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Grégoire Courtine wins ERC Proof-of-Concept grant

Grégoire Courtine. Credit: Alain Herzog (EPFL)

Grégoire Courtine. Credit: Alain Herzog (EPFL)

Professor Grégoire Courtine has been awarded a Proof-of-Concept grant from the European Research Council.

The Proof of Concept (PoC) grants are given annually by the European Research Council (ERC) to researchers who already hold other ERC grants, in a range of research fields “from new health therapies to regenerate nerves, to prototyping soft robotic system for industrial handling, to building a charity that will promote welfare and job quality of digital workers of so-called ‘gig economy’.” Set up in 2011, the PoC grants are worth up to €150,000 and can be used for different purposes, including establishing intellectual property rights, investigating business opportunities, or conducting technical validation.

This year, the ERC has given 62 PoC grants, totaling €9.3 million. One of the winners is Grégoire Courtine, Professor at EPFL’s Brain Mind Institute. His lab develops neuroprosthetic systems, robotic interfaces, and advanced neurorehabilitation procedures, which they combine with neuroregenerative interventions in rodent and primate models of neurological disorders. Using genetically modified mice, optogenetics, viral tools, and whole-brain imaging, Courtine’s group seeks to uncover the neural mechanisms underlying the control of locomotion in intact animals, as well as the processes that re-establish motor functions after neuromotor disorders. They also perform clinical studies to test the efficacy of their interventions in human patients.

Project summary

BRAINGAIT: BRAIN-ACTUATED SPINAL CORD STIMULATION TO RESTORE GAIT AFTER PARALYSIS

Spinal cord injury (SCI) leads to severe motor impairments that significantly alter the quality of life of affected people and incur substantial cost for families and society. The ideas developed within the framework of our ERC starting and Consolidator grants led to the development of neurotechnologies that restored walking in paralyzed individuals. This treatment involves the delivery of targeted electrical spinal cord stimulation protocols that reactivate the spinal cord below the injury and amplify the residual commands from the brain. Crucial to the recovery of voluntary movements is the temporal coincidence between the location of the stimulation and the residual command from the brain. To achieve a perfect synchronization, we directly linked decoding of motor intention from brain recordings to the modulation of spinal cord stimulation protocols. We validated the therapeutic efficacy of this wireless brain-spine interface in a nonhuman primate model of SCI. Here, we aim to establish the technical and regulatory feasibility of this wireless brain-spine interface in humans, develop additional intellectual property, and prepare the path to the commercialization of this revolutionary neurotechnology.

Official ERC announcement

List of awardees (PDF)