Focus on Neural Interfaces Research

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.

Find a program director to learn more.

Interest in neural interfaces is a shared interest among the scientists in the NINDS Program Staff:

  • Dr. Nick Langhals: neural engineering with emphases in neuroprostheses, neuromodulation, brain-computer interface (BCI) devices, prosthetic control, and neural interface technology development.
  • Dr. Daofen Chen: cortical and spinal sensorimotor integration, and neural rehabilitation.
  • Dr. James Gnadt: experimental and computational systems control and circuit-level experimental neurophysiology.

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.

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 injuriesamyotrophic 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, multi-electrode cuffs for nerve interfaces, cortical microelectrode arrays, biocompatibility of neural interfaces, implantable neural stimulators, and brain/computer interfaces..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 NINDSNIDCDNICHD, and NIBIB.

Should I contact NINDS or NIBIB about my ideas for a neural interfaces grant?

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 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.

Tools & Resources

Research Project Portfolio

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.

Materials and Fabrication

  • The Integrated Neural Interfaces Program materials database identifies materials that have been investigated and tested for their use as encapsulation for implantable neural interface devices. The materials investigated include amorphous silicon carbide (a-SiCx:H), Parylene, silicone, and epoxy based resins. Data sets include insulation long-term stability and reliability data in wet ionic environments using accelerated ageing impedance spectroscopy and leakage current tests as well as various adhesion tests. The database not only contains the results from research conducted by the University of Utah, but also lists selected relevant data obtained from literature. For more information, please contact Dr. S. Kim or Dr. F. Solzbacher.
  • Advanced Platform Technology (APT) Center is able to provide the following resources for developing, testing and implementing neural interfaces: 1) manufacture and supply of nerve- and muscle-based stimulating and recording electrodes 2) neural modeling and analysis of interface designs 3) polymer and bioactive material development 4) microelectromechanical (MEMS) systems design and fabrication 5) rapid prototyping 6) pre-clinical in vitro and in vivo verification of electrode and neural interface performances 7) circuit and software design and 8) system validation and design control documentation. For more information, contact Dr. Ronald Triolo.

Data Collection, Modeling, and Processing

  • Physionet is an online resource including open source data analysis software and a biomedical signal bank.
  • BSMART: A Matlab/C Toolbox for Analyzing Brain Circuits. BSMART, an acronym of Brain-System for Multivariate AutoRegressive Timeseries, is an open-source software package for analyzing brain circuits. The package provides users with analytic tools to characterize, with high spatial, temporal, and frequency resolution, functional relations within large multi-channel neural data sets. A unique feature of the BSMART package is Granger causality that can be used to assess causal influences and directions of driving among multiple neural signals.
  • Cicerone: Patient-Specific Deep Brain Stimulation Modeling Software . Written for a Windows PC environment, Cicerone allows co-registration of magnetic resonance imaging data, computed tomography images, 3D brain atlases, microelectrode recording data, and DBS electrode(s) to the neurosurgical stereotactic coordinate system. The system also enables visualization of theoretical volumes of tissue activated as a function of the DBS parameter settings. Scientific investigators interested in using Cicerone should contact Dr. Cameron McIntyre.
  • Dynamic Arm Simulator project provides musculoskeletal models for the real-time, dynamic simulation of arm movement by direct muscle activation. These models can be used to provide realistic visual feedback of simulated arm movement during 'patient-in-the-loop' testing of neural prosthesis controllers and command interfaces, and as training and assessment tools for new and potential NP users. Various models are available, from simple, two joint, planar arm movement (available now) to full 3D models of the entire shoulder girdle and upper limb (coming soon). Further details can be found at Other models are also available for offline analyses of movement, including inverse dynamics, and these will be added to the SimTK repository shortly.
  • Neuroshare offers open data specifications and software for neurophysiology.
  • Neuromax offers a software toolbox for analysis of multichannel microelectrode array data.
  • MEA-Tools offers MATLAB Tools for the analysis of multi-neuronal data recorded with multi-electrode arrays.
  • EMG-Lab is a forum for sharing software, data, and information related to EMG decomposition. The goals of this resource are to promote decomposition as a research tool and to promote exchange of EMG data, attention to accuracy, and algorithm innovation.

Neurotechnology Links