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Restorative Medicine
Houston Methodist Advances Research into Neural Prosthetics
Houston Methodist Advances Research into Neural Prosthetics
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To help restore loss of function due to strokes, spinal cord injuries or neurological disorders, the Houston Methodist and Rice Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces focuses on designing cutting-edge biomedical technologies through partnerships with Rice University.
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Gavin W. Britz, MD
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Behnaam Aazhang, PhD
“The center is an accelerator for discovery, a human laboratory where all of us—neurosurgeons, neuroengineers, neurobiologists—work together to solve biomedical problems in the brain and spinal cord,” said center Co-Director Gavin W. Britz, MD, the Candy and Tom Knudson Distinguished Centennial Chair in Neurosurgery at Houston Methodist. It’s a collaboration that can finally offer some hope and options for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from brain diseases and injuries.”
Collaborating with center Co-Director Behnaam Aazhang, PhD, Rice’s J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Taiyun Chi, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, Britz is investigating the use of therapeutic electrical stimulation of nerve cells based on multimodal cellular physiological data to treat mild traumatic brain injuries, a project of particular interest to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Houston Methodist neurobiologist Philip J. Horner, PhD, describes the center as “a merging of wetware with hardware,” where robotics, computers, electronic arrays and other technology (the hardware) is being incorporated into the human brain or spinal cord (the wetware).
A step in that direction is a collaborative project between Houston Methodist’s Dimitry Sayenko, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery, and Marcia O’Malley, Rice’s Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor. Their investigations aim at jumpstarting the spinal cord after injury by pairing noninvasive spinal stimulation with an upper-limb exoskeleton, a project funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. Sayenko also received funding from the National Institutes of Health in December 2021 based on his preliminary work in transcutaneous and epidural spinal stimulation to restore movements that were lost due to spinal cord damage.
In addition, Amir Faraji, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Houston Methodist, is spearheading two other projects, one investigating how external electric fields can be used to move fluid through brain tissue, and the other evaluating the integration of peripheral nerve-computer interfaces with topological control to restore function in stroke or spinal cord injury.
“Both of these projects integrate significant engineering and translational neuroscience with the goal of establishing new therapeutic technologies for patient care,” said Faraji.
Once the center is completed, it will be located in Houston Methodist’s Outpatient Center and will include procedure and exam rooms, an upper extremity therapy room and a mobility training lab. This human laboratory will serve as the testing site for devices developed in partnership with Rice engineers working in Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative. In addition, this space will be staffed by research-focused physical and occupational therapists, who offer valuable and unique therapeutic perspective to device design and their therapeutic effects. The centerpiece will be a zero-gravity harness connected to a walking track with cameras and sensors. The center’s grand opening is scheduled for early 2023.
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