Electronic devices to probe the brain’s reaction to fear, compensate for damaged nerves and possibly halt the degenerative effects of Parkinson’s disease — part of a new interdisciplinary field known as Neuroelectronics — will be among the innovations presented at the UCLA Electrical Engineering Department’s Annual Research Review.
A forum in which graduate students present their latest research and answer questions from industrial and government sponsors, the event will be held Oct. 15–16 at Covel Commons, Sunset Village.
Neuroelectronics brings together the disciplines of electrical engineering and neurology. Engineers are using their skills to design systems that both interrogate and simulate functions of the human body. Neuroelectronics, or NeuroEngineering as it is also known, is part of an even larger set of interdisciplinary fields in biomedical engineering.
A wireless probe implanted into the brain of a rat will provide information about how its brain reacts to fear. Although such experiments traditionally require the animal to be tethered by a wire connected to a recording device, the new wireless design allows unrestricted tests to be conducted in a more natural environment, resulting in animal behavior that is more natural.
Electrical engineering professor Jack W. Judy, who is conducting this research in conjunction with Istvan Mody of the UCLA Department of Neurology, said these experiments should lead to a greater understanding of fear and possibly other emotions.
Another group working in this field is attempting to correct a vision problem associated with head injuries. When the nerve that controls muscles responsible for lateral movement of the eye is damaged, the remaining muscles pull on the eye unopposed and the result is a loss of horizontal eye control. When the eyes are relaxed, the eye with the damaged nerve will deviate inward.
The device UCLA researchers are designing will use information obtained from the other normally functioning muscles of the eye to deduce the appropriate position of the muscle
normally operated by the damaged nerves. That information, in turn, will be used to provide the disassociated muscle with the proper stimulation to move it into the correct position.
“The major biomechanical components of the eye constitute a nicely engineered system,” Judy said. “Studying this system, which is simpler than that responsible for leg or arm motion,” he said, “may lead to advances that can be useful when restoring mobility to victims of spinal cord injury.”
This research is being conducted in coordination with the UCLA Departments of Psychology and Neurobiology and the Jules Stein Eye Institute.
Although commercial products already exist that can reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, researchers are developing a miniaturized, long-term, deep-brain stimulator to be tested in combination with drugs in an attempt to halt the degenerative effects of the disease. This research is being conducted in coordination with Marie-Francoise Chesselet of the UCLA Department of Neurology and the Brain Research Institute.
Other areas of research to be discussed include electromagnetics, MEMS, plasma electronics, photonics, solid state electronics, communications and telecommunications, control systems, signal processing circuits, embedded computing systems and integrated circuits, optical MEMS, and photonic crystals and microwave systems.
Posters of all presentations will be on display throughout the conference. For further details, visit the Annual Research Review Web site at http://www.ee.ucla.edu/arr.