Neuroengineering at Drexel is a cross-campus effort spearheaded by the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Drexel University College of Medicine, which started following a retreat in November 2005. The neuroengineering Initiative at Drexel University has received a Major Research Investment on the University City Campus, and has received funding as part of the College of Medicine Strategic Plan. The program includes faculty from most academic units at Drexel University, including the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, Medicine, and Media Arts and Design. The initative is currently working on expanding its research activities. Partnering clinical institutions include Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, Veterans Affairs Hospital in Philadelphia, and Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Neuroengineering Graduate Studies: Graduate education and training is central to the mission of the neuroengineering initiative at Drexel University. The success of this education program consists of four main components. The first component is educational. Courses have been developed to prepare students for the emerging field of neuroengineering. The second component focuses on research training in the form of a laboratory rotation system that includes opportunities for laboratory experiences cross-campus and in clinical and industrial settings. The third component consists of a Journal Club and Seminar Series that are used throughout the graduate career to reinforce what students have learned in their courses and rotations and emphasize critical thinking within the arenas of neuroscience and engineering. The fourth element is thesis research under the supervision of an advisor and a hybrid (neuroscience and engineering) dissertation committee for completion of Ph.D. requirements. The initiative has merit-based fellowship support for some graduate students to allow both engineering and neuroscience based students to rotate among laboratories to identify an ideal advisor. Students may enter the initiative as neuroscientists, through biomedical engineering, or through math or another engineering discipline.
Major Research Efforts: Neuroengineering research activities at Drexel University, the College of Medicine, and at partnering institutions are diverse. These include neurorobotics, computational neuroscience, brain-computer interface and neural interface development, links with tissue engineering, and neuropharmaceutical engineering groups. Such diversity is valuable in supporting novel integration of approaches around a common medical problem. Particular strengths in the College of Medicine are neural interfaces and neurorobotics, and exploration of motor control and rehabilitation models of spinal cord injury, or brain trauma.
Funding: Since its inception in 2006 the core participant faculty in neuroengineering have, as of November 2010, together obtained over $13 million in federal support for their neuroengineering research projects, primarily from NIH and NSF.
Brain-computer interfaces (BCI): Projects at Drexel University include several brain-computer interface (BCI) approaches. These are geared to the development of devices for paraplegia, to detect brain injury and for patients with debilitating neurological disorders. Approaches include development of non-invasive human operator systems such as near infrared devices for monitoring neural activity, which is now also a component of the HCEP initiative, and the development of new invasive multielectrode probes and test designs using model systems in rodents.
Neurorobotics: This research focuses on robot augmentation of motor control, robotic rehabilitation training, and BCI-driven robotics. A special emphasis is placed on the analysis of “modularity” in the motor system and understanding how this strategy can be used to simplify nervous system computation and control of movement, and thus how this might be exploited after injury for rehabilitation, neuroprosthetics, and BCI designs.
Computational Neuroscience: This research focus employs computer simulation to study theoretical and clinical problems in neuroscience and neurology. A major effort within this group is in modeling spinal circuitry in neural control of locomotion and modeling brainstem in control of breathing, and a tight interaction between modeling and experimental approaches in understanding these systems.
Neurorehabilitation: This effort draws on the various computational and technical efforts in neurorobotics, BCI, and computation, as well as physical training paradigms, to enhance motor function. Efforts are underway for developing a neuromusculoskeletal model of locomotion and use it to develop stimulation patterns of the afferent feedback, in order to augment gait during locomotor training. Translation of the results from benchtop to clinic relies on collaboration with Shriner’s Hospital where clinical efficacy of the approaches under study will be evaluated.
Neural Tissue Engineering: Projects include development of neural tissue scaffold to aid in repair of neural damage, particularly spinal cord injury, the application of biomechanical approaches to the study of neurotrauma, and assistance to the brain-machine interface projects to minimize tissue damage and improve biocompatibility and the bioactive capabilities of neural implants.
Applied Neuropharmacology: This research thrust lies at the interface between neuropharmacology and the pharmaceutical industry, with the goal of developing new methods of identifing and screening candidate compounds for treatment of mental disorders. Computational modeling of the release, and network action, of endogenous neurotransmitters is also addressed by this group.
Drexel University Office of Research
Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Drexel University College of Medicine
School of Biomedical Engineering, Science & Health Systems
Simon Giszter, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Neuroengineering Program
Professor, Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy
Drexel University College of Medicine
Joint School of Biomedical Engineering, Science & Health Systems, Drexel University
Karen Moxon, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Neuroengineering Program
Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Engineering, Science & Health Systems, Drexel University
Neurobiology & Anatomy, Drexel University College of Medicine