By: Adrienne Burke | posted September 30, 2010
The New York Academy of Sciences and the Aspen Brain Forum Foundation have awarded two prizes—one to a senior scientist and one to a junior investigator—for innovation and excellence in the field of neurotechnology. The winners and four finalists of the first Aspen Brain Forum Prize in Neurotechnology were announced during the First Annual Aspen Brain Forum in Colorado last week.
Eberhard Fetz, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington, and Jose Carmena, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, the Program in Cognitive Science, and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, were named winners of the prize for their work that has broad application and impact in translating basic research into effective therapeutics within the area of neural prosthetics. Each received $7,500 in unrestricted funds.
In keeping with the theme of this year’s forum, “Building Better Brains: Neural Prosthetics and Beyond,” the prizes were made for work in the field of neural prosthetics. The three-day meeting that took place at the Given Institute in Aspen from September 23-25 convened experts in neurobiology and bioengineering who share the goal of developing neural prosthetic devices intended to treat patients suffering from motor, sensory, and cognitive deficits.
The senior scientist prize winner, Eberhard Fetz, is widely considered a pioneer in the field of neural interfaces and a leading scientist in the field of neuroprosthetics and brain-computer interface research. His original studies in primates showed that neural activity could be used to drive an external device, and demonstrated the ability of the brain to volitionally control the activity of individual and multiple cortical neurons in variable patterns. More recently, Dr. Fetz has advanced the field by developing a novel autonomous recurrent brain-computer interface that interacts continuously with the brain of monkeys during free behavior. The battery-powered “neurochip” processes neural activity in real time with a programmable computer chip that can deliver activity-dependent stimulation to the brain, spinal cord, or muscles. The technology creates artificial connections that the brain can learn to incorporate into normal behavior, and spike-triggered stimulation produced by the neurochip can create long-lasting changes in neural connections. These paradigms enable important new prosthetic applications that could be used to bridge lost connections and to strengthen weak synaptic connections.
Junior prize winner Jose Carmena’s research interests span across systems neuroscience and neural engineering. He studies the neural basis of sensorimotor learning and control; neural ensemble computation as well as brain-machine interfaces, neuroprosthetics, and biomimetic robotics. His research program in neural engineering is aimed at understanding the neural basis of sensorimotor learning and control, and at building the science and engineering base that will allow the creation of reliable neuroprosthetic systems for the severely disabled. Dr. Carmena was recruited to his current post in 2005 specifically for his research skills and accomplishments in neural engineering. His postdoctoral training and his interdisciplinary academic background in electrical engineering, robotics, and neuroscience equipped him with the skills to establish a high-profile brain-machine interface research program there.
The four finalists for the Aspen Brain Forum Prize in Neurotechnology were: Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, Regents Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota; Niels Birbaumer, Director of the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology and Director of the MEG-Imaging Center at the University of Tuebingen Medical School, Germany and Visiting Professor at Ospedale San Camillo, Venezia, Italy; Eric C. Leuthardt, a neurosurgeon who is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Washington University at St. Louis; and Ed Boyden, the Benesse Career Development Professor at the MIT Media Lab, assistant professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and leader of the Synthetic Neurobiology Group.
The Aspen Brain Forum Foundation is a high-level think tank located in the retreat setting of Aspen, CO., with the mission of funding, producing, and hosting an annual meeting on cutting-edge topics in neuroscience to advance global collaboration and scientific breakthroughs. For more information about the Aspen Brain Forum Foundation, please visit www.aspenbrainforum.com.
The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide since 1817. With 24,000 members in 140 countries, NYAS is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. NYAS' core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large.