The Neural Engineering, Interfacing, Modulation and Optimization Laboratory

Research Themes | Publications | Facilities | PeopleFunding

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 neuroprosthetic 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.


Research Themes


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

Simulated Neural ActivityThe 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.


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Key Equipment

  • TDT 32 and Ripple 128 channel electrophysiology systems for recording brain, spinal cord, nerve and muscle electrophysiological signals, as well as coordinating electrical and optical stimulation
  • World Precision Instruments UMP3 and Nanoliter injection systems for nano- to microliter scale virus or chemical injections
  • 472 nm and 635 nm 200 mW fiber collimated lasers for providing optical stimulation to nerves, spinal cord, and brain
  • Aurora Scientific 300D dual-mode lever system for measuring muscle force responses to optical and electrical stimulation
  • Leica M80 stereomicroscope for surgical procedures
  • Thorlabs near-infrared speckled laser and near-infrared camera for imaging tissue perfusion
  • Stereotaxic frame with spinal adapter for brain and spinal cord procedures/recording experiments
  • Fluorescent microscope on an optical table imaging station with active vibration isolation for experiments combining brain recordings, optogenetic stimulation, and calcium imaging of brain activity
  • Formlabs Form3 SLA 3D printer and finishing station for prototyping devices

Relevant Shared Resources

  • Infinite Horizons and NYU spinal cord impactor systems for producing mouse and rat spinal cord injury models
  • Leica SP8 confocal laser scanning and Nikon TE2000 epifluorescence microscopes for imaging fluorescence in labeled brain, spinal cord, and nerve tissues
  • DigiGait rodent treadmill and other behavioral apparatuses for analyses of behavioral deficits/improvements after spinal cord injury or therapies
  • Cell/Tissue culture and analysis equipment for biological analyses of gene/protein expression following spinal cord injury
  • (MCW Campus) Bruker Biospec 9.4T small animal MRI for high resolution, non-invasive, in vivo imaging of structural and perfusion sequelae of spinal cord injury



Headshot of Dr. Jordan WilliamsDr. Jordan Williams

Assistant Professor, Marquette-MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering; Department of Neurosurgery; Director and Principal Investigator of the NEIMO Lab.

Learn more about Dr. Williams | Contact Dr. Williams


Headshot of Emma MoravecEmma Moravec

Ph.D. Candidate, Marquette-MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering; Graduate Research Assistant, NEIMO Laboratory

Learn more about Emma | Contact Emma


Arsenii Pavlenko in the outdoorsArsenii Pavlenko

Undergraduate Student, Marquette-MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering; Undergraduate Research Assistant, NEIMO Laboratory

Learn more about Arsenii | Contact Arsenii


Headshot of Brandon KloehnBrandon Kloehn

Undergraduate Student, MU-MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering; Undergraduate Research Assistant, NEIMO Laboratory

Learn more about Brandon | Contact Brandon


The Neural Engineering, Interfacing, Modulation & Optimization Laboratory is supported on an ongoing basis by Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin and on a per-project basis by such institutions as the National Institutes of Health and the Morton Cure Paralysis Fund. 


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