Neuroengineering is an emerging and highly interdisciplinary field drawing on many areas of expertise. The research program in neuroengineering seeks to use mathematical, physical science, computational and engineering principles to understand the nervous system's circuit operation and to build novel devices to interface with this circuitry for research and therapy. Neuroengineering at Drexel is a cross-campus effort spearheaded by the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and Drexel University College of Medicine through two Neuroengineering tracks: one in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and one in the College of Medicine Neuroscience PhD program.
Neuroengineering collaborations date to the initial 1998 affiliation of the College of Medicine with Drexel University. In 2005, the Neuroengineering Initiative at Drexel University received a major research investment on the University City campus and received funding as part of the College of Medicine's strategic plan. The Neuroengineering Initiative graduate tracks commenced with merit-based fellowship support to seed the tracks. These early fellowships allowed both engineering- and neuroscience-based students to rotate among laboratories in order to identify an ideal advisor and promote collaborative efforts. This financial and other support was leveraged over the ensuing decade into extensive extramural funding received by participant laboratories. Partnering clinical institutions include the Drexel NSI, Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, Veterans Affairs Hospital in Philadelphia and Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Major Research Efforts
Neuroengineering research activities at the College of Medicine include neurorobotics, computational neuroscience, brain-computer interface and neural interface development, and extensive links with tissue engineering, and neuropharmaceutical groups. Particular strengths in the College of Medicine are neural interfaces and neurorobotics, and exploration of motor control and rehabilitation models of spinal cord injury, or brain trauma.
The research focus on neuroprosthetics and brain-computer interface (BCI) at Drexel University includes several approaches. These include CNS interfaces in both the brain and the spinal cord, and periphery. New probe designs for BCI and neuroprosthetics are under development. Most BCI research uses animal models. Among the projects are BCI approaches to spinal cord injury, restoration of function, augmentation of function and basic neuroscience questions.
This research focus is on robot augmentation of motor control, robotic rehabilitation training, and on BCI-driven robotics. A special emphasis is placed on the analysis of "modularity" in the motor system and understanding how this strategy can be used to simplify nervous system computation and control of movement, and thus how this might be exploited after injury for rehabilitation, neuroprosthetics and BCI designs.
This research focus employs computer simulation to study theoretical and clinical problems in neuroscience and neurology. A major effort within this group is in modeling spinal circuitry in neural control of locomotion and modeling brainstem in control of breathing. Both internally and with external groups there is a tight interaction between modeling and experimental approaches in understanding these systems, their organization and modularity.
This focus draws on the various computational and technical efforts in neurorobotics, BCI and computation, as well as physical training paradigms, to enhance motor function after injury. Spinal epidural stimulation, cortical optogenetic stimulation and robot-driven stimulation regimes are combined with viral therapies to organize a combined biological and bionic approach to the problems of neurorecovery.
After the inception of the Neuroengineering Initiative, the core participant faculty had together obtained over $13 million in federal support for their neuroengineering research projects by 2010, primarily from NIH and NSF. This extramural support continues today and also includes new faculty hires in neuroscience across the university.
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