What are neural prosthetics and neural interfaces?
Neural interfaces are systems operating at the intersection of the nervous system and an internal or external device. Neural interfaces include neural prosthetics, which are artificial extensions to the body that restore or supplement function of the nervous system lost during disease or injury, and implantable neural stimulators that provide therapy. Neural interfaces are used to allow disabled individuals the ability to control their own bodies and lead fuller and more productive lives.
Who are the NINDS Program Directors with interests in neural interfaces and what do they do?
In brief, NINDS Program Directors are expected to provide scientific leadership for the field. In this capacity, they identify unmet research needs and gaps in knowledge, develop new initiatives for funding, collaborate with other federal agencies, manage projects that have milestones and deliverables, and organize workshops, conferences, and symposia (learn more). Interest in neural interfaces is a shared interest among the scientists in the NINDS Program Staff:
Has research in neural interfaces and development of neural prosthetics benefited patients?
Neural interfaces have already provided substantive benefits to individuals. For example, the NIH had a key role in the development of the cochlear implants , which bypasses damaged hair cells in the auditory system by direct electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve. In addition, neural interfaces that allow deep brain stimulation have been useful for some patients in reducing the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease.
What other diseases are targeted for neural prosthetic applications?
Clearly, individuals living with certain movement disorders and some classes of deafness have been positively impacted by neural interfaces. Of particular interest to the NINDS is future progress in the field of neural interfaces that will result in assistive technologies to improve the quality of life by restoring motor and communicative functions for individuals with spinal cord injuries, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and stroke.
How does the NINDS support neural interfaces?
For over 30 years, the NINDS has supported grants and contracts on a number of areas within the neural interfaces field including, but not limited to: functional neuromuscular stimulation, deep brain stimulation, multielectrode cuffs for nerve interfaces, cortical microelectrode arrays, biocompatibility of neural interfaces, implantable neural stimulators, and brain/computer interfaces.
Research in neural interfaces at the NIH began with the initiation of the Neural Prosthesis Program, which was funded primarily through contracts. However, the program now makes use of both grant and contract mechanisms to enable the field to progress. This transition from contracts to grants has been facilitated by the increasingly wide-spread recognition of the importance of non-hypothesis driven research to the biomedical research enterprise. Potential investigators are encouraged to explore the use of the program announcements listed below to support research and development efforts. As the field has matured, neural interfaces have become part of a larger trans-NIH effort involving multiple Institutes and Centers including, but not limited to NINDS, NIDCD, NICHD, and NIBIB.
Should I contact NINDS or NIBIB about my ideas for a neural interfaces grant?
The area of neural interfaces resides in multiple institutes and the extramural community should recognize that the NIH staff who share interests in this area regularly interact. However, there have been many questions from the extramural community relative to the interests of NINDS and NIBIB concerning neural interfaces. If the proposed work involves development of novel technologies and methods that are broadly applicable across multiple disease and organ areas, which may include the nervous system, or involves proof-of-principle of a widely applicable technology, the investigator should first consider NIBIB. For basic, translational, or clinical research for technologies that target the nervous system or treatment of neurological disorders, investigators should first consider NINDS. NINDS is also interested in the use, optimization, or validation of novel/existing technologies for applications related to neurological disorders. If an investigator has questions about a specific application, he/she can contact program staff at the NINDS for clarification.
What research is currently envisioned for neural interfaces?
Among the goals of the NINDS effort is the development of totally implantable systems for restoring the motor control and sensory feedback for a paralyzed individual. Significant progress is being made towards the development of motor prostheses for disabled individuals, particularly for upper limb control. It is anticipated that future efforts will combine subsystems for functional neuromuscular stimulation with neural interfaces that can detect signals in the brain associated with movement, such as implanted microelectrode arrays in the motor cortex. Potential emergent areas that are likely to impact the future of neural interfaces include nanotechnologies, novel bioactive materials, adaptive computational methods for multi-neuron analysis, and technologies that go beyond electrical stimulation of the nervous system to allow controlled inhibition.
What funding opportunities currently exist?
Although many awarded grants are unsolicited, several current funding announcements are relevant to work in neural interfaces. Most recently, several NIH Institutes have implemented the Advanced Neural Prosthetics program announcements listed below. These are unique funding opportunities in that they are intended to support translational to pilot clinical efforts in neural prosthetics and will be managed through a cooperative agreement mechanism where yearly milestones must be achieved. Please see the Information on the Advanced Neural Prosthetics Research and Development web page for more information on these programs.
Neural Interfaces Resources
The Neural Interfaces Resources page consists of helpful links and projects that were or are currently funded by the NINDS. This includes projects supported through research project grants, SBIR programs, and contract mechanisms.
Regulatory Guidance consists of helpful links to aid investigators to clinical translation.
The Agenda and Report Archive contains agendas and conference reports from previous Neural Interfaces Workshops.
The Neural Interfaces Conference 2014 will be held June 22-25, 2014 at the Hilton Anatole, Dallas, TX. Conference details are located at http://www.neuralinterfacesconference.com/index.htm
Register for the Neural Interfaces Program Listserv
The Neural Interfaces Program Listserv is designed for the dissemination of information relevant to the Neural Prosthesis and Neural Interfaces Communities. Information sent out will pertain to meetings (such as the annual Neural Interfaces Conference), and relevant program announcements (including RFAs and RFPs).
Last updated March 4, 2014