EPFL Announces the Next Phase for its Center for Neuroprosthetics
Engineering the Nervous System to Improve Sensation, Cognition, and Mobility
Research in biotechnology, microelectronics, and neural implants as well as advances in our understanding of the brain are changing our approaches to treating disability. EPFL’s Center for Neuroprosthetics (CNP) is defining and establishing a truly interdisciplinary field of study merging neuroscience with engineering and medicine, and efficiently translating major breakthroughs from bioengineering and neuroscience into clinical settings.
Over the last decade, EPFL has steadily become a world center for bioengineering technology and applications. In 2009, it solidified its position with the launch of the CNP. Today, five professors make up the research core of the Center. They are world-renowned specialists in their domains of stretchable electronics, paraplegic treatment, translational neuroprosthetics, cognitive neuroscience and neurology, and brain-machine interfaces.
- Human-Computer Confluence
Virtual reality, sensory stimulation, and robotics, along with brain-computer interfaces, have allowed the merging of man and machine in an unprecedented fashion. Non-invasively recorded brain activity can control computers, move avatars and robots, and even drive wheelchairs. Combining insights from cognitive neuroscience and the real-time decoding of brain activity, research at the CNP exploits electroencephalography (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and non-invasive brain stimulation. The goal of these pursuits is to control and enhance brain mechanisms for feeling and moving artificial limbs, bodies, and robots.
- Hearing Research
The cochlear implant, a device that bypasses a damaged inner ear and conveys electrical signals directly to the auditory nerve, has been the most successful neural prosthesis of the past few decades, with over 200,000 in use worldwide. However a substantial fraction of deaf patients are not candidates for a cochlear implant, and there has been great interest in developing a similar prosthesis that bypasses the damaged auditory nerve by directly stimulating the brainstem. Scientists at the CNP are developing a novel generation of auditory implants that conform to the contours of the brainstem and will be able to deliver electrical and optical stimulation more selectively than current clinical implants. This project is part of the Harvard Medical School and EPFL collaboration for the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience.
- Technology-assisted Rehabilitation After Stroke
Rehabilitation using advanced technologies such as robotics and electrical stimulation have demonstrated improvements in motor function after intensive treatment in both chronic and sub-acute stroke populations. The CNP is developing a novel generation of hybrid devices that are able to customize complex rehabilitation solutions tailored to the needs of specific patients. The approach is based on the combined use of human-machine interfaces, cognitive brain mechanisms, and several technology-based neurorehabilitation approaches.
- Walking Again & Paraplegia
The CNP is pioneering an integrated cortico-spinal neuroprosthesis that will restore voluntary control of locomotion after a complete spinal cord injury. To achieve this goal, researchers are interfacing cortical modulations with a novel, stretchable spinal electrode array. Real-time decoding of brain signals will be exploited to achieve selective electrical stimulations of spinal circuits through the electrode array. This cortico-spinal neuroprosthesis will re-establish supraspinal control of spinal circuits and locomotion after the physical interruption of connections between the brain and spinal cord. The project is also part of the Harvard Medical School and EPFL collaboration for the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience.
- Bionic Arm & Amputation
CNP researchers are pursuing the restoration of complex hand functions by creating a novel bidirectional link between the peripheral nervous system and a dexterous hand prosthesis. Novel (intraneural and regenerative) implantable interfaces are under development to achieve a fast and intuitive connection, allowing an effective bidirectional flow of information between the user’s nervous system and the smart artificial device. The project employs a wide array of new technologies, such as bioinspired artificial skin and mathematical models of body ownership for the bionic prosthesis.