BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Institute of Automation,
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
Implantable neural prostheses to restore sensorimotor functions in disabled people
Neuroengineering is a novel discipline combining engineering including micro and nanotechnology, electrical and mechanical, and computer science with cellular, molecular, cognitive neuroscience with two main goals: (i) increase our basic knowledge of how the nervous system works; (ii) develop systems able to restore functions in people affected by different types of neural disability. In the past years, several breakthroughs have been reached by neuroengineers in particular on the development of neural prostheses able to restore sensorimotor functions in disabled people. In this presentation, two main research activities on this topic will be presented. First, the recent results achieved after the implantation of thin--‐film intra--‐fascicular electrodes in the median and ulnar nerves of an amputee will be shown. The possibility of decoding motor commands suitable to control a dexterous hand prosthesis has been investigated during a 4 week trial. The results showed that the extraction of motor information (i.e., grip types) is possible with good performance and that the user was able to improve his ability to provide useful motor commands over time. Secondly, the progress towards the development of a novel neural prosthesis to restore locomotion in spinal cord injured people will be presented. To achieve this ambitious goal, we capitalize on recent breakthroughs that demonstrate the impressive capacity of spinal cord stimulations to promote the recovery of full weight bearing walking in paralyzed SCI rats. The preliminary results of the characterization of the response after epidural stimulation and of the processing of cortical signals to control the stimulation will be presented. Finally, our ongoing activities to improve robot--‐mediated neurorehabilitation using basic neuroscientific knowledge will be also briefly described.