In September 2018, the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) changed its name to the Center for Neurotechnology (CNT) to highlight the role of neurotechnologies in healing the brain and spinal cord.
The CNT is an Engineering Research Center funded by the National Science Foundation to create devices to restore the body’s capabilities for sensation and movement. The National Science Foundation has awarded the CNT $~30 million since 2011.
CNT researchers specialize in fields related to neural engineering including: Biological and traditional engineering, computer science, applied mathematics, neurological surgery, neuroscience and neurobiology and philosophy. Center faculty also hail from various fields of medicine and assist with real-world implementation of designs. The CNT places a strong emphasis on neuroethics, exploring how ethical issues such as identity, privacy, and moral or legal responsibility in relation to the expanding field of neural technologies.
The CNT’s mission is to develop innovative neural devices and methods for directing engineered neuroplasticity in the brain and spinal cord, which will improve sensory and motor function for people with spinal cord injury, stroke and other neurological disorders. Engineered neuroplasticity is a new form of rehabilitation that uses engineered devices to re-wire the nervous system and restore lost or injured connections in the brain and spinal cord.
- Cortical Plasticity Testbed: The goal of this testbed is to engineer neuroplasticity in the brain, improving the brain’s ability to adapt and recover after injury. It is targeted toward people with neurological disorders such as stroke. This is where center researchers test the ability of neural stimulation protocols to induce activity-dependent neuroplasticity by remodeling neural connections between cortical regions in the brain.
- Spinal Plasticity Testbed: This testbed directly tests researchers ability to engineer neuroplasticity within the spinal cord after injury. For example, center researchers are using electrical spinal stimulation synchronized with residual muscle activity or movement in order to produce lasting improvements in hand and arm function after spinal cord injury.
- Co-adaptation Testbed: This testbed focuses on understanding and developing mathematical algorithms designed to help a brain–computer interface co-adapt with the brain itself in a neural stimulation system. An example of work in this testbed is to quantify large-scale cortical dynamics during learning and neuroplasticity induction, as well as changes in cortical dynamics that occur when users directly control brain stimulation using their thoughts.
A Research Thrust is the fundamental knowledge or basic research that investigators bring to the Center. These thrusts feed into technologies that exist and that CNT researchers are focusing on, including electrocorticography, the practice of placing electrodes on the brain to record electrical activity. These new technologies are then integrated into research testbeds.
The Communication and Interface thrust is largely concerned with developing more intelligent ways of extracting information from the brain, interpreting them, and then providing feedback to the neural system. The objective of developing these intelligent systems is to use less power to compute faster, and, potentially, harvest their power through innovative sources. At the same time, these systems must be user-friendly. In other words, they must be easy to use and reliable in mechanical design and computation functions. An objective of this thrust is to develop an electrocorticography (ECoG) system that is compact and power efficient enough to be fully implantable.
The object of Thrust 2 is to better understand neural circuit dynamics and develop co-adaptive mathematical algorithms for inducing neuroplasticity in the brain and spinal cord. A deeper understanding of the brain’s computation will inform design of sensorimotor devices for neural control and allow for more targeted future work on investigating neural function. Using this knowledge, inorganic systems can be better engineered to better interact with the brain’s endogenous system of computation.
The Experimental Neuroscience thrust seeks to uncover fundamental principles of sensorimotor neuroscience by performing innovative closed-loop experiments enabled by CNT hardware and computational advances.