Jen Sloan, Executive Director


Welcome to our inaugural newsletter! This has been an exciting year for the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses and we have experienced steady and promising growth in the areas of faculty membership, research, and industry support.

We are pleased to welcome our newest faculty member Dr. Richard O’Donnell, Professor of Clinical Orthopedic Surgery at UCSF. With Dr. Rickard Brånemark, Dr. O’Donnell is co-director of the international Center for Osseointegration Research, Education, and Surgery (iCORES). We look forward to the collaborative opportunities that will arise from this synergistic relationship.

With my co-directors Jose Carmena and Edward Chang, I would like to extend warm gratitude to our latest industry sponsor, Tencent. As a leading provider of internet services, Tencent strives to improve the quality of people's lives through internet services and enthusiastically supports cutting edge innovation. Funding from generous donors allows CNEP to pursue its mission of technology development, training, and translation of scientific research for clinical needs. We are deeply appreciative of their support.

We are grateful for your readership and we welcome opportunities to engage with the greater scientific community and the public at large. Thank you and please reach out if you have any questions or fun ideas.

-Jen Sloan,  Director
Wireless Radio Neural Interfaces
In recent years, a lot of very exciting progress has been made towards building lower power and smaller neural interfaces in terms of the circuitry required.  These devices must detect electrical potentials with low noise and high input impedance, while overcoming large non-idealities such as DC offsets inherent in the biological signal.  This must be achieved in a very small footprint, thus the circuits have to be compact and there is little room for battery.  This limited battery size dictates the power that the device can consume.  Most current devices alleviate the battery issue by using wires coming out of the skull, which are problematic for long-term devices due to infection and the requirement of long term confined experiments.

The goal of my work is to help solve this wiring problem by improving the wireless link that most devices avoid due to limits of power consumption and form factor.  Current devices for long-term neural recording suffer from a datarate problem when scaling to much larger numbers of channels due to limited radio capabilities. Therefore any systems that are wireless limit the number of channels or have poor battery life.  To solve both of these requirements simultaneously, I am working on developing a state of the art wireless radio.  This radio combined with previous work from our group will enable multi-day recording from hundreds of channels simultaneously.

These results can be achieved by utilizing a fully-custom protocol leveraging previous work on low energy-per-bit radios.  With this approach, the design should be able to achieve 10-100 times lower power consumption than current commercial radios.  This can be done while sending the raw waveforms for hundreds of channels simultaneously, enabling systems with a greater channel count than currently achievable.

DBS Lead from Philip Starr's Lab
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative movement disorder that targets certain cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. The disease develops gradually with slowness of movement as the most prominent sign.  Deep brain stimulation (DBS) was introduced in France in 1993 to treat Parkinson’s disease by applying electrical stimulation to an area of the brain called the basal ganglia and has immensely helped patients regain movement to live normally. UCSF neurosurgeons have been implanting DBS devices for PD since 1998. However, why DBS works is still a mystery.

The laboratory of Dr. Philip Starr, a CNEP faculty member and neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, is one step closer in figuring out the complex mechanisms of DBS. Work led by Coralie De Hemptinne, a postdoctoral scholar in the lab, has revealed that DBS helps relieve the excessive synchronization of certain parts within the brain’s motor cortex that causes problems with mobility. DBS interrupts the problematic interaction of low-frequency beta waves and high-frequency gamma activity, creating a rapid improvement of symptoms. While there remains much uncertainty underlying this disease, our colleagues’ finding has helped scientists better understand how this important therapy exerts its effect and how they might develop their methods to further improve patients’ lives.

This study was published in an April volume of the journal Nature Neuroscience and has been widely featured in the media including The New York Times, the MIT Technology Review, blogs, podcasts, and elsewhere.


This summer I’ve had an opportunity to take a break from graduate school at UC Berkeley and see the industrial side of neuromodulation technology development through an internship at Medtronic in Minneapolis, MN. Veteran senior engineer Scott Stanslaski kindly offers nuggets of wisdom for aspiring neural engineers:

Preeya: What was your path before arriving at Medtronic?
Scott: I started out in biomedical engineering at Marquette University [and later] transferred to the University of Minnesota and completed my bachelors and masters degrees in electrical engineering.

P: What kind of work do you do with Medtronic?  
S: I am a hardware designer with a strong emphasis in sensing (recording) and signal processing. I have worked in sensing and signal processing in the cardiac field for 13 years and in neuromodulation (where I am now) for 7 years.

P: What are your biggest challenges daily?
S: My biggest daily challenge is coming to work and knowing each day I will face a challenging technical problem that I may not be able to solve.   Facing tough, frustrating problems each day and having the patience to work through them has been a big part of my development. Learning to feel satisfaction when you solve 1 or 2 big issues a week or month is really important.

P: What do you see as the biggest challenges for the field of neuromodulation?   
S: I think understanding the key functions of different brain circuitry is a huge challenge -- we know so little today. However with implantable products now outfitted to sense as well as stimulate in many patients, at Medtronic we now have the first opportunity to begin to make progress in this area.

P: Any advice for future (neural) engineers?   
S: I think the key is to really understand and accept that engineering is about a lifelong career in problem solving.  Staying motivated to keep learning new things and having patience to work through tough problems over a long period of time is really important.

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