On August 12, in support of President Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnology—or BRAIN—Initiative, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced 16 new grants for fundamental brain research. A cognitive neuroengineering project co-led by Richard Andersen, the James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, was selected as a recipient for one of these grants.
Designed to bring together interdisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers from diverse fields, the grants represent two themes: neuroengineering and brain-inspired concepts and designs, and individuality and variation. Each grants provides up to $1 million in funding over two to four years.
Andersen, whose work falls under the first theme, plans to use his grant to improve the functionality of neural prosthetic devices—devices that, when implanted in the brain, can allow patients with amputations or paralysis to control the movement of a robotic limb. The work is a collaboration with Charles Y. Liu, of Keck Medicine of USC, and Kapil Katyal of Johns Hopkins University.
In a clinical trial earlier this year, Andersen showed that a neural prosthetic device implanted in the brain's center for intentions—the posterior parietal cortex—could allow a tetraplegic patient to control a robotic arm with only his thoughts. The new work will build on this idea, Andersen says. "We are developing a shared control system in which we can record the intent of a tetraplegic patient and immediately communicate that intent to a smart robotic limb that can handle the details of the movement. This enables more effortless control by the patients," he says.
The grants are funded by the NSF Integrative Strategies of Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems program and the NSF Computer & Information Science & Engineering Directorate. The NSF Directorates for Engineering and for Education and Human Resources also support the grants.
Andersen, who also received a grant from the state-funded Cal-BRAIN program for work in improving neural prosthetics, joins six other Caltech projects associated with the BRAIN Initiative that were funded by the National Institutes of Health last fall.