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Toward Replacement Parts for the Brain: Implantable Biomimetic Electronics as Neural Prostheses

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This book has its origins in a meeting entitled ‘‘Toward Replacement Parts for the Brain: Intracranial Implantation of Hardware Models of Neural Circuitry,’’ that took place in Washington, D.C., in August 1999. The meeting was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the University of Southern California (USC) Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering, and the USC Center for Neural Engineering. The motivation for the meeting was a growing realization among neuroscientists, engineers, and medical researchers that our society was on the threshold of a new era in the field of neural prosthetics; namely, that in the near future it would be possible to mathematically model the functional properties of different
regions or subregions of the brain, design and fabricate microchips incorporating those models, and create neuron/silicon interfaces to integrate microchips and brain functions. In this manner, our rapidly increasing understanding of the computational and cognitive properties of the brain could work synergistically with the continuing scientific and technological revolutions in biomedical, computer, and electrical engineering to realize a new generation of implantable devices that could bidirectionally communicate with the brain to restore sensory, motor, or cognitive functions lost through damage or disease.

The continuing development of implantable neural prostheses signals a new era in bioengineering and neuroscience research. This collection of essays outlines current advances in research on the intracranial implantation of devices that can communicate with the brain in order to restore sensory, motor, or cognitive functions. The contributors explore the creation of biologically realistic mathematical models of brain function, the production of microchips that incorporate those models, and the integration of microchip and brain function through neuron-silicon interfaces. Recent developments in understanding the computational and cognitive properties of the brain and rapid advances in biomedical and computer engineering both contribute to this cutting-edge research.

The book first examines the development of sensory system prostheses -- cochlear, retinal, and visual implants -- as the best foundation for considering the extension of neural prostheses to the central brain region. The book then turns to the complexity of neural representations, offering, among other approaches to the topic, one of the few existing theoretical frameworks for modeling the hierarchical organization of neural systems. Next, it examines the challenges of designing and controlling the interface between neurons and silicon, considering the necessity for bidirectional communication and for multiyear duration of the implant. Finally, the book looks at hardware implementations and explores possible ways to achieve the complexity of neural function in hardware, including the use of VLSI and photonic technologies.

About the Author
Theodore W. Berger is Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering at the University of Southern California. Dennis L. Glanzman is Program Chief for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
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