WPI lands $1.6 million in federal cash to develop neuroprosthetics

January 6, 2010 by MassDevice staff

The U.S. Congress allocated $1.6 million to Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Center for Neuroprosthetics and BioMEMS to integrate prosthetic limbs with the body and nervous system.

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute is getting a $1.6 million shot in the arm thanks to the U.S. Congress, which allocated the money for WPI's program to develop advanced prosthetics that are integrated into the human body.

Part of the U.S. Defense Dept.'s 2010 budget will go toward developing technology to help the more than 1,200 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who've returned from Iraq and Afghanistan missing limbs. WPI's Center for Neuroprosthetics and BioMEMS has 30 researchers across a variety of disciplines dedicated to developing lifelike artificial limbs that are directly linked to the nervous system.

WPI said the researchers are focusing on a pair of main goals. One is developing regenerative tissue to "create a robust soft-tissue seal around an implanted limb to make possible natural movement and deter infection," according to a press release. The other is to use tiny wires as scaffolds to attract and hold neural stem cells and regenerate nerves.

"Ultimately, by regenerating nerves, it is anticipated that it will be possible to connect the limb directly to the nervous system, enabling it to send feedback to and receive commands from the brain," according to the release.

In September last year, WPI held a symposium on neuroprosthetics. Grant McGimpsey, director of the Bioengineering Institute, told MassDevice at the time that the institute's program grew out of a meeting with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and a trip to to Walter Reed Army Medical Center's amputation ward.

"I saw folks there that had come back from Iraq and I just knew I had to do something about it personally. It became a bit of a crusade for me," McGimpsey told us. "We spent some time here thinking about how we might build a center for neuroprosthetics research. We approached the John Adams Innovation Institute in Westborough, [Mass.], and asked them how we might get some support to build a center that would become self-sustaining as a research organization, with a focus on implantable prosthetics and neuroprosthetics. We submitted a proposal and got that funded [in 2007]."