My research interests lie at the intersection of biomaterials and neural engineering with a particular focus on solutions that may readily translate toward an improved neural interface.
The search for a seamless neural interface is a fascinating challenge. The nervous system is one of the most important ‘highway’ systems in our bodies, transmitting and processing sensory and motor information with high speed and precision. When this ‘highway’ or its processing centers are somehow damaged or otherwise affected by pathologies, it can have debilitating effects. Implanted neural stimulation and recording devices hold vast potential to treat various neurological conditions and injury, but often their ultimate clinical success hinges on their ability to produce a reliable long-term connection with the target tissue.
Interfacing with the nervous system, even in healthy individuals, presents a unique challenge. Trauma before, during, and after normal surgical implantation of a device shears tissues, initiates bleeding, and sets off an inflammatory cascade that perpetuates additional damage. The result is increased scarring and physical isolation between the device and its intended target: the brain or peripheral nerves.
Biomaterials are among the most promising tools at engineers’ disposal to overcome the challenges faced by neural interfaces. At the same time, many novel biomaterials introduced in the contemporary literature are likely to face significant hurdles to clinical translation and commercialization. Manufacturability, scalability, sterilization, cost-of-goods, regulatory, reimbursement, supply chain and sourcing, are among some of the many additional variables that ultimately determine a biomaterial’s translational potential. While developing next generations of devices and materials, it is important to keep an eye toward their future. Early strategic planning and layering on real-world constraints in the nascent stages of a project may hopefully yield clinically relevant findings sooner and with a de-risked technology with a viable path forward.
We seek to improve the neural interface through:
- the minimization of trauma during implantation,
- the use of new material and drug delivery systems, and
- the early consideration of commercial and clinical constraints.
- Trevathan J, Baumgart I, Nicolai E, Gosink B, Asp A, Settell M, Polaconda S, Malerick K, Brodnick S, Zeng W, Knudsen B, McConico A, Sanger Z, Lee J, Aho J, Suminski A, Ross E, Lujan L, Weber D, Williams J, Franke M, Ludwig K, Shoffstall A. “A Truly Injectable Neural Stimulation Electrode Made From an In-Body Curing Polymer/Metal Composite.” bioRxiv (2019).
- Capadona J, Shoffstall A, Pancrazio J. “Neuron-like neural probes.” Nature Materials (2019).
- Lindner S, Capadona J, Shoffstall A. “A graphical user interface to assess the neuroinflammatory response to implanted neural interfaces, SECOND.” Neuroscience Methods (2019).