graduate programs in neuroscience/neurosensory/cybernetics

A. J. Annala annala at neuro.usc.edu
Sat Sep 14 02:16:42 EST 1991

In article <> anderson at CSHL.ORG (John Anderson) writes:

+    I'm looking for a university that has a research group studying how
+ the brain interprets sensory input, particularly from the eyes.  I'm
+ interested in exploring the possibilities for substituting electrical
+ signals in place of the nerve impulses when these are blocked (for
+ instance, when the optic nerve is severed or the eye is damaged.)  I'm
+ also interested in stimulation of muscles after the spinal cord has
+ been severed.  I guess you could call this cybernetics, although I'm
+ hesitant because I don't expect the research to have advanced far
+ enough to produce the kind of results usually associated with the
+ idea.  But I guess the kind of stuff I'm looking for is the type of
+ research that will eventually lead to the artificial eyes, limbs, or
+ chips-in-the-head that all the sci-fi guys like to write about.  
+    Anyway, I'm assuming this kind of research is very
+ cross-disciplinary because I'm not a biology major (although I have a
+ strong interest in it) and I'm not sure I could get into a medical PhD
+ program unless I could convince them I had something to contribute.  I
+ have no idea where to look for this kind of stuff.  Is it in
+ neuroscience or something else, like biophysics.  I occasionally see
+ hints of this kind of stuff in descriptions of EE or comp. sci.
+ departments. 

This is a very difficult and extraordinarily costly area of research where
significant progress in only a few experimental subjects/patients has taken
many years to accomplish.  The Dobelle Institute of Avery Labs Incorporated
in the United States appears to be the only organization which has committed
to achieving some practical form of artificial vision (by direct cortical
rather than peripheral nervous stimulation) within the first decade of the
next century.  The following papers may be of interest in your search:

Brindley-GS & Lewin-WS.  The sensations producted by electrical stimulation
of the visual cortex.  J Physiol 196:479-493 (1968).

Lewin-W.  Towards a visual prosthesis.  Clin Neurosurgery 18:155-165 (1970).

Dobelle-WH & Mladejovsky-MG.  Phosphenes produced by electrical stimulation
of human occiptal cortex, and their application to the development of a
prosthesis for the blind.  J Physiol 243:553-576 (1974).

Dobelle-WH & Mladejovsky-MG.  Artificial vision for the blind: electrical
stimulation of visual cortex offers hope for a functional prosthesis.
Science 183:440-444 (1974).

Dobelle-WH, Mladejovsky-MG, Evans-JR.  'Braille' reading by a blind volunteer
by visual cortex stimulation.  Nature 259:111-112 (1976).

Brindley-GS.  Effects of electrical stimulation of the visual cortex.  Human
Neurobiology 1:281-283 (1982).

Loeb-GE.  Whatever happened to the visual prosthesis?  Andrade-JD et al eds.
Artificial Organs.  VCH Publishers (1987).

Girvin-JP.  Current status of artificial vision by electrocortical stimulation.
Can J Neurol Sci 15:58-62 (1988).

Loeb-GE.  Neural prosthetic interfaces with the nervous system.
TINS 12:195-201 (1989).

Dr. Brindley retired after completing only three implants in human patients.
The Dobelle Institute does not appear to be actively recruiting talent at the
current time.  NIH appears to be concentrating funding on more basic science
work re the microscopic effects of electrical stimulating systems on nervous
rather than high level systems approaches.  My own bias suggests implantable
electrodes are not the way to achieve success in this area.  I would take a
good long look at the current status of transcutaneous magnetic stimulation
with an eye toward applying sophisticated applied physics techniques to the
development of a removable external array capable of stimulating fine regions
of visual cerebral cortex.

Best of luck in your search, 

Alexander-James Annala
PhD Graduate Student -- Department of Biological Sciences --- and ---
Principal Investigator -- Neuroscience Image Analysis Network Project
HEDCO Neuroscience Building, Fifth Floor
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-2520

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