This podcast's purpose is to bring together the field of neuroprosthetics / brain machine interfaces / brain implants in an understandable conversation about the current topics and breakthroughs. We hope to replace needing to read scientific papers on new research in an easy to digest way. Then people can share thoughts or ideas to facilitate 'idea sex' to make the field of brain implants a smaller and more personal space
Dr Bradley Gregor is an associate professor at Arizona State University where he is interested in helping the blind see. The blind person would have implants which go directly to the brain, similar to a Cochlear Implant, which would transmit what a camera saw. In this way vision could be restored, even it if is only 7 x 7 pixel vision.
Dr. Slawomir Nasuto is a professor of Cybernetics and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Reading in England. He researches computational neuroscience and neuroanatomy. However, in this interview, we were both in a philosophical mood and talked about how to avoid blind spots in experiments. Any experiments in the brain inherently produce research biases of the experimenters and we talk about how to minimize this.
Dr. Edward Boyden has co-invented optogenetic tools which allow control of neurons using light. This discovery has won him a prize, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences which came with $3 million dollars (and he promised to donate $1 million to the Neural Implant podcast!). He also has worked on expansion microscopy which 'freezes' the biomolecules and expands them up to 100x. In this way it is possible to visualize the parts of the brain using more conventional microscopy. He has done many great things but is not resting on his laurels!
Dr Tim Marzullo is the Cofounder of Backyard Brains which uses simple (and cheap) technology to demonstrate neuronal activity to those without labs. It's aimed at high schools and Universities to show kids how brain activity works to hopefully spark their interest. We talk about the difficulties in doing a startup but the aid that grants can have along the way. Be sure to check out their TED talk, it's really funny!
Dr Steve Potter used to be a professor at Georgia Tech but now consults. But many years ago he was a pioneer in the field of Brain Machine Interfaces especially in the area of cultured neurons. He was one of the proponents of the Two Photon Microscopy system which is in common use today. He is also a huge proponent of open source knowledge and works hard to spread it far.
Dr Ioan Opris along with previous guest Dr Mikhail Lebedev as well as Dr Casanova had won a $100k grant to have a conference in Switzerland in 2018. This was from the Frontiers Spotlight award. We also talk about his work with memory implants in which choices and memories can be transmitted between animals. They were able to get decision making up from about 50% chance to 70% and 80% using these implants.
Dr Ranu Jung is a professor and chair of Biomedical Engineering in Florida International University and recently was granted FDA approval to have a prosthetic implanted in patients. We also talk about the future of bioelectronic medicines and she will be on the editorial board of the upcoming Bioelectronics in Medicine journal.
Dr Cristin Welle is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado where they work on a tattoo-like EEG which can help measure whether or not a concussion has occurred. In this way, in sports or battlefield situations you can measure it and see whether you need to treat the patient. We also talk about some of the basics in Neural Implants so this is a nice refresher course for this field.
Dr Mikhail Lebedev is a Senior Research Scientist at Duke University where he has worked with prosthetics and Brain Machine Interfaces in primates. Even 15 years ago he was able to demonstrate a primate controlling a robotic arm with minimal effort using only its thoughts. Now they do a little bit more 'sci-fi' experiments where they link up many brains to help solve problems together using telepathy.
Dr. Manfred Franke comes on again to explain some of the pros and cons to different educational approaches. We then talk about what we couldn't talk about last time: the approval of his neurostimulator device through the FDA. This device naturally stimulates a tear response in the eyes instead of adding artificial solutions. The device was approved by the FDA in about 4 years which suggests that the future of neurostimulators may be more nimble than pharmaceuticals.
Robin wrote a book, The Patient as CEO, where she talks about the future of healthcare. She has taken her background as a Crohn's disease sufferer with dozens of major surgeries to help raise investment money through speaking. She literally created this job herself and this year is on track to raise $250 million for the 3 companies she represents. One company will help reconnect severed connections through Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality may be a better way to see Neural Implants and brain enhancement come to the masses.
Dr. Bolu Ajiboye of Case Western University recently released the results on the success of the Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) team about helping a paralyzed man to eat and drink using the help of a brain implant.
Dr. Andrew Jackson of Newcastle University talks about some of the advantages of using Local Field Potentials instead of measuring neuronal spikes. by using 100x less bandwidth you can reduce the energy required by an implant which would make wireless devices much more feasible.
Dr. Tom Mortimer of Case Western University looks back on 50 years of Neural Control and hopes to teach future generations the basics of his research. He is currently putting together his course on Applied Neural Control which is free for now.
Jens Naumann was the first person to be able to see using bionic eyes after he lost his vision in both of his eyes. After proving his usefulness he was hired by the team of Dr. William Dobelle as a technical person with first hand (or first eye) experience. He was able to see 19 pixels using this brain implant and with this was able to drive a car which got him on the cover of WIRED magazine. After Dr. Dobelle suddenly died a year into the experiment, Jens was able to pick up the pieces using his technical knowledge of the project and write the book Search for Paradise: A Patient's Account of the Artificial Vision Experiment
Dr. Jit Muthuswamy of Arizona State University hopes to be able to make neural implants more flexible by being able to adjust the depth of the probes. In doing this it would be possible to individually control the electrodes to get the best possible signal. He also teaches many courses and this shows in his presentation style.
In this long episode, Dr. Manfred Franke simplifies many of the concepts behind neural modulation as therapies for many ailments. These can range from phantom limb pain to organ control. He also talks about some of the tricks that are used in order to decrease pain sensations instead of using drugs. These same frequency modulations can be also used to give pressure sensations in prosthetics as well as reducing fatigue by using finer muscle control.
Today's guest is Dr. Marco Santello who studies complex hand movements and how they are learned. This is especially useful in stroke victims to be able to help regain control of their limbs. In collaboration with the Mayo clinic, they noninvasively test patients to bring them back to normal.
In this episode, I personally went to meet Dr. Kevin Warwick in Prague for a personal interview. We talk about how he became the world's first cyborg when he implanted a RFID capsule in his arm in 1998. With this, he was able to control the smart doors in his building as well as to play a personalized greeting when he entered his office. Then in 2002 he had the Utah Electrode Array implanted in his arm and was the first person to receive signals directly into his nervous system. We had a funny conversation about how these events occurred as well what it was like to be able to be the first to communicate telepathically. There are many people who say he was not the first cyborg but that is just a technicality. We can all agree that these two studies were groundbreaking in some way!
Dr. Memming Park is a researcher from Stony Brooke University in New York whose research is on the programming to decode neuronal activity read by neural interfaces. We talk about the limits of this code as well as what would be needed to improve it further.