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Optogenetic Read/Write Neuroprosthesis for Sensory Substitution
Increasingly, high density electrode arrays implanted into the brain are being used to help patients with motor impairments. Signals from the electrodes can for example be used to control prostheses. Unfortunately, no such success has been reached for patients with sensory losses. While retina and cochlea implants are successful in patients with some remaining function of the effected organ, as soon as the damage is larger or localized in the brain itself, they fail. Currently there is no possibility to "write” information directly to the first stage of perception, the primary sensory cortex. One major reason for this problem is the unspecific nature of the commonly used electrical brain stimulation. In our project we want to overcome this challenge by using light and gene therapy instead of current to stimulate the brain. Recently, the advent of optogenetics-a technique that sensitizes brain cells to light-has created a completely new opportunity for highly specific and complex brain stimulation. By creating a high density matrix of 32 microscopic light emitters in combination with electrodes for recording, we will create a novel, light based neuroprosthesis. The high number and density of such emitters is made possible by our novel thin-film LEDs. We will then test the device in animals and investigate how to "recreate” discernible sensory percepts by optogenetic patterned light stimulation. The results of these experiments are the basis to translate the technique to human patients in the future.
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