Close-NIT Network Plus

The human brain is the most complex system in the body, characterised by connections and feedback loops between a hundred billion cells that allow us to process and store information. Connections between the brain and the body, environment and other individuals allow us to understand, move and communicate. Feedback loops alter the strength of these connections within the brain, allowing us to learn and adapt. Now, for the first time in our evolutionary history, we are beginning to augment these biological connections with new, artificial connections to repair, restore and enhance our cognitive functions. Neural interfaces are devices which interact with the nervous system in real time by using electronic signals to sense and process brain activity. These devices then return signals back to the nervous system through stimulating nerve cells (or “neurons”) to form a direct feedback system, or a  “closed loop” between the brain and technology.

Applications and Challenges of Neural Interfaces

Potential applications include “neuroprosthetic” devices to replace connections lost through injury, “neurorehabilitation” devices to stimulate changes in faulty brain circuits, and “neuromodulation” devices to control the abnormal connections within the brain which are associated with many neurological disorders. In the future, we may be able to regulate disordered mental states and treat many neurological conditions through developing new ways to communicate with computers and machines.

There are many unanswered questions that must be addressed before we can consider the medical application of neural interfaces. Some of these are technological in nature, such as how best can we simultaneously monitor and control specific connections within the brain? Some are computational, such as how will we program these devices to sense and stimulate brain activity, and what physical form will the devices take (e.g. implantable devices)? Some are scientific, such as how does brain activity respond to closed-loop neural interfaces and how will these devices lead to therapeutic benefit for patients? Most importantly, there are ethical questions, such as how can we ensure these technologies are safe, beneficial and respectful of the autonomy and individuality of users?

Summary & Sign-Up

To answer these questions and fulfil the potential applications of closed-loop interfaces, researchers across many different disciplines will need to collaborate. Our aim is to build a network to connect experts from academia, industry and medicine to address the key challenges facing closed-loop neural interfaces, accelerating scientific and technological progress while engaging with ethicists, users and the public to ensure we advance responsibly into the neuroengineered future. If you are interested in joining the network, please see the sign-up page.