professor.