National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies (NCAN) scientists and engineers are building a unique technological infrastructure that supports real-time interactions with the central nervous system (CNS). They are using it to produce important new scientific insights and novel clinical methods, and they are beginning to disseminate these achievements to others. For example, they have shown in people with spinal cord injuries that a protocol that repeatedly elicits a hyperactive reflex and consistently rewards the smaller responses can induce concurrent CNS adaptation (i.e., plasticity) that gradually weakens the hyperactive reflex pathway and thereby helps to restore a skill such as locomotion. And, in people who have lost all muscle control, a protocol that presents a cursor movement task and appropriately translates a specific feature of electroencephalographic (EEG) activity into cursor movements can guide concurrent CNS adaptation that enables the individuals to control the EEG feature and use it to communicate. New understanding of CNS plasticity generates these protocols and new technology implements them.
Working closely with a set of outstanding collaborators, The National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies is continuing and expanding these efforts, strengthening their focus on clinical translation, and accelerating the dissemination of the new technologies. The Center has five aims:
Aim 1 is to develop, validate, and translate into clinical use real-time interactive protocols that target beneficial plasticity to specific spinal and supraspinal pathways so as to restore more normal sensorimotor functions. This research includes studies in both animals and humans. The animal studies are designed to provide pre-clinical data for the human studies. The human studies delineate and optimize important clinical applications and promote their clinical translation.
Aim 2 is to broaden and enhance the ability of our core BCI2000 software platform to serve scientists, engineers, and clinicians engaged in adaptive neurotechnology research and development. We are integrating technical capabilities that will support many different adaptive neurotechnologies and accommodate a broad range of laboratory and clinical conditions. We will validate and optimize these capabilities in important applications within NCAN and through our collaborative projects.
Aim 3 is to use electrical stimulation via electrocorticographic (ECoG) electrodes and/or intracerebral stereoencephalographic (SEEG) electrodes to map brain connectivity, to define causal relationships between areas, and, ultimately, to target plasticity that restores cortical function impaired by stroke or other disorders. We are developing new algorithms for systematic ECoG/SEEG stimulation and response analysis that maps inter-area connectivity. This technology will constitute a new imaging modality that reveals point-to-point structural connectivity in the brain, relates it to concurrent behavior, and identifies therapeutic targets for neuromodulation.
Aim 4 is to expand our novel interdisciplinary training curriculum that provides a theoretical foundation in adaptive neurotechnologies and practical experience in applying them to important scientific and clinical applications. This curriculum forms the basis of our training courses and workshops.
Aim 5 is to support and expand our current dissemination channels for adaptive neurotechnologies, including: the NCAN website; review articles in scientific, engineering, and clinical journals; and presentations and workshops at scientific and clinical meetings.
In summary, the mission of the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies is to produce and validate important new neurotechnologies, and to provide training and dissemination that enable scientists, engineers, and clinicians to join in developing and using them. It seeks to increase understanding of CNS function and dysfunction, and to realize effective new therapies for a wide range of devastating neurological disorders.