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Located on the Zablocki VA Medical Center Campus, the Neural Engineering, Interfacing, Modulation and Optimization Laboratory employs a combination of neurophysiology, optogenetics, viral gene therapy, and optical imaging techniques to develop novel neuroproshetic and gene therapy approaches to alleviate motor deficits caused by conditions such as spinal cord injury or ALS. Current goals of the NEIMO Lab include: 1) advancing viral gene therapy techniques in the peripheral nervous system that allow optical stimulation and restoration of paralyzed muscle activity, and 2) using multi-modal brain recording and stimulation technologies to both advance neuroprosthetic system capabilities as well as build a better understanding of the underlying relationships between different scales of recorded neural signals. The research interests of this lab are fueled by a desire to fulfill a complementary circle of basic neuroscience investigation and translational neural engineering application in which discovery in one area opens up new avenues for investigation or advancement in the other and vice versa.
Peripheral Motor Optogenetics/Gene Therapy
The NEIMO Lab is working to develop techniques to enhance and prolong viral transduction of the peripheral motor system with the initial goal to robustly express light-sensitive ion channels (i.e. ‘opsins’) in motor nerves, allowing researchers to optically stimulate muscle activity as an alternative to electrical stimulation for reanimation of limbs paralyzed by conditions such as spinal cord injury. These experiments generally begin with injection of an opsin+fluorescent marker expressing virus, such as adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector or replication deficient Herpes Simplex Viruses, into a targeted muscle or nerve, followed by an incubation period to allow the virus to incubate and express its gene products, and finally periodic evaluation of opsin expression along the targeted nerve using a color-specific laser or LED light source. While optically stimulating the nerve, electromyographic (EMG) activity and muscle forces from the target muscle are recorded.
Multimodal, Optogenetic Brain-Computer Interfaces
The NEIMO Lab is interested in brain recording and stimulation modalities for advancing brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. A number of cortical signal recording modalities have been investigated as control signals for BCI systems. These include single-unit or multi-unit activity (SUA/MUA), LFPs, ECoG, and EEG, each measuring a different scale of neural activity (from local to global). Researchers have typically focused on the use of one modality independently of other possible signals for BCI use, emphasizing that signal’s strengths (e.g. EEG’s non-invasiveness, SUA/MUA’s signal fidelity and spatial resolution) over the drawbacks of others while ignoring potential synergistic applications with other modalities. However, recent research efforts in the NEIMO Lab suggest that different signal modalities may be better suited for different components of a BCI framework than others, such as decoding finely graded movement parameters (e.g. SUAs) or deciphering attentional and task states (ECoG/EEG). In addition, the fundamental relationships between these signal modalities are not well understood. Investigators are the NEIMO Lab are looking to utilize multi-scale BCI paradigms as well as optogenetics to interrogate the fundamental relationships between these signal modalities.
The NEIMO laboratory houses a variety of neurophysiology, muscle physiology, optical and electrical stimulation, virus handling/injection, imaging, histology, and fabrication equipment to support the neural prosthetic and viral gene therapy research endeavors of the lab. In addition, the laboratory is housed within the MCW Neuroscience and Spinal Cord Injury Laboratories at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. This arrangement provides a wealth of opportunities for collaboration in the area of spinal cord injury, as well as access to shared state-of-the-art equipment.
Relevant Shared Resources
Faculty, Lab Director