To support the development of implantable devices that can restore movement, and improve the overall quality of life, for people with spinal cord injury or stroke, UW’s Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) has received $16 million in funding from the National Science Foundation. The funding, dispersed during the next four years, will allow researchers to continue their cutting-edge work, with the goal of having proof-of-concept demonstrations in humans within the next five years.
Based at the UW, the CSNE is directed by EE Adjunct Faculty member Rajesh Rao, who is a UW professor of computer science and engineering. Founded in 2011, the CSNE is one of 17 Engineering Research Centers funded by the National Science Foundation. Core partners are located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and San Diego State University. A prime example of cross-campus collaboration, research is being undertaken by a multi-disciplinary team including several UW EE faculty members: Howard Chizeck, Blake Hannaford, Matt Reynolds, Chris Rudell, Visvesh Sathe and Joshua Smith.
“UW is extremely fortunate to have visionary leaders in Director Rajesh Rao and Deputy Director Chet Moritz, who are spearheading the cutting edge research at CSNE,” said EE Chair Radha Poovendran. “Under their leadership, the CSNE is growing to be a place where fundamental and translation research for the benefit of society are fostered.”
To restore sensorimotor function and neurorehabilitation, CSNE researchers are working to build closed-loop co-adaptive bi-directional brain-computer interfaces that can both record from and stimulate the central nervous system. The devices essentially form a bridge between lost brain connections, achieved by decoding brain signals produced when a person decides they would like to move their arm and grasp a cup. Specific parts of the spinal cord are then stimulated to achieve the desired action. By wirelessly transmitting information, damaged areas of the brain are avoided.
Researchers are also working to improve current devices on the market, such as deep brain stimulators that are used to treat Parkinson’s disease. A challenge with current systems is that they are constantly “on” and may provide stimulation to patients when not needed, resulting in unintended side effects as well as reduced battery life. CSNE researchers are working to make these systems “closed-loop,” turning them on only when the patient intends to move.