The aim of INTER is to investigate fundamental issues related to the design and fabrication of a new generation of microsystems to be used as neural prostheses. The project aims at designing, fabricating and testing both in vitro and in vivo different neural interfaces, which incorporate microfabricated dices with via holes through which the regenerating axons can grow, and an array of electrodes to establish an electrical continuity with the external world. An integrated "intelligent" neural interface microsystem will be developed as a final demonstrator, incorporating on-chip microelectronics circuitry capable of processing the input nervous signals (either sensory or motor) and of generating output signals (either motor or sensory) so as to re-establish a consistent input-output pattern of nervous signals through neural network-based "learning" processes.
APPROACH AND METHODS
The INTER project will focus on the basic aspects of the development of highly sophisticated man/machine interfaces, capable of providing direct and bidirectional interfacing of the nervous systems with external devices, as required for sensory prostheses, for bio-neural control of limb prostheses and for functional neuromuscular stimulation (FNS). A set of complete integrated neural connectors will be fabricated, extensively tested in vitro, and then implanted in animals. The ability of the connector to transmit and rearrange the pattern of sensory and motor signals will be assessed by means of electrophysiological measurements. The main problems that will be investigated relate to: a) the design and fabrication of guidance channels; b) the design and fabrication of the perforated dice; c) the design and fabrication of on-chip microelectronics circuitry; d) the connections of the implanted electronic unit to the external processing units. Neural network-based algorithms will be implemented in order to rearrange and ensure the continuity of information flow between the distal and proximal ends of the servered nerve (and vice versa). Two demonstrators will be implemented. The first will be a tool for research in neurophysiology; the second will be an implanted neural interface with associated processing electronics.
Microsystems for neural interfaces have wide potential applications in the fields of neurophysiological research, and of instrumentation for Functional Neuromuscular Stimulation. In addition, unique know-how is expected in the field of hybrid materials, promising new areas such as implantable microsystems, artificial organs, biosensors and neural cell-based processors.
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