SOUTH KINGSTOWN – A biomedical engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island has received a $6 million National Science Foundation grant for research to show how the nervous system functions in health and disease.
According to a news release from URI, Walt Besio will join colleagues from institutions in Kentucky and Oklahoma on the project. They will work to develop tools to image, sense and record brain function and deliver stimuli to the brain to treat neurological diseases such as epilepsy, stroke and Parkinson’s disease.
“We’re going to create a portable integrated system to get electrical and neurovascular activity from the brain. The system will allow researchers to conduct experiments that until now have not been easy to do,” Besio said in a statement.
Besio invented a patented tripolar concentric ring electrode sensor for detecting brain signals that will be the basis of the new research, according to URI.
Besio envisions creating a cap-like headpiece featuring numerous electrodes with integrated light sources and detectors that can be worn by patients to record brain signals that currently require the use of an MRI chamber.
“Instead of requiring a big room and a chamber to lay down in, patients will be able to walk around with it on their heads,” he explained. “It will be an inexpensive, non-invasive, portable system that allows researchers to monitor the electrical and neurovascular activity from the brain and at the same time inject electrical signals to alter the brain state if necessary.”
The URI scientists will develop hardware for the new system, while the Kentucky and Oklahoma teams will develop algorithms and explore applications that could benefit from the project, the release stated.
Besides detecting and treating neurological diseases, Besio said the system could be used to help paralyzed individuals control a computer, wheelchair, robots or other systems with their thoughts. It also could be used to monitor brain activity during cardiac surgery to make sure blood is flowing properly to the brain. An early version of the tripolar concentric ring electrode sensor EEG system is being tested at Rhode Island Hospital, Stanford Medical Center and the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Mexico City to improve the diagnosis of epilepsy, the release stated.
“By the time we develop this instrumentation, we will be able to do research that nobody else can do,” Besio said.
The funding comes from the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. URI’s grant was one of eight awards selected from 60 proposals.