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Grant advances neuroscience project

June 06, 2007

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a four-year $1 million grant for a research project being conducted in the Neural Microsystems Laboratory in the Harrington Department of Bioengineering.

Jit MuthuswamyJit Muthuswamy, an associate professor in the department, is the principal investigator for the project titled “Single neuronal recordings using movable microprobes.” The research involves brain implants that pick up neural signals and transmit them to an artificial limb or an external electronic device such as a computer, which Muthuswamy says will one day help people who are paralyzed or have spinal injuries or pathologies such as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Muthuswamy says current brain implants fail within a few months after implantation and are not consistent and reliable in sensing the neural signals. The project aims to develop a brain implant that can move through the brain to seek the neurons with the strongest signals and therefore improve the reliability and consistency in sensing neural signals. The implants and the motors that drive the implants will be developed using advanced micromachining technology in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

Besides brain prostheses application, this technology also will have a significant impact on basic neuroscience studies such as memory, learning and plasticity, and auditory physiology, which depend on long-term monitoring of single neurons in specific areas of the brain.