Fall 2011 Conference
September 21 - 23

Dr. Tim Denison, Director of Neuroengineering, Medtronic

Keynote: The Challenge of Engineering Tools for "Reverse Engineering" the Brain.

From origins at Medtronic to the future: new interfaces to the body through implantable system integration. This talk will present reflections on the design challenges and potential opportunities of building interfaces to the nervous system. The current state of device-based neural interfacing can be cast in a classical dynamic control framework such that the nervous system is the classical "plant", the neural stimulator is the controller, tools to collect clinical data are the sensors, and the physician's judgment is the state estimator. This model helps to frame the types of opportunities available to advance neuromodulation--the treatment of disease by modulating neural information flow.

In particular, technology can potentially address two factors limiting the performance of current systems: "observability," the ability to estimate the state of the physiological system from output measurements, and "controllability," the ability to steer the system to a desirable state using some form of physiological actuation. To address these factors, the field needs to create novel sensors, actuation methods, and algorithms that tie sensing and actuation together. However, technology alone is probably not enough to fully address unmet needs; hardware innovations also need to be combined with better understanding the fundamental neural processes underlying disease, which is currently an evolving science.

From this perspective, we will discuss the challenges and opportunities of designing translational technology for interfacing with and studying the nervous system. By designing flexible systems to explore a broad set of physiological questions, we have an opportunity to cross-leverage scientific know-how across multiple biomedical applications. Examples of synergy will be taken from work in several animal disease models that highlight how novel research instrumentation is starting to help answer key questions about the dynamics of the nervous system relevant to chronic disease.