Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Intro to Neural Engineering - The Last Assignment

The Neural Engineering course has come to an end and I'm ready to declare it a success. The students seemed to enjoy it and I got a lot out of the course too. The key element to making the course succeed was the mix of students: we had a great mix of biologists and engineers which allowed everyone to exceed their comfort zone and learn something new. I would go so far as to say that in the future I'll need to cross-list the course with the Biology and Neuroscience programs in order to ensure sufficient enrollment from those areas.

The students had to hand in three assignments this term. The first was a report describing research projects that use neural decoding, beyond the scope of the applications we'd discussed in class. The second assignment was a computational biology assignment: students could either code up the Hodgkin-Huxley model (which also required them to generate the strength-duration curve) or they could attempt to replicate the basic neural model of Hansel 1998 which was discussed earlier in the semester.

The final assignment, which I just graded today, was to write the first two pages of an NIH proposal for the next great neural engineering experiment. The two pages had to encompass Specific Aims and Significance as outlined in the NIH PHS 398 application guidelines. I encouraged students to view the entire scope of neural engineering which we'd covered in the course, and to think about what would constitute a viable new research angle. The results were marvelous - reading these papers this afternoon was a real treat. Here are some of the topics:

  • Brain-controlled articulatory speech
  • Multi-electrode arrays that can receive "biological" input such as vision and audio
  • Enhanced visual prosthetics (I got a couple of these... One student had the neat idea to create virtual retinal electrodes by co-stimulating pairs of adjacent "real" electrodes, as if sometimes done with auditory prostheses)
  • Optogenetics: using light to facilitate brain-derived neurotrophic factor release in order to ameliorate symptoms of Parkinsons
  • Spine-Machine Interface
  • Magnetogenetics: like optogenetics but using a magnetic field to activate ion channels instead of light
  • Bionic Sphincter: controlled autonomously via nerves of the viscera.
Clearly we have lots of future Nobel Laureates at Temple. Thanks to everyone for a great semester!

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