Electrophysiological-mechanical coupled pulses in neural membranes: a new paradigm for clinical therapy of SCI and TBI (NeuroPulse)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Engineering Science


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and spinal cord injury (SCI) are major public health concerns. Each year, over 10 million incidents of TBI result in death or in hospitalisation globally. SCI also causes pain and motor impairments leading to paralysis (Hyder, et al., 2001).

TBI and SCI pose enormous societal burden. Hence, initiatives towards accurate and timely diagnosis, prognosis and treatment have substantially increased in recent years, especially in the UK. Understanding of the coupled role of micromechanics and electrophysiology at the neuron level has significantly improved. However, the modelling of the functional deficit in neuritis associated to the macroscopic mechanical insult at tissue scale is still underexplored.

The "cutting-edge" research, NeuroPulse was conceptualised to address this research gap and to provide new avenues for non-invasive electrophysiological control for treatment of TBI and SCI. The project aims to develop and utilise state of the art modelling approaches for the study of electrophysiological and mechanical coupling, which can have a great impact to help the patients with TBH and SCI as well as the wider medical community.

To date, a quantitative mechanically based model of electrophysiological impairment in neuronal cells, Neurite has been proposed. It was able to simulate the resulting neuronal electrical signal propagation, and the corresponding functional deficits using a dendritic tree or in myelinated or unmyelinated axons (Gracia-Grajales, et al., 2015). TBI and SCI however, involve complex processes which cannot be underemphasized. In support to the research on the electrophysiological-mechanical coupling in neurons, a study focusing on changing the voltages as well as changing the mechanical vibrations applied to the brain tissue model is thus being proposed. The study is hoped to provide an understanding of how these stimulations can directly alter the level brain activity in a small network of the brain through use of numerical modelling.

The proposed study will exploit modelling approaches to improve the numerical models of neurons by simulating a small network to further understand the electrophysiological-mechanical coupling phenomena. The specific objectives are:

- To develop a numerical model to simulate a brain tissue comprising of numerous axons.
- To simulate the brain tissue to analyse the electrical signal propagating across it using the coupling.
- To analyse the effects of the different voltage changes and mechanical vibrations applied to the brain tissue model.

This project falls within the EPSRC Physical Sciences research area because it has encouraged researchers to set their research questions to meet the societal challenges in healthcare technologies.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509711/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2021
1939406 Studentship EP/N509711/1 30/09/2017 29/06/2021 Ciara Felix
Description Experimental data collaboration 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour (CNCB)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I am developing a numerical model to simulate the effects of ultrasound on the brain.
Collaborator Contribution They provided me with experimental data i.e. MRI, DTI data.
Impact A monkey brain model has been created from MRI scans.
Start Year 2018
Description k-Wave collaboration 
Organisation University College London
Department Mechanical Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Trying to develop a fully couples the mechanical pulse from k-Wave to an electrophysiological pulse to study brain activity.
Collaborator Contribution Provided us with there codes to simulate ultrasound.
Impact Currently still working on this.
Start Year 2017