Historically, brain machine interfaces (BMIs) have traded high spatial resolution for limited cortical coverage. We are developing implantable devices that bridge the gap between resolution and scope. BrainCell is a platform technology being designed to allow high channel count, distributed access to the nervous system. With both read and write capabilities, it will be well suited for low latency closed-loop neural interfaces as well as more traditional neuroscientific exploration. Flexible electronics will allow users to customize operation of the device to suit experimental needs and even mix-and-match different neural probes. The device is being designed with the goal of future clinical translation, and we envision Braincell as the system that will enable clinicians and researchers to place nodes anywhere on the cortex, agnostic to location and therefore to the specific needs of the treatment or experiment being performed.
Tactile sensory feedback is essential for effective motor control during object manipulation. Recently, there has been a significant effort to develop high degree of freedom motor prostheses capable of neural control. However, these interfaces often rely on the user’s visual feedback to update control parameters. We are interested in studying how the brain encodes sensory information as it relates to its use in motor control. By simultaneously recording from motor and sensory areas of the brain while a nonhuman primate performs a sensory-based object manipulation task, we aim to deepen our understanding of sensorimotor integration in the brain. Ultimately, we aim to “write” sensory information into the nervous system to providing meaningful tactile feedback to users of neural prosthetic devices.
Chronic immune responses to neural devices in the brain are complex and multifaceted, influenced by the materials, mechanical properties, and size of the device. However, a common factor in chronic immune responses is the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) as part of the inflammatory signaling cascade as well as a key component of the frustrated phagocytosis response. While production of ROS is vital to normal tissue function, the overproduction of ROS associated with chronic inflammation can drive the tissue into oxidative stress and result in neurodegeneration and damage to the implanted materials. With the NeuroFilm project, we aim to treat the tissue reaction by neutralizing ROS with a local delivery of antioxidants from a thin film on the insulative surface of the electrode, providing local neuroprotection on the time scale of the chronic immune reaction, not just the acute inflammatory response.
Neural recordings from chronic implants can be unreliable over time due to instability of device-tissue interactions. Because chronic inflammatory reactions and subsequent neurodegeneration and recorded signal loss occur many months after implantation, the iterative process of testing novel treatments for the tissue response is slow and costly. The In Vitro Brain-Machine Interface (IV-BMI) project aims to develop a physiologically relevant in vitro platform for accelerated screening of potential treatments. Primary cortical, three-dimensional, self-assembled microtissues contain all of the key cell types involved in the chronic foreign body response, and display more physiologically relevant morphology and cell migration behavior compared to traditional two-dimensional cell culture models.
The NeuralBorealis project aims to transition the IV-BMI cell culture model into a live cell imaging compatible platform through induced expression of fluorescent markers in the key cell types involved in the chronic inflammatory response. Live cell imaging of these three dimensional microtissues will allow for longitudinal examination of the device tissue interface in real time.
The field of brain-machine interfaces (BMI) for restoring forelimb motor function has made considerable progress over the last few decades. However, the development of hind-limb counterparts have remained relatively nascent. Although there have been recent advancements in restoring basic locomotion in both animal models and in the clinic, the number of developments for neuroprosthetics allowing direct control over voluntary hind-limb movements is still sparse. In this project, we are developing a closed-loop BMI system allowing for direct end-point control of the foot. Using implanted multi-electrode arrays and machine learning techniques, neural signals recorded from motor cortex will be decoded and translated into movement of a robotic actuator in real time. The viability and functionality of our system will be validated in a pedal positioning task. Additionally, in order to integrate both voluntary hind-limb movements with autonomous locomotion into one general-purpose BMI, it is necessary to understand how the motor cortex encodes hind-limb movement during these two behaviors. We employ an obstacle avoidance paradigm to probe the neural correlates and network dynamics of leg-M1 during both voluntary (e.g. originating from cortical areas) and autonomous (e.g. originating from spinal circuits) action. The ultimate goal would be to develop general-purpose, high-functioning neuroprosthetics for the hind-limb allowing for a wide variety of motor actions and enabling patients to regain full lower limb function.
Spinal cord stimulation delivers proprioceptive information to the animal. The effects of that stimulation are observed in the somatosensory cortex. In an intact organism, locomotion and posture are controlled effortlessly and accurately with feedback from proprioceptive somatosensory pathways. The technology we are developing seeks to provide the users of an instrumented prosthetic leg with rich and naturalistic feedback about their prosthesis so that they might move with equal finesse. By mimicking the pattern of neural activation that would be observed from an intact limb and delivering it to the nervous system through epidural spinal cord stimulation, we believe we can make the users perceive the movements of their prosthetic as they would their own limbs. Toward that goal, we are performing an experiment where an intact non-human primate discriminates the magnitude of a passive leg movement.
This project focuses on the neural dynamics governing pain processing. Our goal is to develop a mechanistic framework of pain relay in order to optimize chronic pain therapies, such as spinal cord stimulation (SCS). While SCS has been used to treat chronic pain patients, it is unclear how stimulation modulates neural circuits that are responsible for pain perception. Therefore, we are developing biophysically realistic neural models of spinal and cortical circuits implicated in pain processing to examine the effects of electrical stimulation on neural activity. In parallel efforts, we are recording acute and chronic electrophysiology in mice to study spinal and cortical circuits in vivo in response to sensory stimuli.
Our understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying the processing of tactile and nociceptive signals in the spinal cord is still in its infancy. In the recent years, several studies have emerged advancing our understanding of these mechanisms by revealing the implicated cellular species. However, despite the value of this new evidence, the up-to-date in vivo studies primarily relied on pharmacogenetic approaches, offering only static information on these intricately dynamic processes. We approach this question of spinal cord information processing in health and disease by employing one- and two-photon imaging in behaving transgenic animals. This allows us to eavesdrop on neurovascular dynamics during various tactile and painful stimuli. Better understanding of these dynamics is of particular interest for clinical pain management. One particular therapeutic intervention of high relevance is electrical spinal cord stimulation. This therapy can offer significant pain relief and is administered in thousands of new patients every year, but comes with significant inter-patient variability and decline of efficacy over time. The origins of these shortcomings remain unknown. To shed some light on the possible mechanisms behind spinal cord stimulation therapy, we employ electrical stimulation using custom-designed spinal probes in conjunction with spinal microscopic imaging. This multi-modal approach enables our unique ability of asking both the basic and clinical neuroscience questions about spinal processing of tactile and painful stimuli under normal and electrically stimulated conditions.
Finding and characterizing relevant biomarkers of pain perception in the cortex presents a useful yet difficult task for those who wish to treat pain disorders. While many brain regions and imaging modalities appear to correspond with various aspects of nociceptive processing (neural processing resulting from activation of pain fibers), this project strives to uncover circuit mechanisms underlying noxious, early-latency evoked responses of the somatosensory cortex. To accomplish this, we use a biophysically-principled neural model that simulates the primary electrical currents underlying EEG (Human Neocortical Neurosolver, HNN) evoked response potentials of painful versus non-painful sensory stimuli.
Corticostriatal circuitry is widely thought to be involved in cognitive functions, such as evidence accumulation, reward evaluation and processing, and ultimately decision-making and action selection. Maladaptations in this circuitry are implicated in the development of neuropsychiatric illnesses. In addition to these maladaptations not being well understood, the mechanisms of therapeutic intervention for these illnesses, such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) are also elusive. Our goal is to decouple key cognitive processes underlying decision-making to inform closed-loop neuromodulation of frontal-striatal circuits, as well as to investigate the effects of targeted DBS on these circuits for the treatment for neuropsychiatric conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric illness marked by obsessions (recurrent unwanted or distressing thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive, ritualistic behaviors). OCD affects ~2% of the US population, and 10-20% of cases are treatment resistant. Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in the ventral capsule/ventral striatum (VC/VS) has been found to improve symptoms in approximately 50-70% of patients. While early trials of DBS have been promising, clinical trials have failed to date. These failures may be attributed to the “open-loop” nature of DBS, where stimulation parameters are chosen during infrequent visits to the clinician’s office. Further, the continuous stimulation fails to address the dynamic nature of OCD; symptoms often fluctuate over minutes to days. Titrating DBS to respond to symptoms as they arise (i.e. “Adaptive DBS”) may be a more effective approach for treating symptoms of OCD and reducing undesirable side effects of stimulation. We hope to design a closed-loop, adaptive system in which (1) electrodes would continuously record electrical activity from the brain, (2) recorded data would be used to classify maladaptive mental states as they arise, (3) and stimulation parameters would be adjusted accordingly to relieve symptoms.
We invite applications for a Postdoctoral Research Associate to help advance our understanding of information processing in the spinal cord. We are building an Intelligent Spine Interface (ISI) capable of reading and writing simultaneously to, and from, the spinal cord. The project will leverage constantly evolving neurotechnology built within the team, and the applicant should have comfortability using standard electrophysiological tools. The position is located at Brown University main campus in Providence, RI. Competitive salary and the position is available for 1 year with the possibility of extension. The applicant has to be eligible to work in the U.S.
Interested candidates should email CV and recent publications to Prof. Borton directly - email
We do not have any open doctoral student positions at this time.
We do not have any open master student positions at this time.
We do not have any open positions at this time, but we highly encourage interested undergraduate students to contact us.