PARC Chosen to Develop Focused Magnetic Stimulation Micro-Coils to Help Restore Vision
Palo Alto, CA — PARC, a Xerox company, is teaming with Massachusetts General Hospital (prime recipient), Harvard Medical School, and the University of Florida to develop a visual prosthetic platform for restoring high levels of visual acuity. The team of experts has secured a multi-year, multi-million dollar award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the BRAIN Initiative — to lay the groundwork for a next-generation visual prosthetic using magnetic stimulation.
Started in April 2013, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is a bold research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.
“Today’s brain stimulation biotechnologies are typically electrical, which can cause tissue damage, inflammation, and scarring, as electric currents flow directly to the brain,” said Bernard Casse, Area Manager, and lead on the BRAIN Initiative technology development at PARC.
Micro-coils offer significant advantages over today’s state-of-the-art electric stimulation (e.g., Utah multi-electrode array): (1) the electric fields from magnetic stimulation are highly asymmetric, unlike the fields arising from electrodes. Spatial asymmetry is very important because it can be exploited to selectively activate desired neurons, while leaving others inactive. (2) The stimulating efficacy of the micro-coils remains constant over time. This is due to the fact that magnetic fields pass readily through biological substances, and therefore coils remain functional even if they become deeply encapsulated due to biological responses to foreign bodies. (3) There is no direct electrical contact between the metal coil and neural tissue, and thus, direct electric currents do not flow into the brain. This makes micro-coils safer, and less prone to many of the problems that occur at the interface between an electrode and the brain.
“Previous explorations have speculated that coils small enough to be implanted in the brain would not generate sufficiently strong fields to modulate neuronal activity,” said Dr. Shelley Fried, project lead of the BRAIN Initiative project at MGH. “However, we have confirmed the feasibility of magnetic stimulation in mice models by activating whisker cortex movements, with an early version of micro-coils developed by PARC.”
PARC’s BRAIN Initiavie research efforts will design and fabricate a new generation of micro-coils and arrays of coils (the size of a single strand of hair) to be implanted into the primary visual cortex (V1) of non-human primates (NHPs) by researchers at Harvard Medical School. It is expected that the coils will lead to improved spatial localization, which leads to improved daily activities through recognizing objects, detecting motion, as well as the ability to navigate complex spaces and avoid obstacles. The benchmarking of this magnetic stimulation micro-coil technology to electrical stimulations will be carried out by researchers at the University of Florida. This new technology, coupled with behavioral testing, will lay the groundwork for a next-generation cortical-based prosthetic.
“The potential for this technology is vast ¾ from helping the blind to see, to reducing or eliminating seizures, to lessening the effects of Parkinson’s disease, to helping people overcome PTSD,” said Xerox CEO Tolga Kurtoglu. “PARC is honored to be a part of this significant neural engineering work.”
Beyond traditional magnetic stimulation, PARC has developed focused magnetic stimulation (FMS) ¾ an electromagnetic field manipulation scheme that provides previously unachievable scale, precision, and in vivo adaptability (i.e., beam steering, beam focusing, and complex stimulation patterns). PARC is involved in a number of impactful research projects in the area of metamaterials, including its work in the 5G industry, self-driving cars, building cooling, and more. For more information, please visit PARC’s metamaterial devices and applications site.
PARC, a Xerox company, is in the Business of Breakthroughs®. Practicing open innovation, we provide custom R&D services, technology, expertise, best practices, and intellectual property to Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies, startups, and government agencies and partners. We create new business options, accelerate time to market, augment internal capabilities, and reduce risk for our clients. Since its inception, PARC has pioneered many technology platforms, from the Ethernet and laser printing to the GUI and ubiquitous computing, and has enabled the creation of many industries. Incorporated as an independent, wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox in 2002, PARC today continues the research that enables breakthroughs for our clients’ businesses. To learn more about PARC, visit www.parc.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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