Distinguished lecturer of IEEE EMBS by Michela Chiappalone
University of Genoa, Italy
Neurons in the loop: a journey from Neurorobotics to Neuroprosthetics
Abstract. Starting from the 20s, researchers have begun to explore the possibility to create ‘hybrid’ systems in vitro at the interface between neuroscience and robotics, thus providing an excellent test bed for designing innovative, bi-directional neural interfaces and neuroprostheses. The first-ever in vitro closed-loop system consisted of a lamprey brainstem bi-directionally connected to a small wheeled robot. Inspired by that pioneering study, we developed a bi-directional system involving neocortical networks grown in vitro onto Micro Electrode Arrays and a small robot. A closed-loop paradigm was also exploited to develop a novel concept of a ‘neuromorphic prosthesis’, constituted by an all-hardware real-time system hosting a Spiking Neural Network able to replace the function of a missing neuronal connection or sub-network. By capitalizing on the previous result in vitro, novel closed-loop paradigms aimed at promoting Hebbian plasticity to repair brain functionality in vivo have been investigated and tested. The proposed treatment will be foundational for the development of novel neuromodulation-based therapeutics to promote recovery in the damaged brain.