University of Houston researchers are helping the Pentagon build reliable mind-controlled prosthetic devices that military and civilian amputees can use the rest of their lives.
Prosthetic limbs that can be maneuvered by neural implants have shown promise in the laboratory, but there are challenges to making them work in the real world. Chief among these obstacles is the neural implants' nearly inevitable failure over time, often in a matter of weeks.
Badrinath "Badri" Roysam, chair of UH's department of electrical and computer engineering and Hugh and Lillie Cranz Cullen University Professor, is leading a multi-institution team effort to identify the combination of factors that cause neural implants to fail.
Roysam and his group have received a three-year, $5.4 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the military's high-tech research agency. Researchers from Seattle Children's Research Institute, the University of Michigan, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and two companies also are involved in the project.
The grant is part of DARPA's Histology for Interface Stability Over Time program, which is the next phase of its Revolutionizing Prosthetics project that began in 2000. The grant money is allocated in two phases, with $3.2 million being awarded immediately and the remaining $2.2 million being awarded based on performance.
Roysam said neural implants can fail within six to eight weeks. Once implanted, the brain treats these tiny devices like foreign objects and immediately begins to try to isolate them for its own protection.
"The tissue surrounding the device undergoes complex changes that in the end isolate it electrically. At this point, it (the implant) stops functioning," Roysam said. Researchers understand the fundamentals of the brain's reaction to the implants, but they still have many questions that Roysam's team will seek to answer.
The work begins
|Contact: Laura Tolley|
University of Houston