West Virginia University will serve as the core clinical testing site within a consortium of top universities and industries to develop technologies designed to improve the care and rehabilitation of people with neurological disorders.
As part of the project, funded by the National Science Foundation, the University plans to offer a novel physician-engineer program that will include training in clinical and technical leadership in preparation for the emerging field of neural engineering.
“This initiative is exactly what a land-grant university is about — promoting better technology and innovation with industry partnerships that result in better health care for West Virginians and the country at large,” said Dr. Peter Konrad, J.W. Ruby Professor and chair of Neurosurgery at the WVU School of Medicine. “It is also an opportunity to grow new industry jobs and technology-based companies for West Virginia.”
Known as IUCRC BRAIN — short for the Industry-University Cooperative Research Center for Building Reliable Advances and Innovation in Neurotechnology — the project is beginning the multi-site Phase 2 with WVU and Georgia Institute of Technology as its newest partners this year.
The neural device and rehabilitation focused consortium, based at the University of Houston, promotes global collaborations to make medical devices that advance rehabilitation and brain and spinal cord health. It also offers industries a cost-effective rate to invest in projects with universities.
The addition of WVU will help the BRAIN Center maintain its focus on human research and innovation while transforming the lives of people with neurological disorders, brain injury, mental illness, limb loss or paralysis. Making a broader impact, it will train new generations of physicians and engineers in emerging technologies to fill the steadily increasing need.
With nearly $200,000 in NSF funding, the WVU multidisciplinary team of neurosurgeons, engineers, physiologists and clinical data managers will partner with six start-up companies, bringing clinical trials expertise to the study group. Their work will include translating discoveries in neurotechnology for implanted brain-computer interfaces, treating human disability and the use of AI-connected virtual reality applications for improved medical treatments.
“This allows industries to gain access to university experts to test, for instance, a new product that will get them FDA approval, like the Precision Neuroscience project that kickstarted our version of this grant,” Konrad said. “The IUCRC program can also support animal models for a new device idea or promote data collection related to some fundamental problem an industry may want the answer to that helps their product or medical technology to advance.”
Precision Neuroscience is a company testing implants on human patients, with the ultimate goal of helping people with paralysis operate digital devices with their brain signals.
The Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute will serve as the site for clinical trials and testing of high-impact neurological treatments. The Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources will support the engineering technology and applications development of new biotechnology applications.
WVU will also provide support to maintain a project repository, comprised of products and services for 10 years after the completion of this project, at the University of Houston Center.
All universities participating in the BRAIN IUCRC will enhance underrepresentation in STEM by initiating programs for students in grades K-12 that will expose them to innovative technologies and provide internships that target specific student organizations. The sites will also collaborate with a focus on neurological problems and disabilities that disproportionately affect underrepresented groups.
Since Phase 1 was initially funded by the NSF in 2017,
international partners, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have
joined to accelerate technology translation as the BRAIN Center has emerged as
an international hub for developing neurotechnologies.
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WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute
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