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With the advent of 3-D printing, affordable, customizable prosthetics are becoming more widely available for amputees, people with disabilities, and even our pets. But these wonderful advances aren’t the fully functioning prosthetics engineers are envisioning.
USC Viterbi's Maryam Shanechi wants neuroprosthetics for those who need them – prostheses controlled by the brain itself to restore full movement in disabled patients. To accomplish this, Shanechi and her team in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering will develop brain-machine interfaces (BMI) by building models of brain’s control mechanisms, inferring a patient’s intended movement, and controlling external devices, such as a prosthetic hand.
Her work on brain-machine interfaces earned her recognition in the 2014 “MIT Technology Review” TR35: the top 35 innovators under the age of 35. She was also recognized as a pioneer by Google’s “Solve for X,” and her research has been selected as a “Technology Moonshot.” And this month, Shanechi has been awarded a highly-coveted NSF CAREER Award, part of the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program.
"The NSF CAREER award will enable my lab to build state-of-the-art brain-machine interfaces that have the potential to restore movement in disabled patients with neurological injury or disease,” said Shanechi. “These brain-machine interface experiments will also deepen our understanding of how the brain controls movement."
Shanechi’s work is paving the way for the brain to directly control an external device, such as a robotic arm or computer interface, simply by thinking about it. The brain-machine interfaces she will build will record different types of brain activity to achieve this goal. They will enable patients to accurately control different prosthetics that serve various functionalities. The research involved in this grand undertaking is at the interface of control theory, statistical signal processing and neuroscience.
To have the greatest impact, Shanechi plans to work with disabled veterans to guide her team’s research and inform them of this state-of-the-art research that can soon affect their lives.