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.
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Interest in neural interfaces is a shared interest among the scientists in the NINDS Program Staff:
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.
Looking ahead, NINDS is also encouraging 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.
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 individualf. 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.
A complete list of active NINDS-supported projects and abstracts is accessible through NIH RePORTER. A list of NIH projects focused on Assistive Technology, which includes many of the neural prosthesis projects, is also available. Current contracts are also available.