Empowering Next Generation Implantable Neural Interfaces

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Abstract

Being able to control devices with our thoughts is a concept that has for long captured the imagination. Neural Interfaces or Brain Machine Interfaces (BMIs) are devices that aim to do precisely this. Next generation devices will be distributed like the brain itself. It is currently estimated that if we were able to record electrical activity simultaneously from between 1,000 and 10,000 neurons, this would enable useful prosthetic control (e.g. of a prosthetic arm). However, rather than relying on a single, highly complex implant and trying to cram more and more channels in this (the current paradigm), the idea here is to develop a simpler, smaller, well-engineered primitive and deploy multiple such devices. It is essential these are each compact, autonomous, calibration-free, and completely wireless. It is envisaged that each device will be mm-scale, and be capable of recording only a few channels (i.e. up to 20), but also perform real-time signal processing. This processing will achieve data reduction so as to wirelessly communicate only useful information, rather than raw data, which can most often be just noise and of no use. Making these underlying devices "simpler" will overcome many of the common challenges that are associated with scaling of neural interfaces, for example, wires breaking, biocompatibility of the packaging, thermal dissipation and yield. By distributing tens to hundreds of these in a "grid" of neural interfaces, many of the desirable features of distributed networks come into play; for example, redundancy and robustness to single component failure. A first tangible application for this platform will see these devices embedded in a uniform array within a flexible substrate for electrocorticography (i.e. recording from the surface of the brain). It will however, also be investigated how the underlying devices can be made applicable to other formats, for instance, in penetrating intracortical devices (recording from within the cortex). Such devices will communicate the neural "control signals" to an external prosthetic device. These can then, for example, be used for: an amputee to control a robotic prosthetic; a paraplegic to control a mobility aid; or an individual with locked in syndrome to communicate with the outside world.

This Fellowship will consolidate expertise and build a core capability that can deliver such devices. This will be achieved by working together with researchers and professionals across multiple disciplines including ICT, engineering, healthcare technologies, medical devices and neuroscience. The research is extremely well aligned with the current quest to understand the brain; for example, US presidential BRAIN initiative, and the EU human brain project. It will impact neuroscience research, by extending current capabilities by at least an order of magnitude, but also medical devices by inventing and demonstrating a radically new approach.

Planned Impact

The proposed research will have significant economic, clinical and scientific impact. It will profoundly impact my career, team, department, organisation (Imperial College London), collaborators, and the UK.

In terms of economic impact, a key long-term goal of this research is to develop new technologies to be incorporated into neuroscientific tools and clinical devices such as neural prostheses and Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMIs). Neural devices now constitute a $2 billion/year industry that is predicted to grow twice as fast as the cardiac implant market. The EPSRC has recognised the importance of this area in its initiative 'Developing a Common Vision for UK Research in Microelectronic Design' which describes the interface of electronics to biology and in particular the brain as a Grand Challenge for UK microelectronics. With respect to clinical relevance, the outcomes of this research stand to impact several clinical applications. In the past, treatments for brain disorders have largely been limited to gross psychopharmacological interventions or neurosurgical resections. My proposed research will deliver an autonomous, implantable platform enabling the next-generation of devices also to monitor the activity of large numbers of individual neurons in the brain. This will significantly increase the scope of neuroprosthetic applications. More significantly, a promising future direction for neuroprosthetics will be to combine neural sensing and stimulation in a single device that can operate 'closed-loop' protocols. Such devices have obvious application as artificial connections between areas that might be disconnected by injury (for example between the motor cortex and the spinal cord). The ability to replace or modify specific connections in the nervous system could revolutionise neurological rehabilitation and impact the lives of a considerable patient population. For example, spinal cord injury affects 35,000 individuals in the UK and is particularly prevalent in young adults (the most common age at injury is just 19 years). Over 300,000 stroke survivors living with moderate to severe disabilities in England alone.

This Fellowship will establish a self-sustaining critical mass of researchers at Imperial College around my research vision, enabling us to move from our current status of international recognition within the broad field of implantable neural interface technology to international leadership in the field.

Through the programme I have detailed, this will allow me to build capacity and consolidate capability to allow for chip-scale neural implants to be a reality. While there are several groups working in relevant areas, there is no individual that currently has the expertise, capability, and knowhow to integrate a fully-autonomous chip-scale neural implant. This will put myself, my institution and the UK at the forefront of this field that will have wide-reaching impacts both in the tangibles (i.e. academic, scientific, economic, etc) and the non-tangibles (e.g. esteem) value added.

My team will directly benefit from research outcomes (e.g. experience, publications, exploitation, etc) and the postdoctoral research associates and PhD students will have valuable interdisciplinary training contributing towards the knowledge economy. My collaborators (and their organisations) will also benefit through us working together and the prospect of future research and commercialisation opportunities.

The research will generate a cornerstone in the UK's contribution to the field of neural interfaces. This research work will empower the field with a technological platform far in excess of the international state-of-the-art, generating new research and clinical applications and enabling new commercial opportunities.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description A holistic approach to developing mm-scale implantable devices. Considering multiple aspects of the engineering including, electronics (instrumentation and wireless), electromagnetic (near field coupling), micro-fabrication of hermetic packaging, electrode manufacture, insertion/implantation mechanism, biosignal processing (neural decoding), reliability/long-term accelerated lifetime testing. Work is still ongoing in all of these areas.
Exploitation Route (1) Within the scientific/research community - to develop further, or apply to different domains; (2) by industry - to incorporate into future products/services.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL http://www.imperial.ac.uk/next-generation-neural-interfaces/projects/engini/
 
Description The research direction pursued during this Fellowship has enabled me to take a leading role (co-chair) in a major policy project co-ordinated by the Royal Society. The iHuman perspective establishes the "ground truth" on neural interface technology reviewing past successes, current challenges, and opportunities for the future. This addresses the different issues relating to science, technology, ethics, business, regulatory, and clinical practice. This published a report, website, and family of resources including executive summary targeting policymakers making recommendations for calls to action. Outcomes from this include a POST (parliamentary office for science and technology) note on brain computer interfaces, a SiG (special interest group) on neurotechnology co-ordinated by KTN (Innovate UK), engagement with funders, government, and the EU. I am currently engaging with the Council of Europe towards new legislation on human rights relating to neural interface technology.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description POST note on Brain Computer Interfaces
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
URL https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0614
 
Description iHuman perspective - policy report by Royal Society on Neural Interfaces (Co-chair of activity)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/ihuman-perspective/
 
Description Application Specific ICs for Neural Interfacing - Commercialisation and Market Evaluation
Amount £60,786 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2019
 
Description Function Oxide Reconfigurable Technologies (FORTE) - A Programme Grant
Amount £6,100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R024642/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 07/2023
 
Description Impact Accelerator Award for "Spike Streaming Platform: Community Engagement & Early-Stage Commercialization"
Amount £44,219 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 03/2017
 
Description Prize Doctoral Fellowship for Deren Barsakcioglu
Amount £51,202 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 01/2017
 
Description ENGINI (UCL, GeorgiaTech, MSU, Newcastle) 
Organisation Georgia Institute of Technology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Developing a holistic methodology for the design, manufacture and test of mm-scale neural implants.
Collaborator Contribution UCL - micropackaging Newcastle University - experimental neuroscience Michigan State University - neural signal processing Georgia Institute of Technology - wireless/biotelemetry
Impact N/A
Start Year 2015
 
Description ENGINI (UCL, GeorgiaTech, MSU, Newcastle) 
Organisation Michigan State University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Developing a holistic methodology for the design, manufacture and test of mm-scale neural implants.
Collaborator Contribution UCL - micropackaging Newcastle University - experimental neuroscience Michigan State University - neural signal processing Georgia Institute of Technology - wireless/biotelemetry
Impact N/A
Start Year 2015
 
Description ENGINI (UCL, GeorgiaTech, MSU, Newcastle) 
Organisation Newcastle University
Department Institute of Neuroscience
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Developing a holistic methodology for the design, manufacture and test of mm-scale neural implants.
Collaborator Contribution UCL - micropackaging Newcastle University - experimental neuroscience Michigan State University - neural signal processing Georgia Institute of Technology - wireless/biotelemetry
Impact N/A
Start Year 2015
 
Description ENGINI (UCL, GeorgiaTech, MSU, Newcastle) 
Organisation University College London
Department Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Developing a holistic methodology for the design, manufacture and test of mm-scale neural implants.
Collaborator Contribution UCL - micropackaging Newcastle University - experimental neuroscience Michigan State University - neural signal processing Georgia Institute of Technology - wireless/biotelemetry
Impact N/A
Start Year 2015
 
Description ENGINI - Cornell 
Organisation Cornell University
Department School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Neural Interfaces & Microsystems
Collaborator Contribution RF Microelectronics
Impact N/A
Start Year 2016
 
Title Implantable Neural Interface 
Description A neural interface arrangement comprising: a plurality of probes for subdural implantation into or onto a human brain, each probe including at least one sensing electrode, a coil for receiving power via inductive coupling, signal processing circuitry coupled to the sensing electrode(s), and means for wirelessly transmitting data-carrying signals arising from the sensing electrode(s); an array of coils for implantation above the dura, beneath the skull, the array of coils being for inductively coupling with the coil of each of the plurality of probes, for transmitting power to the probes; and a primary (e.g. subcutaneous) coil connected to the array of coils, the primary coil being for inductively coupling with an external transmitter device, for receiving power from the external transmitter device; wherein, in use, the primary coil is operable to receive power from the external transmitter device by inductive coupling and to cause the array of coils to transmit power to the plurality of probes by inductive coupling; and wherein, in use, the plurality of probes are operable to wirelessly transmit data-carrying signals arising from the sensing electrodes. 
IP Reference WO2017199052 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed No
Impact Research ongoing.
 
Description "Neural Interfaces & Microsystems: from State-of-the-Art to the Next Generation", CNRS Workshop on Bioelectronics (Paris, France), 20 June 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited speaker at workshop in the CNRS headquarters in Paris, France on Bioelectronics. I gave a talk to an audience of approximately 100 professionals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.cnrs.fr/insis/recherche/evenements/workshop-electronique-vivant.htm
 
Description Alumni engagement events 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact I participated in two alumni events (in Shenzhen, China, and also Paris, France) together with other colleagues and the vice-President and President of Imperial College London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/alumni/internationalambassadorevents/e...
 
Description BBC Radio Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Live radio interview about EPSRC Fellowship and Brain Research, BBC Wiltshire, 19 August 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Friends of Imperial College "Behind the Scenes" tour at NGNI Labs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Next Generation Neural Interfaces (NGNI) lab hosted a "Behind the Scenes" event for Friends of Imperial College on the evening of 25th January 2017. This event included a welcome and seminar on neural interfaces, lab tours and research demonstrations, and an interactive poster session with the entire group. For photos and further details see the "Behind the Scenes @ NGNI" Event page- see link below.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.imperial.ac.uk/neural-interfaces/news-and-events/friendsofic/
 
Description Great Exhibition Road Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The market is already overflowing with wearable devices that claim to use our thoughts and emotions to control the likes of drones, wheelchairs or virtual reality applications. These devices rely on electroencephalography (EEG), i.e. the electrical signal that can be picked up using electrodes placed on the surface of the skull. To borrow a well know metaphor in the neuroscientific community, this is like trying to understand how a football match is going by sitting outside the stadium and listening to the cheers and boohoos of the crowd inside. Clearly, to have a more detailed feel of the game, we need to get inside the stadium and use directional microphones to listen to specific areas, but while this idea seems perfectly reasonable when applied to the stadium, it becomes less so when translated back to the brain.

This year's festival, The Great Exhibition Road Festival, was a collaboration between institutions on and around Exhibition Road and NGNI lab participated in the Body and Mind zone. We designed a bespoke interactive demo to help people understand the difference between the various types of brain interfaces and introduce the probe that we, at NGNI lab, are developing. NGNI group members spent the weekend engaging with people on the controversial field of brain implants and everyone, from adults to children to teenagers, was enthralled by our demo. We asked visitors to answer our "Fact or fiction?" questionnaire - dealing with myths and truths of neural interfaces - to win one of our awesome GigaBrains. We must confess, they must have been the most popular freebie we have ever given away! We also got great feedback from the visitors and help into naming our demo and create a wall full of ideas of what people would like a future brain implant to be able to do. We promise we'll take all these suggestions into account for our next projects!

We couldn't have hoped for a more incredible weekend, full of such genuine interest from the public and great performance from the whole NGNI group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/next-generation-neural-interfaces/about-us/our-events/festival2019/
 
Description Invited Talk at World Economic Forum - Annual Meeting of New Champions (AMNC 2017) in Dalian, China - "Empowering Next Generation Implantable Brain Machine Interfaces" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I gave two talks at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting of the New Champions (AMNC) in Dalian, China in June 2017. My talk was entitled "Empowering Next Generational Implantable Brain Machine Interfaces" and was given under a "Science Hub" format and also as part of the Imperial College London "Ideas Lab".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0flOo4G9sns
 
Description Media mention - Financial Times 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sarah Murray wrote article entitled: "Brain implants allow paralysed patients to move limbs", Financial Times (FT), 5 March 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ft.com/content/0d426d08-0795-11e8-9e12-af73e8db3c71
 
Description Science Museum "Creative Quarter" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Science Museum "Creative Quarter" (aimed at giving 13-19 year olds) on 13 Nov 2015. Researchers from the Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology (Lorena Freitas, Nicoletta Nicolaou, Dorian Haci, Adrien Rapeaux, Timo Lauteslager, Timothy Constandinou) hosted the section on "brain computer interfaces".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://info.discoversouthken.com/creative-quarter/
 
Description Summer school talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Talk at Sutton Trust summer school (6th form students with interest in EEE) entitled: "Microchips and brain implants", 3 August 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/be-inspired/student-recruitment-and-outreach/schools-and-colleges/student...
 
Description Talk at North London Collegiate School 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Visited and gave a talk to year 10-12 students entitled "Microelectronics and neural interfaces"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk at Sutton Trust Summer School (6th form students with interest in EEE) entitled: \Microchips and Brain Implants", 4 August 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 12 students enrolled on the "Sutton Trust" scheme attended a week long event at Imperial College EEE Department which involved various activities such as talks, lab sessions, tours, etc- which I gave a talk entitles "Microchips and Brain Implants".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.suttontrust.com/programmes/summer-schools/