Connecting Nerves to Electrodes: From Bionics to Neuroceuticals

September 15, 2014
Speaker: Mario Romero-Ortega, Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of Texas at Arlington


Bionic organ and limb replacement has dramatically advanced in the last decade. Current multi-fingered prosthetic hands can be connected to the peripheral nervous system of users for intuitive control and natural sensation. However, sensitivity and reliability of such peripheral nerve interfaces; whether extra-neural, interfascicular, penetrative or regenerative, are limited. Using molecular and developmental neurobiology principles, we have developed a Regenerative Multi-electrode interface (REMI) that guides re-growing axons through an electrode array deployed in the lumen of a nerve guide. We have shown that sensory-motor neural activity can be recorded chronically by REMI electrodes allowing the evaluation of firing patterns of specific axon types in freely behaving animals. This work contributes towards the refinement of closed-loop sensory-motor bionic systems.

More recently, the ability of connecting nerves to electrodes has broadened significantly, as it has been shown that effective therapeutic results can be obtained in bioelectronics medical applications. The neuroceutical approach to treat conditions such as chronic inflammation and cardiovascular diseases has been demonstrated to be effective and could offer specific advantages over drug-enabled therapeutics. We fabricated a novel Microchannel Electrode Array (μCEA) designed specifically to interface small diameter somatic/autonomic nerves (50-300 μm). We have obtained preliminary evidence that indicates the successful use of somatic fascicular interference for the control of blood pressure in hypertensive animals.

Our work contributes to a field that bears great promise in the development of small implantable devices that can be programmed to prescribe electroceutical treatments, or to enable the natural integration and use of bionic organs and limbs.

Speaker Bio

Mario Romero-Ortega is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and adjunct faculty in the Surgery department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW), the UTA Research Institute (UTARI) and Partner Researcher at the University of Wollongon, Australia. He received his doctorate in Neuroscience from Tulane University and postdoctoral training UTSW as Associate Member of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation Research Consortium on Spinal Cord Injury. He has served as Director of the Regenerative Neurobiology Research Division at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital and Assistant Professor of Neurology and Plastic Surgery at UTSW. His research centers in the understanding of the molecular basis of axon guidance and target recognition during development and after injury. Specific projects include: spinal cord injury and neuroprotection, peripheral nerve gap repair, neuroma pain prevention, and regenerative peripheral neurointerfaces for the control and feel or robotic prosthetic limbs. He serves in the Editorial Board of the Journal of Bioelectronic Medicine, Associate Editor of Frontiers in Neuroengineering and as Founder and Chief Scientific Officer for Nerve Solutions Inc, a company that commercializes the Biosynthetic Nerve Implant and the NeuroBlock devices developed in his laboratory. He is the recipient of the 2014 UTA College of Engineering Excellence in Research Award, the 2013 TechFortWorth Impact Award and “Ten Most Promising Life Science Company Award”, and the 2013 Tech Titans Award in Technology Innovation.

Hosted by Qi Wang.

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