Neural Engineering System Design programme (DARPA funding award announced)


“The NESD program looks ahead to a future in which advanced neural devices offer improved fidelity, resolution, and precision sensory interface for therapeutic applications,” said Phillip Alvelda, the founding NESD Program Manager. “By increasing the capacity of advanced neural interfaces to engage more than one million neurons in parallel…”


  • A Brown University team led by Dr. Arto Nurmikko will seek to decode neural processing of speech, focusing on the tone and vocalization aspects of auditory perception. The team’s proposed interface would be composed of networks of up to 100,000 untethered, submillimeter-sized “neurograin” sensors implanted onto or into the cerebral cortex. A separate RF unit worn or implanted as a flexible electronic patch would passively power the neurograins and serve as the hub for relaying data to and from an external command center that transcodes and processes neural and digital signals.
  • A Columbia University team led by Dr. Ken Shepard will study vision and aims to develop a non-penetrating bioelectric interface to the visual cortex. The team envisions layering over the cortex a single, flexible complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit containing an integrated electrode array. A relay station transceiver worn on the head would wirelessly power and communicate with the implanted device.
  • A Fondation Voir et Entendre team led by Drs. Jose-Alain Sahel and Serge Picaud will study vision. The team aims to apply techniques from the field of optogenetics to enable communication between neurons in the visual cortex and a camera-based, high-definition artificial retina worn over the eyes, facilitated by a system of implanted electronics and micro-LED optical technology.
  • A John B. Pierce Laboratory team led by Dr. Vincent Pieribone will study vision. The team will pursue an interface system in which modified neurons capable of bioluminescence and responsive to optogenetic stimulation communicate with an all-optical prosthesis for the visual cortex.
  • A Paradromics, Inc., team led by Dr. Matthew Angle aims to create a high-data-rate cortical interface using large arrays of penetrating microwire electrodes for high-resolution recording and stimulation of neurons. As part of the NESD program, the team will seek to build an implantable device to support speech restoration. Paradromics’ microwire array technology exploits the reliability of traditional wire electrodes, but by bonding these wires to specialized CMOS electronics the team seeks to overcome the scalability and bandwidth limitations of previous approaches using wire electrodes.
  • A University of California, Berkeley, team led by Dr. Ehud Isacoff aims to develop a novel “light field” holographic microscope that can detect and modulate the activity of up to a million neurons in the cerebral cortex. The team will attempt to create quantitative encoding models to predict the responses of neurons to external visual and tactile stimuli, and then apply those predictions to structure photo-stimulation patterns that elicit sensory percepts in the visual or somatosensory cortices, where the device could replace lost vision or serve as a brain-machine interface for control of an artificial limb.

See for more details.

Limited mediated telepathy

A rat was implanted with a 32-unit microelectrode cortical array in either M1 or S1. The rat was then trained to choose between two alternatives based on external stimuli.

Meanwhile, another rat was implanted with 6 stimulating electrodes in the same area as the first rat. It was trained to choose between the same two alternatives based on a stimulation pattern conveyed via the electrodes.

Then the signals recorded from the first rat’s brain were processed ald sent into the second rat’s brain. Both rats were trained together and both were rewarded when both made the right choice. The second rat learned to make the same choice as the first rat 60% of the time.

Miguel Pais-Vieira, Mikhail Lebedev, Carolina Kunicki, Jing Wang, Miguel A. L. Nicolelis. A Brain-to-Brain Interface for Real-Time Sharing of Sensorimotor Information. Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 1319. Received 20 December 2012.

Mobile phone increases brain glucose metabolism near phone antenna

This study claims that glucose metabolism in the brain goes up near a cellphone antenna. At first blush this may appear to conflict with other studies that claim that cellphones don’t cause cancer, but this can be resolved by supposing that cell phones don’t cause cancer, but affect the brain in other ways. As Volkow notes at the end of the Nytimes article, this may lead to the discovery of a mechanism for brain stimulation. Right now they don’t know what the mechanism is by which the electromagnetic field is causing the glucose metabolism. If neuronal firing is being altered, and if the bandwidth turns out to be sufficiently high (i.e. if the stimulation can be made sufficiently precise), this could eventually lead to a wireless brain-machine interface/neural prosthetic.

PET scans showing effect

Nora D. Volkow, Dardo Tomasi, Gene-Jack Wang, Paul Vaska, Joanna S. Fowler, Frank Telang, Dave Alexoff, Jean Logan, Christopher Wong. Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism. JAMA. 2011;305(8):808-813.

Summary in NYtimes: Cellphone Use Tied to Brain Changes

Transcranial Pulsed Ultrasound Stimulates Intact Brain Circuits

Yusuf Tufail, Alexei Matyushov, Nathan Baldwin, Monica L. Tauchmann, Joseph Georges, Anna Yoshihiro, Stephen I. Helms Tillery, William J. Tyler. Transcranial Pulsed Ultrasound Stimulates Intact Brain Circuits. Neuron, Volume 66, Issue 5, 681-694, 10 June 2010.

In motor cortex, ultrasound-stimulated neuronal activity was sufficient to evoke motor behaviors. Deeper in subcortical circuits, we used targeted transcranial ultrasound to stimulate neuronal activity and synchronous oscillations in the intact hippocampus. We found that ultrasound triggers TTX-sensitive neuronal activity in the absence of a rise in brain temperature (<0.01°C). Here, we also report that transcranial pulsed ultrasound for intact brain circuit stimulation has a lateral spatial resolution of approximately 2 mm and does not require exogenous factors or surgical invasion.

Conference on Neuroprosthetic Devices

The First International Conference on Neuroprosthetic Devices will take place at National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan on March 19th and 20th, 2009. The mission of this newly founded conference is to foster West-East interaction and collaboration in the rapidly advancing clinical use of neuroprosthetics. The specific aim of the first conference is to expose unique technological and neurological research opportunities in Taiwan. National Chaio Tung University is one of the best universities in Taiwan and is located right next to the world-famous HsinChu Science Park hosting hundreds of biotechnology, semiconductor, and electronics companies.

The conference sessions will cover several key areas in the neuroprosthetic development, such as deep brain stimulation for treatment of Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, devices for restoring hearing and overcoming muscle paralysis, microelectrode biocompatibility, and novel microelectrode technologies. For detailed conference program and registration information, please visit

Your Brain Is A Cartographer

The concept that the brain holds maps of the surface of the body in the primary sensory and motor cortex is a fascinating but well known fact to the field of neuroscience since the early work of Wilder Penfield. What is less broadly appreciated is the concept of “peripersonal space”. A new book by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee describes peripersonal space in the following way:

The maps that encode your physical body are connected directly, immediately, personally to a map of every point in that space and also map out your potential to perform actions in that space. Your self does not end where your flesh ends, but suffuses and blends with the world, including other beings. […] Your brain also faithfully maps the space beyond your body when you enter it using tools. Take hold of a long stick and tap it on the ground. As far as your brain is concerned, your hand now extends to the tip of that stick. […] Moreover, this annexed peripersonal space is not static, like an aura. It is elastic. […] It morphs every time you put on or take off clothes, wear skis or scuba gear, or wield any tool. […] When you eat with a knife and fork, your peripersonal space grows to envelop them. Brain cells that normally represent space no farther out than your fingertips expand their fields of awareness outward, along the length of each utensil, making them part of you.

What I appreciate about this, besides the stretchy comic book characters that it makes me think about, is that it provides a powerful perspective to begin piecing together a mass of disparate neuroscience data, which the Blakeslee’s capitalize on.

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