Two CNP Researchers awarded Ambizione Grants

© 2016 EPFL

© 2016 EPFL

Congratulations to Dr Marco Capogrosso and Dr Tomislav Milekovic who both succeeded in obtaining an SNF Ambizione Grant for their research projects. 

SNF Ambizione Grants are aimed at young researchers who wish to conduct, manage and lead an independent project at a Swiss higher education institution. Obtaining these grants now allows Dr Capogrosso and Dr Milekovic to conduct their personnal research projects and to remain in the Lemanic area and keep collaborating with the CNP. 

Here are brief descriptions of the two projects.

Dr Milekovic - Error-adaptive decoding algorithms for stable and independent brain-computer interfaces.

Paralysis has a severe impact on a patient’s quality of life and entails a high emotional burden and life-long social and financial costs. Restoring movement and independence for people with the most severe forms of paralysis remains a challenging clinical problem, currently with no viable solution. Recent demonstrations of brain-computer interfaces, neuroprosthetic devices that create a link between a person and a computer based on a person’s brain activity, have brought hope to millions of people with paralysis for their potential to restore movement and communication. The core of the interface is a decoding algorithm transforms continuously recorded neural signals to computer commands. Adaptive decoding algorithms can automatically adjust to neural signal changes, thus maintaining performance despite unstable neural signals and without the interference of technicians. However, effective adaptation requires accurate detection of decoding errors, which may be detected from error-related neural responses, evoked by a mismatch between an expected and observed command outcome. This project aims to develop approaches for independent and stable control of brain-computer interfaces based on error-adaptive decoding algorithms, thereby removing a major obstacle in their translation from clinical demonstrations into real-world assistive devices.

Bio sketch Tomislav Milekovic

My research focuses on studying (i) methods to extract neural features and translate them into stable and accurate neuroprosthetic commands, (ii) the neural mechanisms that result in instability of brain-computer interface performance and (iii) developing techniques that can maintain brain-machine interface performance over long time periods. I started my career with a background in mathematics and physics obtained during my Bachelor’s and Master’s Physics studies at the Zagreb University. During my studies, I was awarded the Best Student award of the Department of Physics and scholarships of the Croatian Ministry of Science and the city of Zagreb. I proceeded to do my PhD studies at the University of Freiburg and Imperial College London, mentored by Prof. Mehring. There I worked on design and development of brain-computer interfaces, devices that allow people to control computers, robotic limbs or even their own paralyzed limbs through electrical stimulation of muscles, by their brain activity. I developed one of the first brain-computer interface platforms based on recordings of cortical surface potentials (ECoG). In addition, I investigated error neural responses in ECoG signals, neural activity that follows movement or goal errors and used the findings to devise an algorithm that could detect error neural activity in real time and potentially use it to improve performance of brain-computer interfaces. After I graduated in 2012, I joined the lab of Prof. Donoghue at Brown University, where I worked with people with tetraplegia or locked-in syndrome, attempting to restore their ability to communicate or move using bran-computer interfaces. There, supported by the Morton Cure Paralysis Fund fellowship, I developed brain-computer interfaces based on local field potentials that allowed people with tetraplegia and locked-in syndrome to control a communication interface for up to four and a half months. In 2014, I joined the research group of Prof. Courtine at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). In close collaboration with Dr. Bloch and Prof. Bezard and with the support of the Mari-Curie EPFL Fellows fellowship, I work on developing brain-spinal interfaces, systems where spinal cord is stimulated based on motor states decoded from brain activity, in order to alleviate gait deficits resulting from a range of neural disorders. I continue to enhance the brain-computer and brain-spinal interface systems with the aim of translating it into clinical use and applying it to other neural disorders.

Dr Capogrosso - Design of epidural implants and electrical stimulation protocols for the recovery of ARM control after spinal cord injury

The most urgent need for the majority of people with cervical spinal cord injury is the recovery of reaching and grasping abilities that could allow them to return to an active work life.Here I propose to leverage my previous work on the recovery of leg motor control in animal models and humans to develop a neuroprosthetic framework for improving the recovery of arm/hand function after spinal cord injury.However, due to the complexity of arm/hand control, with respect to the stereotyped, patterned and reflex dependent control of the lower limbs, translation of spinal cord stimulation from the lumbar to the cervical region requires a deep understanding of the interactions between the stimulation and the neural control of arm/hand movement in the cervical spinal cord that are currently unknown.

To address this knowledge gap, I propose to develop and validate a computational model of the sensorimotor circuits embedded in cervical spinal cord, and to leverage this model to study how the stimulation interacts with these circuits during arm/hand movement. In parallel, I will establish an experimental platform to validate my models in experiments with non-human primates. Finally, I will exploit these combined results to demonstrate the ability of epidural stimulation to improve arm/hand movement in non-human primates with incomplete cervical SCI.

Bio sketch Marco Capogrosso

My main interest is the understanding of the neural control of movement with a focus on translational applications in motor disorders. My background in applied physics has strongly influenced my path since the beginning. Indeed, when I started my PhD program in Biomedical Engineering as a fellow of the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, in Pisa, I was looking neither for a purely theoretical research program nor purely experimental. My intention was to understand the basic interactions between neuromodulation technologies and sensorimotor circuit dynamics. I wanted to develop theoretical tools to support translation and bring them all the way down to the clinics to test whether my findings and ideas had any impact at all on actual clinical applications. After a PhD and a 3-yr post-doc program under the supervision of Prof. Silvestro Micera first and Prof. Gregoire Courtine later I am deeply convinced that a theoretical approach to translational neuroscience can have a significant impact on clinical applications. Indeed I have used computational models to design and implement real-time neurotechnologies that I have tested in rats, non-human primates and humans. I have started with simple models of the peripheral nerve that I have slowly improved to complex neuro-biomechanical models of the spinal sensorimotor circuits, while at the same time performing animal experiments to test my models up to the implementation of real-time technologies able to restore sensation in human amputees and brain-controlled locomotion in non-human primates after spinal cord injury. Ultimately, I love science.

Author: Bruno Herbelin